"We do not want you … to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." 1 Thessalonians 4:13
Some days we seem to be surrounded by problems. Maybe it is because of the growing number of people with whom our congregations have contact. Maybe it is the aging of the congregations. But the problems seem bigger and more numerous every year.
Some of these problems are the normal wear and tear of living in a fallen world: bad backs, increased migraines, teenage rebelliousness, general tiredness and lethargy.
But some of the problems are the larger, more painful reminders of the fallenness of the world: infertility, death, miscarriages, divorce, cancer, depression.
One of the most painful is the death of children and babies. Over the last couple of years we seemed to have had to face this awful grief repeatedly.
In one sense no-one can ever be prepared for this appalling heartache. And yet the faithful understanding of God's word has seen many of the couples endure this tragedy.
At one such recent funeral a young broken father spoke boldly to the congregation of the comfort that he and his wife had found in the book of Habakkuk.
Habakkuk was questioning God in the midst of violence and injustice. In his prayer in chapter three, Habakkuk asks God in his wrath to 'remember mercy'. The prayer concludes with the famous passage:
Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
Standing beside a tiny white coffin, the father reminded us all of Habakkuk’s words, and said, "We want to talk of our rejoicing, for you would know we're in pain, but we all need to hear of the joy. Our world seems in turmoil, and yet we rejoice."
He then told us of the things in the birth and the death of their little girl over which they could still rejoice in God their Saviour. He listed the blessings of God in the last few awful days that they as a couple had discovered.
"Even though our hearts are heavy and our souls are downcast we rejoice in God our Saviour, because we are a people of hope," he said as he turned our attention to Jesus.
"Our daughter was taken from us, God freely gave his son up….He gave his son, Jesus, that his people may have life. So we rejoice in our God and Saviour." "Although the wait is long, we rejoice in God our Saviour, because the resurrection will come… and together we shall praise our God in a place free from the curse of death, without tears or mourning."
"We long and ache for that day, but as we wait patiently, the Sovereign Lord is our strength – in him will we be joyful," he concluded.
The days and weeks since the funeral have been as hard and difficult as expected. But their joy in God our Saviour is the way the righteous live and wait in faith.