By Everette Chapman
I once served a wonderful Southern Baptist congregation near Salisbury, North Carolina. Located on Highway 150 in Davidson County, it was only about 200 yards, around the bend and cross the highway, from the Primitive Baptist Church. Primitive Baptists use no musical instruments in their churches, cling to old ways, and are extremely strict in both theology and social ethics. Their extreme Calvinism not only claims that God elected some to salvation and some to damnation, but also that God controls every single action we perform. At a funeral for an elderly man who had burned to death, the Primitive Baptist Preacher declared, almost jubilantly, “So and so was never happier than when he was writhing in that fire, for he was totally in the will of God.”
Mr. Sam Greene, one of the old-timers in my own congregation, told me of a funeral sermon he had heard at the Primitive church for a married farmer with four sons. The preacher had droned on about the will of God and how it should be borne with courage and cheer, and then he brought his remarks to a close with some remarks which, intentionally or not, wrung every bit of grief out of the widow and her sons.
“Mabel,” he said, “Tonight when you and the boys sit down at the table to eat, there is going to be one empty chair, because John won’t be there. Boys, when you go out to milk the cows, one of you will have to milk two cows, because Dad won’t be there. When you fellows get up tomorrow morning to do the farm chores, you’ll have to do more than you’re used to doing, for Dad will no longer be there.” On and on he went, according to Mr. Sam, naming every possible scenario in which their great loss would be painfully felt.
Then, in summation, after this lengthy litany of loss, he asked, “So, what are you going to do?” He paused and continued, “All I can tell you is to do the best you can.”
I have thought about his question and his answer a lot over the years. His question, “What are you going to do?” is one we have to face, of course, when we lose a dear one from our lives. Here are some of the answers I would have given the family that painful day. I would have shared with them Jesus’ own words: “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I would have shared the Bible’s promises that “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
I would probably have read to them Isaiah’s words, which Jesus quoted during his own discourse in his hometown of Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bind up the broken-hearted…to grant to those in Zion beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy in place of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of heaviness.”
I would have shared Paul’s words from Romans 8: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Moreover, Paul declared, “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Actually, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of the promises of God I could have shared with that bereaved family – good promises and true.
Rev. Everette Chapman is pastor of Fairfield Mountains Chapel, Lake Lure. His new book, “Gentle Mountain Breezes”, a collection of articles from his Mountain Breeze column since the late 1980’s to the present time, is available by contacting Fairfield Mountains Chapel.