We experienced a tragedy recently when a pastor, a dear man of God, was shot and killed by a distraught man he had been counseling. In fact, this man had tried to take his own life a few weeks before, and the pastor had found him and saved his life.
This pastor was a wonderful elder in the whole community of Masiphumelele, a township near where we live. He was a servant to the people, highly respected. He had lived and served in "Masi" for 18 years. When there was a need or crisis, he was often the first one on the scene to help and minister. He had touched many lives in the community. The loss was widely felt. The community responded with a quiet dignity and mourning, a sense of honor and respect for the leader they lost.
These events have caused me to think about how we grieve what has been lost. God cannot comfort us if we yield to the temptation to "spiritualize, rationalize, or criticize" when there is a loss. Giving into any one of these temptations, as a way of trying to help others through their grief, is a huge mistake. I have learned in my journey to avoid these three pitfalls. Let me explain why.
1. Don't over-spiritualize the loss of a great person or something precious to us with Christian cliches and superficial jargon . It is better just to say, "It hurts. I'm sorry. I will miss him." Commonly used phrases like, "The Lord understands," or "It was God's time," or "all things work together for good," are not only hurtful to those close to the one that we've lost, but can also denigrate the wrong choices of others who caused someone's death. These cliches lose their meaning by repeating them without thinking. They often reflect bad theology. For example, "all things do not work together for good..," but "in all things God works for good." There is a world of difference.
2. Don't rationalize or intellectualize someone's loss. There is a great temptation to find answers, to understand with our minds what must be responded to with our hearts. I have struggled this last week with why God would allow a great man to be killed tragically. There are times we should not try to explain what is unexplainable. There are aspects of our life on earth that do not fit into neat theological boxes. Even if we have the correct insight, it can be profoundly insensitive to speak it out. Far better to hold those thoughts and ponder them in our hearts.
3. A third way to respond to loss is to blame it on the enemy. Some people don't feel happy unless they have someone or something to blame. But the blame game will definitely hinder grieving. I get the impression that people believe Satan has more power than God. Satan cannot do anything that God does not allow him to do. He is a created, fallen, finite being. He is a liar. He is limited. God does not cause evil to happen. God is not responsible for people's sinful choices, but He is greater than evil and sin. He can take the evil of this world and bring good out of it. The Bible says that God will cause even the wrath of sinful men to praise Him (Psalm 76:10).
On a natural level my human mind can't help but ask, "why him, Lord? He was one of the really good ones! We need him." Though we shouldn't rationalize with human reasoning a serious loss, God does give insight and revelation. My heart has ached for this pastor's family (he left a wife, children, grandchildren), his congregation, and the community. The need is so great. Losing a life is always tragic, but losing this man has had an even greater impact.
As I have pondered this for the last couple weeks...... I was reading in Job and was struck by the words in Job 32:8 - "It is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand." When Job reached a depth of humility and surrender to the gracious sovereignty of God, he was able then to receive wisdom and insight. "I have heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you..." (Job 42:5). Spiritual wisdom is revealed to the lowly of heart, not the mighty of mind. While I don't think we will ever have all our questions answered here on earth, I do believe God wants to give revelation and understanding to our hearts when our motive is to understand His ways . It's His spirit in us that does that......for all the questions we bring to Him. I continue to pray and seek God's perspective on these recent events. While my heart grieves with those who mourn, my prayer is to respond with God's heart and with Godly understanding.
I've also prayed that many will be raised up to take this dear man's place! His ministry was deeply rooted in the community, and now his very life has been sown into it. Although I didn't have the privilege of knowing him personally in the short time we've been here, I honor him for the spiritual foundations he laid in the community. I pray that there will be an abundance of eternal fruit from Pastor Phillip Mokson's life.