Accepting the Unexplained: Hope After Sandy Hook

“Yet Listen Now”
by Amy Wilson Carmichael

Yet listen now,
Oh, listen with the wondering olive trees,
And the white moon that looked between the leaves,
And gentle earth that shuddered as she felt
Great drops of blood. All torturing questions find
Answer beneath those old grey olive trees.
There, only there, we can take heart to hope
For all lost lambs—Aye, even for ravening wolves.
Oh, there are things done in the world today
Would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.
For Calvary interprets human life;
No path of pain but there we meet our Lord;
And all the strain, the terror and the strife
Die down like waves before His peaceful word,
And nowhere but beside the awful Cross,
And where the olives grow along the hill,
Can we accept the unexplained, the loss,
The crushing agony,—and hold us still.

There are things done in the world today, like the cold-blooded murder of 20 elementary children, that “would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.” That is, I would lose all hope and faith in God in light of such events were it not for the fact that Jesus walked the road of suffering first. There is “no path of pain” that anyone will ever walk that is unfamiliar territory for Jesus. There are no painful trails that any man will ever navigate on which Jesus is not already standing, waiting to embrace those who call on his name.

The reality of Jesus’ horrific death does not lessen our experience of pain. However, the cross does make it clear that pain and suffering do not get the final word. For though Jesus endured the worse death ever crafted by the wicked hearts of man—Roman crucifixion—he also rose again and in so doing offered that very same hope to all those who would believe on his name. The greatest hope any citizen of Newtown could have tonight is that of a crucified and risen savior who offers to them the same hope and joy that allowed him to endure the cross: the hope and joy of an assured resurrection.

May you know this hope, and may it help you “accept the unexplained, the loss.”

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Living (and Dying) in Hope

The young oak tree’s slender branches flitted in the late autumn wind. A few dead leaves held on for dear life against the merciless onslaught, but they, too, would surely succumb before the first snow. It had been exquisite just months before—the beneficiary of spring’s endowment of life and green. But that was then. And now, on the brink of Queen Winter’s coronation, naked, lifeless branches were all that were left of the tree’s prior glory. Beholding such a tragic scene, it hit me: This was no accident. By design, the Almighty had let this young tree die.

His out-turned thumb upraised, a man ravaged by cancer posed for what would be one of the last pictures ever taken of him. His gentle smile hid well the blows that life’s autumn wind had been dealing him. He had been so energetic and full of life just months before. But that was then. And now, at the end of his arduous journey, only a shell of the man he had been remained. When he finally closed his eyes for the last time, it was clear that this was no fluke of chance. By design, the good and gracious Father on high had let this beloved man die.

Another man’s blood-soaked hair began to harden in the frigid air of a darkened sky. His out-stretched and out-of-socket arms had slumped in a very unnatural fashion—as had his whole body—and it appeared he might tumble off the beams of his execution at any moment. He had been a regal herald of life and love just months before. But that was then. And now, the victim of an insidious plot, what was left of his scourged and hated body hung exposed as an example to all of what one earns as a rebel against Caesar and as an outsider to man-centered religion. Viewing this ghastly scene some 2,000 years later, it’s striking: This was no mere happenstance. By design, the merciful and just Guard and Guardian of all creation watched as he let his dear Son die.

Wintering trees and dying men suddenly take on new meaning in light of the death of the Son of God. God didn’t merely let his Son die. He let his Son die in hope that his death would result in the rescue of many. He doesn’t merely let trees lose all their leaves and expire each fall. He lets them die in hope of the coming spring. And God doesn’t merely let his deeply-loved creations weaken and fail physically. He lets them die in hope that their last breath here will mark their first in his presence.

This life is a hallway, and death is the door at its end that our good God lets his beloved children pass through on their way to something better. He himself is that something better. We can have the hope that come cold, cancer, or crucifixion, there is a good design in it, and an amazing hope awaits us just beyond it. You can have this hope today. “God is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Gary Fiscus, a long-time music educator, passed away on Friday, September 7, 2012 after a long battle with cancer.

It is Enough

It is enough. I am alive.
I feel God’s earth beneath my feet
And from the sun his light and heat.
Though my libs wilt and can’t derive
The strength to stand, I am alive.
Such true and lofty thoughts defeat
Mere circumstances hard or sweet.
Though foes in pride succeed and thrive,
I am content to be alive.
For life is proof that God, replete
With sovereign joy, extends complete
Love always. Praise him. I’m alive.

© 2012 Eric Evans

Now Stand

God fells a tree to forest’s floor
that fainting fledglings might see sun.
God raises rotting roots to plant
resistant, righteous ones that that grow
deep down, resisting fiercest rain.
God breaks a man that he might build
him better than he was before.

Great God, and now you bid me stand?
How can you bid me stand in strength
when you in sweetest sovereignty
secured my swift and sure demise
and devastated my whole world?
Is this some kind of hateful joke?
Am I to stand up tall or die?

The tree falls for the fledgling’s sake,
and rot is rooted up for life.
It seems, then, God has broken me
that I might be rebuilt to stand,
for standing is impossible
with malformed legs that can’t hold weight.
Now wrecked and built anew, they stand.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Behind the Poem: “Innocence Lost, Glory Gained”

Click here to read “Innocence Lost, Glory Gained,” posted January 26, 2012.

The Meaning
A little boy stares up at me with probing brown eyes. In a moment I catch a glimpse of the shift that has begun to take place in his bright, young mind. He’s beginning to see the world for what it is. And as you and I know, the world is not always a pretty place—but he’s just figuring that out. And just as you once experienced but have probably forgotten, such a realization can be devastating to a child.

Maybe the other fourth graders have stopped wanting to sit by him at lunch because they’re starting to see that he’s just a little different from the rest. Perhaps his parents are fighting more than ever and he’s not able to drown out their shouting like he used to. It could be his sister tried to kill herself a few days back, and he’s been suddenly faced with realities that he could not, a week ago, even fathom existed. (I wish all those examples were hypothetical. You learn a lot about life from third and fourth graders.)

Staring back into his big brown eyes, I can only weep on the inside, for I see what he doesn’t see. I see what his parents and his classmates and his sister don’t see. I see that life is only going to get harder, especially for this boy, of this socio-economic class, in this racist world, living in this godless and therefore hopeless society. From my vantage point a little bit farther down the road, I can see that this instance is only the first of many run-ins with reality that will leave his head spinning.

And it makes you want to cry. It makes you want to take this precious little boy home and shelter him from every horror that’s out there.

And then this thought hits me upside the head: In my own life it has been amid realizations of the harsh realities that exist around me that Jesus has whispered most clearly, “Nevertheless, I’m here, and I’m sure. I’ll be your rock in a very shaky world.” And doing the only logical thing my mind can conjure up, I cling to him in utter, helpless faith. And he saves me.

It may be that this brown eyed boy has a long, hard road ahead of him. And he may be on the very cusp of realizing that fact. Yet it might just be that this long, hard road was designed by this child’s Creator—who, by the way, loves him infinitely more than I ever could—to eventually lead him to Jesus. Perhaps it’s only through the hardship that this little boy will think to seek out the one who promises to carry him through like nothing else in the universe can. Maybe only up against the ugliness of life will this little boy ever be able to clearly see the beauty of the Jesus he so desperately needs.

May God be faithful to work it out to such an end.

The Technical
This poem doesn’t follow any traditional form. It is written in iambic quadrameter consisting of rhymed couplets. That means that each line has eight syllables that generally follow the pattern ta-DUM-ta-DUM-ta-DUM-ta-DUM. That the poem consists of rhymed couplets means that every two lines rhyme with each other.

The first 22 lines describe the changes that take place as a child grows up. The next four lines act as a commentary on the first 22 lines and a bridge to the next 22 lines. In the second half of the poem I discuss the difficult truth that it is confrontation with the harshness of reality that many times drives one to Jesus, and if that’s the case for my student, may it be so. God will be good to him as he has been to me.

Praise the Lord for the hope that’s found only in Jesus, hope that is seen most clearly when all other hope is lost.

Behind the Poem: “Unrestrained”

Click here to read the poem “Unrestrained,” posted on 11/12/2011.

The Meaning
There is a longing within every human heart that is inestimable in vastness. God put it there. It is a good longing. It is a longing we have as human beings to be in relationship with our infinite Creator.

We all know relationships matter more than stuff. Just ask any lost child in a toy store, desperately looking for his mother. What’s more valuable, that Star Wars action figure you were just drooling over or your mom’s presence? Or just ask any cancer patient undergoing chemo treatments. What’s more valuable, spending your last days polishing a shiny new Mustang in the driveway or spending time with your grandchildren?

There is one relationship that matters more than any other. It is a relationship that is able to bring us more joy and more fulfillment than any other. And that’s a relationship with our God. The poem “Unrestrained” is an expression of the desire to burrow as deeply as possible into a relationship with our amazing Creator.

I chose the title “Unrestrained” because what I long to know in my walk with God is complete unrestraint. No barriers. No walls. Just him. All of him. All of him just like he is. Just like a man dying of thirst will throw off all restraint to quench his thirst, so, too, would I throw off all restraint to know my God.

And in Jesus, it is possible to do just that. It’s not possible through any religion or system or set of rules or good behavior. It’s possible through Jesus Christ alone. If you’d like to learn more about knowing your Creator, click here.

The Technical
This poem is an English sonnet written in iambic pentameter.  A sonnet is a fourteen line poem, and an English sonnet specifically is a sonnet that contains three quatrains (a quatrain is a four line stanza) with an ending couplet (a two line stanza). The rhyme scheme of this piece is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, in which the last word of the first line rhymes with the last word of the third line and the last word of the second line rhymes with the last word of the fourth line, etc.

As traditional English sonnets work, “Unrestrained” builds a single idea over the course of the piece. Each subsequent set of four lines expands or deepens the singular idea. Here, the focus is on the feeling of longing. Dry ground longs for rain. Cancer ridden patients long for cures. The moon longs for the sun’s light. Each reveals different aspects of the specific feeling of longing I was trying to express.

The image of dry ground longing for rain reveals the barrenness one feels apart from his longing fulfilled. The image of a patient longing for a cure reveals how desperate one feels as long as his longing is left unfulfilled. The image of the moon longing for the sun’s rays reveals the hope and joy that are also associated with awaiting the fulfillment of one’s longing.

Not until the last two lines is it revealed just what this longing is for. The fact that three quatrains were dedicated to building a specific feeling of longing and that only at the end is its object revealed builds, I hope, suspense. By the time the reader gets to the end, I wanted him or her to be asking, “Just what in the world could this desperate person possibly be desiring to fill such an obvious aching of soul?” And then, in a word, the object of such a hunger is revealed.

It’s Jesus.

It’s always Jesus.

Only he can satisfy the insatiable craving of this soul. Praise God he’s ours if we would have him.

Psalm 16:11 (Take Two)

You make known to me the path of life.

The LORD makes known to me the path of life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
makes known to me the path of life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me the path of life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me and uncovers for me
the path of life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the path of life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the one and only
path of life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the one and only
way, road, and course of life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the one and only
way, road, and course that gives me life
and that results in life.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the one and only
way, road, and course that gives me life
and that results in life:
my fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore at the right hand of God.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the one and only
way, road, and course that ends in my infinite and eternal joy.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the one and only
road that ends in my infinite and eternal joy.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me, uncovers for me,
and allows me to presently see the road
that ends in my infinite and eternal joy.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
continuously reveals to me the road
that ends in my infinite and eternal joy.

The LORD, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth,
reveals to me the road
that ends in my infinite and eternal joy.

The LORD reveals to me the road that ends in my infinite and eternal joy.

You reveal to me the road that ends in my infinite and eternal joy.

Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right

by Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path:
I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait His day.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
Though many storms may gather,
Now I may know both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to Him I leave it all.

It’ll Make a Good Scar Someday

A little boy in mud-stained jeans
Atop his small, red bike takes off
And peddles hard down a cracked sidewalk.
In tow proud dad lifts tired gaze
In time to witness his dear boy
At last achieve his longed for dream.

But then, as first times sometimes do,
Son’s takes a fateful turn as soon
As he realizes dad’s strong hand
Has left the seat of his red bike.
Now lacking confidence he jerks
The bike and meets the street beneath.

Dad, catching up to his hurt son,
Untangles him from his wrecked bike.
His muddy knees are now stained red,
And tears stream down his pain-filled face.
Son cries and asks, “What happened, Dad?”
As he holds son close dad whispers,

“One day the pain of your skinned knee
Will cease, and all you’ll see will be
A mark, a witness, of this day.
Though now the ‘why’ is so unclear,
One day the scar will bring a smile,
When then, at last, you see its end.
It will make a good scar someday.”

A teenage boy in prime of life
Drives hard down field with seconds left.
With ball clutched close and eyes closed tight,
He charges forward at full speed.
The crowd screams loud and dad looks on
As son cuts distance to the goal.

But then, as long drives sometimes go,
A misplaced step on unev’n ground
Breaks son’s steady stride. He stumbles.
With all breaths’ held, son trips and falls.
His firm grip breaks; the ball is lost.
The scout has surely taken note.

As son lies stunned, sprawled on the ground,
He lifts his eyes in time to see
His enemy fall hard atop
The ball as time is up. They’ve lost.
Son hangs his head low, asking, “Why?”
But through the din he hears dad say,

“One day the pain of shattered dreams
Will cease, and all you’ll see will be
A mark, a witness, of this day.
Though now the ‘why’ is so unclear,
One day the scar will bring a smile,
When then, at last, you see its end.
It will make a good scar someday.”

A businessman, in suit and tie,
Is sure today will be the day.
His hopes run high for one account
That’s sure to yield impressive gains
And benefit his company.
He quickly makes his way to work.

But then, as life unfolds at times,
The businessman arrives to work
And finds a notice on his desk.
In one half second all is changed
By one pink note left by his boss.
The man cannot believe his eyes.

How could it be after so long
A faithful stint as he had served,
That now, like that, his career’s through?
Still dazed, and longing just to know
“Why now?”, the man collects his things.
Then softly through the grief he hears,

“Ev’n this pain of deep betrayal
Will cease, and all you’ll see will be
A mark, a witness, of this day.
Though now the ‘why’ is so unclear,
One day the scar will bring a smile,
When then, at last, you see its end.
It will make a good scar someday.”

Though from our point of view life seems
Like random acts of careless twists,
Who else but God could design this:
Young football star turned businessman,
Who’s then let go at career’s peak,
Becomes a businessman for Christ
In foreign markets void of light.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

By Anne Steele (1716-1778)

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On thee when sorrows rise;
On thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.

While hope revives, though pressed with fears,
And I can say, “My God,”
Beneath thy feet I spread my cares,
And pour my woes abroad.

To thee I tell each rising grief,
For thou alone canst heal;
Thy word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.

But oh! when gloomy doubts prevail
I fear to call thee mine;
The springs of comfort seem to fail
And all my hopes decline.

Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust;
And still my soul would cleave to thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.

Hast thou not bid me seek thy face?
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace
Be deaf when I complain?

No, still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner’s prayer;
O may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there.

Thy mercy-seat is open still;
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend thy will,
And wait beneath thy feet.