Day 137: My Father is Peace (2 Samuel 16-18)

David mourning Absalom. Illustration for The Lives and Lessons of the Patriarchs by John Cumming (John F Shaw, 1865).
33 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

I received a text yesterday afternoon that the husband of a dear friend here in town passed away very suddenly. They had had lunch together that day. She went to the doctor. She came home and found him on the floor of the kitchen. Her pastor texted me because Shannon was asking for my wife to be there. So I called Trish, and she had heard and was already on the way to her house. I met her there.

The street was already lined with cars. I parked on the other side of the street. And as soon as I got out of my car, I could hear the wailing from Shannon’s back yard. I let myself in through the backyard gate and joined the dozen or so friends, pastors, and neighbors that were surrounding Shannon. Some were holding her, helping her breathe. Some were on her phone, tracking down contacts and people who needed to know. Some were taking turns holding Shannon’s little dog, who was desperate to get to her.

Some were strategically blocking the glass door leading into the kitchen, where her husband was still on the floor, while the county coroner did his work.

Our friend was inconsolable. She wasn’t rational. She pounded her fists into her thighs, insisting to those around her that he was asleep, he was asleep, he was asleep. She needed to make dinner. They were signed up to bring a meal to a friend whose wife had been sick, and she and Rob needed to get started on the meal.

So I sat across from her on the patio, silently praying. Not knowing anything else to do. I took my turn holding the dog.

Then, when one of her pastors invited me to take his place next to Shannon, I sat next to her. I put my arm around her and just spoke Scripture to her. I tried to think of every Scripture in my memory bank that mentioned peace:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22)

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving (Psalm 62:11-12)

I have no idea if any of it even registered with our friend. Her eyes never focused on me. I’m not even sure she knew who I was in that moment. Maybe her breathing slowed a little. Maybe her clenched fists loosened just a little. Or maybe I’m just imagining it.

Eventually, I went back to holding the dog.

Death is so mean. You are in situations like that, and you are reminded that it’s not supposed to be this way. Death is an interruptor. A disruptor. A thief. Death is a terrorist, causing us to fear our future without the one death takes from us. And when someone is hit with the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, sometimes all they can do is beat their fists on their thighs and breathe into a paper bag and insist that it can’t be real.

I think that was David in the passage today. He had done everything he could to make sure his son Absalom wouldn’t be harmed in the battle (2 Samuel 18:5) But Absalom died anyway. Death has no respect for the plans we make to prevent it. And the wail of David’s cry shook the palace:

“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

Even though I’ve read this story many times before, I was struck by something in today’s reading that I had never seen before. You probably know enough Hebrew to translate the name Absalom:

Absalom: Ab + Salom

Ab: Father. Think Abba, Abraham (Father of Nations), etc.

Salom: Shalom. Peace.

Absalom: Father of peace. Or My Father is Peace.

David’s wailing over his son could be read as a prayer to the God of peace. I’m not saying that was what it was for David in the moment. I think he was really wailing for his son. But perhaps there was a moment in the midst of his wailing that God the Father gently reminded David of the meaning of his sons name. And mingled among the wailing was this reminder of who God is:

O my son!

Father of Peace

My son, my son!

My Father is peace!

Would I had died instead of you, O…

Father of Peace…

My son! My son!

Grief is mean, but God is real. Death is the serpent in the Garden. But the God of peace will soon crush Satan underneath His feet (Romans 16:20). And one day, all our cries of mourning will turn to dances of praise. When the Disruptor is disrupted and the Interruptor interrupted. Death will be no more, and there will only be the Absalom, the Absalom.

The Father of Peace.

Day 015: The Things We Know to be True (Job 40-42)

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5

Originally posted January 15, 2021

Today I did my second funeral in five days. Terry was one of those precious senior adults that a church can’t function without. He was one of our main buildings and grounds volunteers. The hedges outside were his passion project, and they always looked like they had been trimmed with fingernail clippers. He was diagnosed with Covid on December 27, and passed away on January 9.

All we could do was a graveside service because of Covid restrictions. The wind was blowing so hard I literally could not hold my Bible open or have any notes. So I kind of had to speak whatever was off the top of my head.

So I talked about Job. I talked about living the kind of life that would make God brag about you to Satan (See Day 004, “Have you considered my servant?”). I talked about confidence that even when we return to dust, we will say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in my flesh I will see God–Him, and not a stranger.” (See Day 008, “Standing on the Dust”19:25-26).

And I talked about how God never gave Job an answer for why he was experiencing the pain he was experiencing. How we don’t know why God would take away such a godly servant like my friend. How people are looking to their pastors for answers as to why there are so many empty chairs at empty tables right now, and we really don’t have any. Why would God give us reasons for all this that He withheld from such a godly man as Job?

But while Job never got an answer from God, he got something better. He got God’s presence: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,” said Job (42:5).

One of my go-to Scriptures when I am facing questions I can’t answer is Psalm 62:11-12. It was the text I used for the first funeral I ever preached. The funeral was for the infant son of a drug addict, who rolled over on him when she was high. I was 26 years old and had been out of seminary for less than a year. I had absolutely no answers. Not for the family, not for myself. This level of senseless grief was so far beyond anything I had ever experienced. But this is what I found in God’s Word at that moment:

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.

(Side note: I found it in the 1984 New International Version, and that is still my favorite phrasing. You’ll need to find a physical copy of it, because the publisher has apparently purged the internet of any digital references to it. But here it is in the NIV ’84:

One thing God has spoken;
Two things have I heard:
That you, O God are strong,
And that you, O Lord, are loving. 

I am so thankful that this journey through Job is happening at this moment. For all of you that are going through dark times right now, please know that God is present with you, and that no purpose of His will be thwarted. And when we don’t know anything else, we know this. God is strong, and God is loving.

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