Letter: We’re pilgrims just passing through
August 23, 2005
I have received hundreds of letters and emails during my three years as editor. The topics vary, but generally they are either praise for something the staff has done or criticism for something the editor has done. No whining here, for such is to be expected if one has the responsibility of sitting in the editor’s chair. You must take the bad with the bad. Fair enough.
Someone once referred to me as “the hatchet man.” Then there was the letter which opened with something like this: “I know you will not print this, but … .” Trust me, if you want your letter published in The Pathway, just begin it with, “I know you will not print this, but … .” There is also a large pile of complimentary letters I keep in my desk drawer. I reread one every time I get a letter calling me a, well, “hatchet man.” But of all of the letters I have received during my tenure here, none quite touched me like the two-sentence note I received recently from a Kansas City-area subscriber.
I prefer to keep the verbatim contents private, but the message was this: My wife just died and the doctor tells me I will be joining her soon, so please stop my subscription.
Sometimes in the news business, yes even in Christian journalism, we too often act like detached observers of life’s events. Sometimes, justifiably so, we are accused of being unfeeling and perhaps insensitive – all in the name of being “fair, balanced and unafraid.” Then every once in a while, someone – or something – will knock us into the next zip code, reminding us that we, too, are but mere pilgrims passing through this temporary world. This letter did exactly that to me- and more, jolting me back to the reality that all of you out there are real people, not just some name with an address to which The Pathway is sent. You are people who live, love and lose. You hurt, work and hope.
Notice how there are three main points in this letter.
First, his wife has died and it is clear the writer is grieving beyond anything I will attempt to describe. But this much I will say: My wife, Bernadette, and I just celebrated an anniversary and my thoughts since I received this letter have been dominated by how much I love her. I cannot imagine breathing my next breath without her in my life. Yet I must humbly acknowledge that just the thought of her not being by my side is nothing even remotely comparable to the unfathomable pain the subscriber feels to have written a letter of such utter despair. I am so thankful to God for giving my wife good health and I look forward with great anticipation to ever how many days He allows us to have in this world together. I also pray for this grieving brother, that our merciful, loving God will assuage his pain and sustain him through this difficult hour.
We will go through “valleys” in our lives, but God has promised us He will not leave us in the valleys, indeed He will bring us through them. We routinely associate the 23rd Psalm with death, but David was talking about more than death. The Hebrew word “death” as rendered in the passage means for those times in our lives when we are shaken to our foundations, when we think we cannot go on – whether facing death or some other calamity.
Believers can also take comfort in knowing that God will not only take us “through” the valleys, but will do even more – He will never leave us. God promises to be with us even in our darkest hour. He doesn’t promise to eliminate pain and suffering, but He promises to be with us and help us get through whatever difficulty we face. It’s important to remember that God does not usually provide us this strength, courage, and grace until we actually need it.
It reminds me of Joshua following the death of his grand mentor, Moses. Joshua was afraid, but in Joshua 1:9 God makes a promise to Joshua that he also makes to each of His children: “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord thy God is with you wherever you go.”
The second important point in this letter is that apparently the writer is about die as well. Can you imagine your spouse dying and then the doctor telling you that you will soon die, too? Just the mere thought of such indescribable sorrow ought to drive us all to our knees, thanking God for what he has done for us and our families. We need to also pray and ask God to shower this hurting brother with His love and His peace that surpasses all understanding.
Scripture tells us we all have an appointment with death, for that is the price for man’s sin. But praise to be to God for sending His son Jesus, who died for our sins. For those of us who have placed our faith in Christ know that we — like Him — will have eternal life. For this is what sets the Christian apart from the unbeliever. We do not have to live in fear of death or in doubt about our eternal destination. The unbeliever does.
For the unbeliever, the fear of being judged by an Almighty God is valid. We are all sinners and our righteous God expects us to be like Him – Holy righteous. But mankind has a significant sin problem to which he has no solution. Only God has the answer in the person of Jesus. I am reminded of one of the greatest sermons ever preached, Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God. Edwards powerfully explained that it would be a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.
The third important point is the letter writer’s request to stop sending him The Pathway. I have chosen to reject his request. A doctor may tell us we’re going to die (Scripture has told us that already) or perhaps that our death is imminent, but only God knows precisely when it will occur.
No matter whatever befalls us, believers should always take comfort in the words of Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave thee or forsake thee” – whether in life or in death (“To be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,” declares 2 Cor. 5:7) The letter writer must cling to such promises – more than ever.
So should we all.