Mother of the Prodigal – Guilt and Regrets, Pt. 2

In the post Mother of the Prodigal – Guilt and Regrets, Pt. 1 I began addressing the issue of parental guilt and regrets in parents of grown rebellious children, including those choosing criminal behavior. The primary point was, clarify responsibilities and act accordingly. Each person is responsible for his own moral choices, so parents must carry their own responsibility for their influence. They must do what they can biblically to repent from sinful influencing of their children. But, they also must not carry their child’s responsibility for how he responds to their parenting. He could have chosen wise responses and if he did not he will give account for himself before God. (This post is a continuation of a series that began under the heading “Mother of the Murderer,” with entries here, here, and here.)

In addition to clarifying what is and is not your parental responsibility, here are three more signposts toward joyful living despite having a child who is a prodigal, or even a criminal.

You can’t forgive yourself.

I know it is common parlance in society to say, “I just can’t forgive myself,” and for others to tell regret-filled people, “You have to forgive yourself.” That idea is foreign to Scripture. You and I have no right or authority to forgive ourselves. Our sin is against God (Ps. 51:4). It is He from whom we need forgiveness. If you feel guilty, what you need to do is to confess your sins to God and whoever you sinned against (including, “Will you forgive me?”), and stop doing the sin anymore. God says that “when we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

If you still feel guilty for that for which you confessed and repented, then you are not believing what God says in 1 John 1:9. Confess your unbelief and, trusting in His grace of forgiveness, turn your mind to the next responsibility (do the next thing). Refuse to bring it to mind again.

If you feel guilty for something that wasn’t a sin, confess the sin of holding a standard that isn’t God’s, put off your standard and put on loyalty to God’s standard, then stand firm in that freedom (Gal. 5:1).

Don’t keep looking back.

Maybe you keep second-guessing your past parenting. “If only I had…” “If only I had not…” Perhaps you berate yourself. Don’t you find that frequent brooding on past failures is discouraging and hinders you from thinking about God and others?

Regrets can be a form of penance or self-punishment. Both are unacceptable to God. Christ already took the punishment for sin, having died “once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Salvation in Christ is by grace, not works (Eph. 2:8-9).

We can follow Paul’s example given in Philippians 3:1-14. After repenting his self-righteous past, he chose to forget what lies behind and press on toward the goal of knowing Christ and growing in Christlikeness.

If you have done all that the Bible says to do to repent from your own past sins and to reconcile with your child and all others, move forward in obedience. Refuse to bring the what you regret to mind again. Hunting the forests of the past for game that is long dead through forgiveness in Christ keeps you walking in self-focused circles.

If you’re worried that you might not have dealt with all past sins, ask God to show you any sins you still need to confess, then move forward trustingly. If He doesn’t bring them to mind, don’t disbelieve God and go hunting in fields He declares empty.

Don’t keep trying to figure out what went wrong. Figuring out is a form of trying to control in order to change something. You can’t change the past. You can only make a choice in the present. After you examine the past biblically, 

  • Mark the lessons learned.
  • Trust that God ordained all of your past, including your own sins, using it all for your good.
  • Then press forward, pursuing godliness in the now you can affect.

Choose to rejoice.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). Whether the trial is from circumstances or is self-induced, God planned these trials for you and did so for good reason. Knowing this, it is right that we rejoice even when suffering; it expresses trust in God and contentment with His plan.

Does rejoicing seem impossible? One hindrance for many parents is making their happiness dependent upon the child. When the child does well they are happy. When the child disappoints they are sad, anxious, or angry.

Our children must not be where we set our happiness. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children…yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). In other words, in comparison to our love for God, love for any family member must be like hate. When we love God above all then our happiness is dependent upon the unchanging God, not upon a child who has a will to do what he wants regardless of his parent’s happiness. Only Christ is totally, overflowingly sufficient for our happiness. “The nearness of God is my good” (Ps. 73:28). Oh, what a good good His nearness is!

Willful rejoicing doesn’t deny or suppress sorrow. It isn’t an either/ or situation. Hope can coexist with sorrow. Sadness and joy can both be simultaneously in the human heart. So even while you experience sadness, be actively filling your heart with chosen joy and gratitude to God. Sorrow may rightfully have a place, but in a heart filled with gratitude and praise its place will be small and it won’t have room to grow and dominate.

If we love Christ, we find our joy in Him even when our hearts break over the children we love. “The nearness of God is my good” (Ps. 73:28).

Posted in Parenting, Child-rearing, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Mother of the Prodigal – Guilt and Regrets, Pt. 1

A prodigal is a child who leaves home in rebellion and later returns to restore relationship. We often call them prodigals before we see the restoration.

This post is set in the context of a series. Here, here, and here I described some of what the mother a prodigal at the extreme of criminality (murderer) might experience and a few ideas for how she can deal with it. While this post continues the theme it generalizes to any degree of prodigality to include a broader range of moms.

Two of the important issues for these moms to deal with are guilt feelings and regrets, or second-guessing. It is not unusual for good parents of wayward children to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” Or they self-accuse, “I must be a bad mom.”

Pressure might be added by the common misinterpretation of Proverbs 22:6 that how a child turns out is directly attributable to the parents. This view is so common that even if she was a good parent (and some parents of criminals are), she wonders if people would believe it.

It is important to handle guilt feelings biblically because guilt feelings can mislead us. For example, some parents try to assuage feelings of guilt by refusing to provide consequences or by giving the irresponsible child money. Parents reassure the offender that he/she is basically a good person and just made mistakes or has a mental disorder. While such parental penance can temporarily improve the parents’ feelings it cannot earn forgiveness for the child or parent.

How shall we resolve guilt feelings in a God-honoring way? I will highlight one critical action in this post, two in the next.

Clarify responsibilities.

While I have no intention of excusing parents for their failings, it will save much unnecessary guilt feelings and guilt-motivated foolish choices if they distinguish between responsibilities–theirs and their child’s. Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” The point is, each person is responsible for his own moral choices. 

The child is entirely responsible for his/her actions. Ephesians 6 begins,

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother…

Note that the command in Ephesians 6:1-3 is given to children, not to parents. Parents are not responsible to make children honor and obey from the heart. That is the responsibility of the child.

Many criminals are raised in broken, abusive, or neglectful homes which model selfishness and incite children to anger. Some are raised in loving, wise homes. Cain and Abel had the same parents, yet one chose godliness and the other chose to murder. Ezekiel 18 provides five case studies showing that a well-parented child may choose to live wildly; a poorly-parented or abused child may choose to be law-abiding. Whatever the case, “the soul who sins will die” (Ezek 18:4, 20). In other words, each person is responsible for his own moral choices. 

Therefore, no matter what parents do, the child has no right to blame them for his own choice to disobey God. He is responsible for his own behaviors. A mother is not responsible for a child’s choice to break the law. She must not shoulder guilt not hers to carry.

However,

Parents are responsible for their influence. Ephesians 6:4 commands,

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” 

Parents are responsible for whether they live in a way that provokes a child to anger or do godly discipline and instruction–i.e., for how they influence by modeling, discipline, and teaching.

What about Proverbs 22:6? It says,

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

A little more literal to the Hebrew this verse says, “Dedicate a child upon mouth his way…” In other words, if allowed to go the way he says he wants to go the child will practice foolishness and selfishness into habits. The author presumed that children influence themselves, and that foolishly. Proverbs 29:15b also assumes a child’s self-determination

But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

The essential lesson of Proverbs 22:6 is that habits built in youth continue into adulthood. This includes habits of hidden desires, thoughts, and attitudes the child determines to practice.

While parental influence is extremely important Proverbs 22:6 does not teach that parenting is determinative. Children are not just blank slates or malleable clay in your hands. They possess wills of their own corrupted by sin. Some children of loving, wise parents secretly cultivate ungodly desires and attitudes that become apparent only when the child is old enough to have the courage to act on them in opposition to parents. Unless God intervenes, the Proverbs 22:6 principle of habituation will hold true. A child’s self-practiced habits of heart will continue and will override godly parental influence. A child’s lifestyle as an adult depends upon the habits of desires and thought the child chooses to practice.

Parenting is influential, not determinative.

How does clarifying responsibilities deal with feelings of parental guilt?

  1. Determine for what you are legitimately guilty and deal with it God’s way.
  2. Determine for what you feel guilty but it is not your responsibility, then turn from (repent) taking on guilt that is not yours.

Deal with valid guilt. Maybe you did not parent well and some of your influence tempted your child to develop habits of anger and rebellion. Although culpability for his own sins or crime rests on the child, you are certainly culpable for your sinful influence.

What does God say to do about valid guilt for sinful parenting? Repent. God promises forgiveness through Jesus Christ to those who genuinely repent to please God.

Confess to God first, then your child. Name your faults specifically–not “sorry for what I did,” but “I yelled and I was wrong.” “I let a man abuse you and I was wrong.” Name your sins honestly with no excuses, evasion, or blame-shift. Ask for forgiveness–not “I apologize” but “please forgive me for yelling. Please forgive me for neglecting you. Please forgive me for_____ (how you sinned against your child).” Then, trusting God for forgiveness, diligently walk forward in changed ways obedient to the Bible. Living out God’s way of handling guilt, past sinful influence on your part need not be a road to despair.

What about guilt feelings over what is not your responsibility? Maybe you are a parent who basically (not perfectly) obeyed the Word of God with loving instruction and loving, consistent discipline. Yet your child chose to rebel, or commit a crime, or even harm others. Not all parents of prodigals or criminals are guilty of poor parenting. Just look at God and His children.

To feel guilty over what is not sin is to live by your standard, not God’s, and that in itself is sin. Repent from your standard and live by God’s. About those He forgives He says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgives our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Believe what He says and refuse to take on guilt that is not yours.

In summary, clarify what is your responsibility. Deal with it God’s way. Trust God with all else.

In the next post I plan to share a couple more insights on dealing with regrets and guilt feelings stirred up by a prodigal or when a child commits a crime. 

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Mother of the Murderer (Criminal) – Continuing Aftermath

In the previous post for this series I directed my comments at the immediate aftermath of learning that your child is the murderer in the shooting you just heard about in breaking news. What difference does the character of God make for your shock, horror, and a hundred other reactions to such evil?

In this post, I will speak to the post-shock situation. The child is deceased or in jail awaiting trial. Police are quietly investigating. The reporters move on to another story. Life for the family goes on, but all is not reconciled. A mother’s difficult situation can lengthen into an endurance trek, especially if her child survived and was arrested and faces trial and years of incarceration.

In addition to grief, she (and her husband) will have to navigate a variety of quandaries like whether to post bail, whether to hire an attorney, whether to attend court hearings, how to demonstrate love without condoning the crime, how to comfort a spouse when you yourself are feeling totally lost and drained, if and how to go about visiting the inmate, what to say to her child at the first visit, correspondence, whether to send money, whether to let the offender know where she lives, whether to take the offender back into the home upon parole, etc. The situation is never done and over.

How can she reconcile her extreme love for the child with her excruciating hurt? “This is so painful. I’m so angry! I don’t want this endless train of difficult situations. I want to run, but instead I have to navigate it all while he sits in that jail and doesn’t care a whit what it is like for his family. But the worst is I’ve lost my son! Will I ever again feel happy?”

A sense of isolation can continue. Not many have been the mother of a murderer, and those who have certainly aren’t broadcasting it. Family and friends may feel disconcerted by having connection to a criminal. How can she find anyone who has walked in her shoes? For the years stretching before her she (and perhaps her husband) may be carrying the weight alone.

Most people don’t know what to do with the concept of someone else’s child in prison. Conversations get awkward real fast. Perhaps for the rest of her life, when other parents talk enthusiastically about their children, she stays quiet and hopes no one asks. A few parents find themselves moving repeatedly to escape ostracism from neighbors or even badgering by victims’ families.

Mom, your life will never be the same.  But that does not have to cause hopelessness. The counsel of the Word of God applied by the power of the Holy Spirit can turn you from the darkness to light, from sorrow to joy.

There is a time to grieve. Evil is real and destructive. It is right to lament the many losses such a child causes.

To lament is to express grief or sorrow. Lamenting, the Christian cries out to God, “Help! This hurts really bad!” God gave over forty psalms of lament. That means He has compassionate understanding for how much sorrow is a part of human experience. He gave the lament psalms to show us how to sorrow over suffering and evil in a way that comforts us and leads us to Himself because He is the only satisfying comforter. Psalms 13 and 25 may be helpful places to start, with cries like “How long O Lord?… and 

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. ~ Psalm 25:16-17 NIV

Lament, but don’t stay there. Hope in God. Psalm 42:5 says, “Why are you in despair O my soul?…Hope in God for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” That passage is so very helpful to the despairing soul when problems loom large. It acknowledges the pain while also turning to the solution. It is true that you may never be free of a certain sadness over this child, but the sadness need not fill your heart. Hope in God and you will receive the help of His presence. As you pour in hope it will leave less room for sadness.

Pursue godliness, not coping or healing. You’ve heard, “I need healing from the emotional trauma.” This view weakens you. “But how do I cope?” Do you want to settle for mere coping? God’s goal is far more hope-building and glorious. His goal is that we become mature in godliness, to be like His own dear Son (Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph 4:13; 5:1-2). What a high privilege! He provides His Word to equip for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). Don’t aim for coping. Don’t aim for healing. Aim for Christlike godliness grounded in faith and love for Jesus.

Jesus is sufficient, but I don’t mean merely adequate. He is more than abundantly sufficient, a fountain of grace overflowing for your every need of comfort in loss, peace from worry, and rest from anger. The Word of God provides solutions for every non-physiological problem in living (2 Tim. 3:16-17). With resurrection power, the Holy Spirit transforms hearts and can enable you to implement the solutions given in the Word. So you can, by His power, displace sadness with joy. How? At the end of this article I have attached some practical actions that implement your faith.

Remember that God will one day remove all evil and remake the world in perfection. Although a mother may suffer consequences of her child’s actions for the rest of her life, if she is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ she will not suffer in the afterlife. On the new earth there will be no more sin, no more tears, no more guilt or shame. We will be with Jesus! There will be complete peace, acceptance, and joy in Jesus.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Rev. 21:4

Choose joy. Joy is possible because the Spirit gives it (Gal. 5:22). What did James counsel suffering Christians? “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…” (James 1:2-3). That is the blunt, opening challenge of a letter from a loving pastor to suffering Christians. James says to “consider.” That means to account, deem it so. Joy is a choice. Motivated by love for Christ you can, by the power of the Spirit, deliberately displace sadness and shame with thanksgiving and praise to God. It will require that you trust and obey even when you don’t feel like it and when you don’t see any positive results. Praise and thank God for who He is and what He has done. Choose to rejoice in Jesus.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tools for Growth 

If these tools for growth seem overwhelming, choose just two to implement now, then add more in the following weeks. However, Bible reading, prayer, and church involvement should be non-negotiable staples.

  • Determine to do all you do for love of Christ. If what you most want is relief from emotional pain, then even if you feel relief by changes you make you will not glorify God. Drop self-improvement. Live for the advantage of Christ, not self (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
  • Read the Word of God daily. Jesus said that “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). There is no word from the mouth of God except that written in the Bible and only the Bible can equip a person for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
  • Meditate on the attributes of God. For example, consider His compassion: “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:22-25). 
  • Diligently reject self-pity and brooding (Ps. 37:1-8). It won’t help. It is selfish. Worst of all, it steals glory from God. 
  • Trustfully submit to the suffering He sends, “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:6-7).
  • Daily record ten things for which you thank God. (With such a gracious God, why stop at ten?) Use your list daily to thank Him wholeheartedly.
  • Be consistent in church attendance and involvement. God has given the local church to glorify Himself by how we love one another. Don’t talk about your own difficulties; actively encourage others. Get busy serving others in love. If you serve trusting the Spirit for the strength to do so, you will be demonstrating that Christ is far stronger than evil. Then, seeing Christ glorified will generate joy in your heart despite sadness.
  • Confide in a trustworthy, wise woman who, rather than relate advice based upon her own experience (personal stories), will show you what God says in His Word. She will use the Word to help you comprehend the love of Christ.
  • Limit who you tell–for their sakes. Compassionate as they may be, most people don’t really want the weight of such knowledge as your child’s crime or won’t know how to respond. The knowledge won’t be of service to them.
  • Sing! Sing hymns and praise songs. It is hard to stay sad when you sing to God of His wonderful self.
  • Read this outstanding book by Jerry Bridges: Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts. 
Posted in Parenting, Child-rearing, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , ,

Comfort in the Corona Virus Pandemic

What a different world we are now in! State governments have closed schools, many stores, dine-in restaurants and have mandated shelter-at-home. Covid-19, with worldwide response, is presenting us with a variety of temptations to fear. Is my life at risk? My family? How will the economy affect me? What will I do if I lose my job? Are my aging parents safe? This situation makes obvious that we have far less control over our lives than we think.

Yet, for Christians, we know there is one, and only one–God–who is in control. Because we know Him personally, we also know that we can cast our cares upon God for He cares for us. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. We need not fear. Our times are in His hands, good, kind, and powerful hands–trustworthy hands. (1 Pet. 5:7; Ps 31:15; Ps. 46)

Isn’t this also a time of great opportunities? 

  • Trials are opportunities to show our love to God by how we put off worry and anger and put on trust and joy.
    (“Considerate all joy, my brethren, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…” ~ James 1:2-3)
  • Trials are opportunities to love others with service and self-sacrifice.
    (“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:13)
  • Trials are opportunities to grow in holiness.
    (“…we also exult in our tribulations, know that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint…” ~ Romans 5:3-5) 

Meanwhile, our dear pastors around the world have been publishing an abundance of articles and videos to comfort and guide us. Be sure to thank your pastor. Attached are a few links that have encouraged me this past week.

The website http://www.cbcfortworth.org/resources/elder-messages hosts a series of short videos produced by elders at Calvary Bible Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, directed at encouraging their own church members. I started with the one on Psalm 46 and found it very encouraging. The one on Psalm 121 ended with a few very doable ideas for how to serve others at this time. 

John MacArthur (18 minutes, interview style)
https://youtu.be/Z-9TxD1BF60

Steve Lawson’s devotional from Psalm 23:1
http://www.onepassionministries.org/steadfast-hope

Calvinism in the time of Coronavirus
https://geoffrobson.com/2020/03/11/calvinism-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/

Jesus is King–Not the Corona Virus https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2020/03/16/jesus-is-king-not-the-coronavirus/?utm_source=Supporters&utm_campaign=e3f75f485c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_12_28_10_47_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_943e0c2e65-e3f75f485c-252996781

Posted in Christian Living, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , , ,

Don’t Waste the Virus

While my husband and I were out yesterday we heard that our state’s dine-in restaurants are being shut down for two weeks in an effort to stop the spread of the most recent corona virus, Covid-19. Out of fresh broccoli, we stopped at the grocery store on the way home. I’ve never seen the shelves so empty! The only bread left on the whole, long bread aisle were a few loose slices and one bag of English muffins and some tortillas. Ditto the canned meats and the dried pasta shelves. Many fresh fruit bins were empty. And of course, the toilet paper shelves.

I wonder how many people hold less fear of the illness and more fear of secondary factors, like fear of food restrictions due to store closings and people  hoarding, fear of lawsuits if leaders don’t take extreme precautions. Whatever the case, the issue has become less whether the reason is valid and more the fact that people are making decisions based upon fearful perceptions and beliefs. Ungodly fear is a cruel task master–distorting perceptions, feeling dark and oppressive, luring into inaccurate thoughts, influencing to foolish decisions, hindering love for others. Worse still, fear is dishonoring to God. Fear with an earthly mindset is proving to be a far more infectious and damaging condition than a physical illness.

This situation is a trial. Let’s not waste it. Trials are opportunities–opportunities to demonstrate love for God by resisting ungodly fears and instead responding in the fear of the Lord (Ps. 112:1, 2, 7; 56:3-4). Trials are opportunities to trust Christ, to believe that He really does care and is caring for all that we need (1 Pet. 5:7; Matt. 6:25-33; Ps. 34).  Trials are opportunities to put off love for self and instead demonstrate love for others (Matt. 22:37; Phil. 2:3-5; John 15:12-13).

But others have explained this so skillfully that I want to share with you what they have written about holding a God-honoring attitude in a Corona virus world. These authors remind us of what the Bible says about facing a risk of serious illness or death and what God says about living in the midst of a culture gone crazy in fear. The first in the list below provided a helpful rebuke to my own sinful attitude and corrected me, so if you don’t like correction you might want to avoid it 😉. I recommend all of them. Be comforted. Be encouraged. Be challenged. Rejoice in the Lord!

Wasting the CoronaVirus and Mocking Our Mission Field, by Jordan Standridge
https://thecripplegate.com/wasting-the-coronavirus-and-mocking-our-mission-field/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheCripplegate+%28The+Cripplegate%29
(Credit this one with the title I chose for my own.)

A Christian Response to the Coronavirus, by Warren Peel
https://biblemesh.com/blog/a-christian-response-to-the-coronavirus/?utm_source=BibleMesh+List&utm_campaign=dac3be8cd8-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_07_02_08_54_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5126f03e05-dac3be8cd8-1210431513

God’s Love in a Time of Pestilence: 4 Responses, by Clint Archer
 
Should Churches Meet During Corona Virus?, by Jesse Johnson
Posted in Christian Living, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , , ,

Mother of the Murderer –Immediate Aftermath, Pt 2

Some years ago, on a beach in North Carolina, I was introduced to boogie boarding. I found that each time the waves deposited me near the beach, trying to stand was a struggle beyond my ability. Each wave knocked me off balance and its undertow drug downward on my body so powerfully I literally did not have the strength to straighten my legs to stand. I had to flounder into shallower water before I was able to stand. Like an undertow sucks the swimmer down and under the pounding waves is how the mother of a murderer may feel in the aftermath. (The disclaimers listed in my previous post on this topic apply to this one as well.) 

Sorrow rolls over her. All the time this mom invested, all the love she gave, all the teaching of right and wrong–obliterated. Wasted. Disdained. She grieves over loss of quality relationship with her child (obvious now if it wasn’t before). She is horrified that her own child showed no evidence of the least decency or compassion for his victims, that her child forced all of the victims’ family and friends into the excruciating grief of permanent loss. She grieves for the sorrow such wickedness must be to God. She grieves for the fact that she’ll carry this oppressive source of sadness for the rest of her life. “My heart is crushed and the crushing won’t stop. Will I ever smile again?” The heartbreak keeps rolling in upon her.

There is also a sense of being implicated. It isn’t that the victims’ families have been forced into devastating loss and mourning by the generic someone you hear about on the news. This time the killer is MY child. My son took the life of another mother’s son. My daughter coldly murdered a father’s daughter. The killer has appallingly dishonored his parents and tainted the family name. As one clergyman in Santa Clarita said of the murderer’s mom,

“She is going to be in some sense a pariah in the community by unfeeling people.” [1]

What he said publicly is what such a mom might be tempted to think privately. “Do the neighbors know? Will people assume that it is my parenting that led to this? Will people on social media denounce me as a parent? Will my friends censure me?”

There is more than sorrow and shame. Murder is hideous. The evilness of such an atrocity is sickening. There is a loathsome sense of darkly oppressive horror.

Practical questions arise. What does she say to her child? She can’t say everything is okay; it isn’t. To talk about the crime may be unproductive. To say nothing seems fake. How does one go about loving without condoning the sin?

Will her child be safe in jail? Will the police or prosecutor question her? Is it wrong to refuse to post bail or hire a defense attorney? Will she have to attend a trial? May/should she attend the funerals of the victims?

Why didn’t God stop this? How can anything good possibly come out of this? In essence, why is there evil? Is God good? What do I do with my pain?

Hope in the immediate aftermath

Strong reactions are normal. We should have a reaction to horrendous evil. Numbness, confusion, not knowing what she feels or thinks, strong emotional swings through fear, anger, despair, physical agitation–these are normal reactions to overwhelming circumstances.

In your sorrow, grieve trustingly. There is one who has been where you are and worse. Think on what God–Father, Son, and Spirit–suffered for you. The cross shows that God knows what it is to have a child murdered. He also knows what it is to have children who kill others–it was His children who shouted about Jesus, “Crucify Him!” (and Gentiles who drove in the nails). He has experienced the ultimate rejection and shame, yet still offers peace and joy to those who trust in Him.

Jesus died and rose again to overcome evil and pay for sins. Confess and repent from your own sins. God will give you the desire to please Him, and the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower obedience.

Trust in God who is in control. Acts 2:22-23 explains that the death of God’s own blameless son at the hands of evil men was ordained by God. That means specific actions like their striking of the nails was God’s will. “God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3). So, did God do evil? No, God is not the author of evil (James 1:13-15). He did not coerce anyone to sin. Those who crucified Jesus freely chose what they did.

I know the doctrine of the sovereignty of God raises the question of why God ordained evil to be a part of history. Whether or not we understand, the fact is He did. The issue is less our understanding and more how we respond. We don’t want to find fault with God, yet when evil strikes us our tendency is to grow angry at God (which exposes that we really do believe God is sovereign over evil). Consider the alternative. Would we really want a God who did not have control over all evil events? We would have no guarantee of a good end. Evil could run amok. God would be too weak to save us and too weak to turn the evil to a good purpose. The sovereignty of God, at first difficult to accept, proves to be one of our greatest comforts.

Trust in God who is good. The evidence in Creation and the Bible for God’s extreme goodness is overwhelming. One example is Joseph, in Genesis 37-50. Although God did not save Joseph from human trafficking, abuse, and prison, He sustained Joseph and used the years of suffering for good. As Joseph told his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result…,” the saving of many lives (Gen 50:20). The Bible shows us that, from Adam to the last judgment, God keeps turning evil to His good purposes. This demonstrates how good and powerful and glorious He is.

You don’t have to try to control what is coming next. God is good, is sovereign over tragedies, has a good purpose, and has the power to bring that purpose about for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28-29). Therefore, in the midst of your pain, trust God to act sovereignly for your good and His glory (Ph 4:11-12).

(I plan to discuss practical applications more in the next post.)

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[1] Harriet Ryan, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-11-17/santa-clarita-clergy-explain-unexplainable, Nov 17, 2019 4 AM

Here is another resource:

https://thecripplegate.com/a-biblical-response-to-the-saugus-high-school-shooting/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheCripplegate+%28The+Cripplegate%29

Posted in Parenting, Child-rearing, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , ,