“God’s sovereignty means my son’s death is not meaningless; it’s not an accident. God is in control of all things, and that means his death is meaningful.”
Cameron Cole delivered a breakout message at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference titled “Preparing Kids and Adults to Suffer: Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy.” From Psalm 130 and his experience of tragic loss, Cole addressed the process of continuing to trust in Jesus through deep pain and suffering. He emphasized the importance of a rich, biblical theology to prepare believers to suffer with great hope.
This episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is brought to you by Rooted Reservoir, an online resource by Rooted Ministry. Rooted Reservoir offers youth ministry curriculum, training videos, teaching illustrations, and an online community, to help youth ministers disciple students toward lifelong faith in Jesus Christ. Sign up by Wednesday, September 30, and save $20 with code TGC at rootedreservoir.com.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Cameron Cole: My name is Cameron Cole, and I’m the director of children, youth and family at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. I have worked at the same church for 14 years now; still absolutely love it. They’re going to have to carry me out of there in a coffin.
I’m the chairman of Rooted, which is a ministry that promotes gospel-centered youth ministry. Yep, pump that fist, Charlotte, yeah. We promote gospel-centered youth ministry. We want to equip and empower parents and churches to disciple kids towards life-long faith in Christ. Our vision for every kid is that they would receive gospel-centered, grace-filled, Bible-saturated discipleship in the church and at home.
What we’re talking about today in terms of preparing students and adults to suffer is near to my heart as a youth pastor, knowing what lies ahead for kids and knowing that I want them to be prepared theologically to suffer well.
Before I… yeah, please, thank you so much. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, there you go. That’s what happens when you’re 6’5″. Okay. All right, so before I go too far, I’m going to have a youth ministry moment here. I want to kind of get a sense of why people have come to this workshop, so I’m going to have you, if you don’t mind, closing your eyes for a second and vote with your hands… yeah, I am a youth pastor. If you came to this session because you genuinely want to learn how to equip people and prepare people to suffer well, raise your hand.
Okay. If you came to this session because you are kind of down in the dumps and can really use the hope of Christ, raise your hand.
If you came to this session because you, yourself, had lost a child, and you would like some hope and would like to be understood, raise your hand. Sorry, God bless you, friends, all right? You can open your eyes now. Thank you so much.
All right, so the text I’m going to work from today is Psalm 130. Psalm 130. I will read. “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord. O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy. If you, O Lord, should mark inequities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you, there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord. My soul waits, and in His word, I hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than the watchman for the morning, more than the watchman for the morning. O is real, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption, that He will redeem Israel from all his inequities. Glory to the Father, to the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.”
Let’s pray. Jesus, thank you so much for your word. Thank you for the hope that comes through your gospel, and Lord, we pray now that you would humble sinners and exalt the Savior. By the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ and his kingdom, amen.
All right, so I want to start out and just kind of tell you my story, and tell you why it is that I have so much to say about hope and suffering and about preparing people to suffer, someone who’s very, very grateful that the Lord prepared me to suffer. Every person kind of has their wildest dream, and every person has their worst nightmare. Most people will encounter maybe one or the other, but generally not both. I encountered both in 24 hours.
My wildest dream is truly that my children would come to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord. You can offer me anything in the entire world, and I will not take it above my children’s salvation. I want my children to know Jesus as their Savior. And so, on November 10th, 2013, my little boy, Cameron, who is three years old, he lost his LEGO ax, and he says, “Daddy, can we ask Jesus to find my LEGO ax?” So, I said, “Sure, man. Nothing is lost in the eyes of God,” and so we prayed, “Jesus, help us find Cam’s LEGO ax,” and so we went and we found the LEGO ax… there was a lot of pressure in finding that LEGO ax, for the fragile faith of a three-year-old… and he goes, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
So, then he started to ask all these questions. He said, “Dad, can we go see Jesus today?” I said, “Well, buddy, we can’t. Jesus is with us now. You can’t see him, but we know that he’s here through the Holy Spirit.” He said, “Well, can we get in the car and go see Jesus?” I said, “Well, no, you’ll see Jesus when you go to Heaven, but until then, we just have to trust in God’s word that Jesus is with us now, even though we can’t see Him.” So, then he started to ask questions about Heaven. He said, “Am I going to see Adam and Eve in Heaven?” He had this very interesting fixation with Adam and Eve, and I didn’t tell him, “Buddy, that’s like the worst story in the whole Bible.”
Anyhow, he was really interested in Adam and Eve, and I said, “Yeah, God forgives their sins in Genesis 3, and I think you’ll see Adam and Eve.” Then he said, “I’m not going to eat from that tree. I’m going to eat that apple,” and I said, “Buddy, we all eat that apple every day,” and my wife said, “Honey, that’s why Jesus came.” He said back, “Jesus die on cross. Jesus die my sins.” Two things happened there; in the moment, I didn’t quite realize. One, my child had professed faith in Christ. My child was identifying that he knew that Jesus had died for his sins, and that he knew that there was a way to Heaven through Christ. The second thing I did not realize is that was the last meaningful conversation I would ever have with him.
My worst nightmare is twofold, or was twofold, I should say. I’ve been a youth pastor, like I said, for 14 years, and so, I became a Christian when I was in the third grade. I have had a very, very easy life. I’m a white American male. My parents are affluent, my parents are nice Christians who told me they loved me every day. School came easy, sports came easy, friends came easy; the cushiest life you could ever imagine. If you’re Cameron Cole, you should believe that God is good. You should believe that God loves you and that He has a wonderful plan for your life.
And so, I had this fear as a youth pastor that something really bad would happen, and I would lose my faith, and I would be a sellout and a fraud and a disappointment to all those kids to whom I had proclaimed the promises of the gospel, and I would leave them high and dry spiritually. And so, I thought, “Okay, what is the thing that would cause me to lose my faith?” I would always land at the same place. I would land on the death of my son. If Cameron died, I could not withstand that. I would have nightmares. I would wake up in the middle of the night… we lived on a street where people would drive irresponsibly fast, and I would wake up with this fear that someone had hit him with a car. In that nightmare, I would become angry and bitter, and I would walk away from the Lord, and I would forsake my faith.
And so, the night of November 10th, my son professed faith in Christ. I went on a camp-out, and the next morning I woke up and I noticed at 7:30 that I had three missed calls from my wife in the span of a minute, and the fourth call was coming in. So I picked up the phone, and my wife said, “You need to get to the hospital immediately.” I said, “What’s going on?” She said, “No, you have to get to the hospital immediately.” I said, “Honey, I can’t drive to the hospital 45 minutes with this… you’re in terror. What is going on?” She started to cry, and she said, “Cameron is dead.” He had just died in his sleep, and for a child over the age of one to die in their sleep is extraordinarily rare. It’s about a 1 in 100,000 chance that a child will die in their sleep after the age of one. On a given night, there is a 1 in 625,000,000 chance that a child will die in their sleep, and my son was the 1 in 625,000,000 that night.
So, this was kind of the moment of truth. I had, in different ways, anticipated this moment or seen this moment before, and what happened was contrary to my expectations. This is not a matter of spiritual achievement, this is just the grace of the Lord and the fact that I started to realize that God had prepared for this moment my entire life. What came out of my mouth was, “Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and that means that God is good, and this doesn’t change that fact.”
So, it was stunning to me. It was stunning to me, because I thought this would do me in, and in fact, what happened there is I saw that I really did still trust Jesus, I really still believe in Him, and my confidence in Him continued to grow. And so, the pain, the emotional and physical pain that I was in for two years, was inconceivable… pain that you did not know existed, and at the same time, during the whole process, I had hope. I had this sense, had this confidence could heal me and that God could redeem our life, and that my life was not ruined as I had anticipated.
So, in the next month, I would find myself saying over and over to my wife, Lauren… I would say, “Honey, I have no idea how a person could survive something like this if they didn’t believe in…,” and it would always be some piece of biblical doctrine. “I have no idea how someone could survive this if they didn’t believe in the sovereignty of God, or if they didn’t have the hope of Heaven, or if they didn’t know that God is an empathetic God, or if they didn’t know about the possibility of joy and suffering.”
So, what I was finding was that it was biblical doctrine that was the backbone of me having hope. God had prepared me theologically to suffer over the course of my life, and so, with that being said, I’ve said this repeatedly, but in Dante’s Inferno, what does it say over the door on the entry to Hell? It says, “Abandon all hope, ye he enter here.” I can handle pain. I cannot handle life without hope. Right? I mean, Hell and hopelessness are synonymous. There is no hope in Hell. And so, a life without hope is a living Hell.
So, kind of one of the promises and encouragement I would say as we talk today is that God does not necessarily reduce our pain. He may in time; He definitely has, for me, in time, but God will always give us hope. God can always give us hope through His word and through His spirit.
And so, just this kind of board brush of where we’re going today… the primary thing I want to communicate is that a rich, biblical theology prepares people to suffer. A rich, biblical theology prepares people to suffer. A child who is well-catechized is being prepared to suffer well. A person who reads the Bible and sees biblical concepts and doctrine in that is preparing him or herself to suffer. A church that preaches the word from beginning to end, from the whole way through, is preparing people to suffer.
And so, I want to focus on Psalm 130 because I see my story and this concepts, this truth, in Psalm 130. It starts with a person who is absolutely at the worst. They are at the depths of woe, and then by the end, they’re in this place of overflowing hope. They have an abundant sense of hope, and what is it between the two? What is it between the despair and the hope? It is biblical truth that they work through that takes them to the place of hope, even though their circumstances have not changed.
And so, with that being said, we’re going to work through Psalm 30. After Cameron died, a month after he died, I wrote down the 12 truths that I was finding to be utterly essential to my hope, the ones that I was saying to my wife over and over again, and then I wrote a personal confession, kind of took it and personalized those doctrines. So for examples, God’s sovereignty; my son’s death is not meaningless, it’s not an accident. God is in control of all things, and that means that his death is meaningful. I call that my narrative of hope, and that’s the basis of my book, Therefore I Have Hope, and that narrative of hope, by the way, is posted on the Rooted website today if you want to look at it. Printing out 400 handouts doesn’t travel particularly well, so we just put it on the website at rootedministry.com and you can grab that if it would be helpful to you.
What I want to look at here in Psalm 130, rather than going through all 12 of those doctrines, is three truths that are instrumental in Psalm 130 to bringing this person to a place of hope. First is lament, second is gospel truth, third is faith… third is faith. And so, the hope is that what you’ll see is that as the psalmist concludes, that we can find that there is hope in the Lord, for with Him there is steadfast love, and with Him there is plenteous redemption.
First, we’re going to start off and we’re going to look at the worst. That’s the starting point, the worst, here, and so, in Verse 1, he says, “Out of the depths,” where that really awesome hymn, “From the Depths of Woe.” And so, the word, the Hebrew word here, (foreign language)… and Dr. [inaudible], my Hebrew professor, probably just fainted if he heard me pronounce that so poorly… this word, it has aquatic connotations; so, it’s basically being submerged under the water. In the dictionary Biblical Languages, it says, “A sense of this word is being proximate to [inaudible],” so on the brink of Hell.
The way I kind of think about this image is, the deepest point of the ocean that we know of is what they call the Challenger Deep. It’s 6.8 miles below the surface. So, for me, as I think about my pain in the days and the weeks and the months after my son died, it kind of felt like being in the Challenger Deep, and there is 6.8 miles separating me from oxygen, separating me from life. That’s the starting point here of this psalm, and another thing to notice here is this is a penitential psalm, so that means the person… the despair that he is in is his fault. He’s not a victim of circumstances. He is in the depths of woe because of something that he has done.
And so, I think when it comes to the worst and really bad things, we can go in one of two bad directions. We can think sometimes that little sufferings or first world problems are kind of not important to God. “My cat died. So what? God doesn’t care about that.” “Your child got cut from the basketball time; big deal. These things happen.” I think a lot of times when people will talk to me about their problems, so many people will have this sense of shame, like, “Oh, I’ve never gone through anything that you’ve gone through, but da-da-da-da-da,” and I’m like, “Look, your worst is your worst, right? Praise the Lord that maybe your worst is that you lost a job.” That’s okay. If that’s the worst thing you’ve gone through, that’s the worst thing that you’ve gone through, and if that’s very, very painful and very disappointing to you, then that’s okay. There’s no shame in that.
So, I think in particular with kids, something that we can do is that we can minimize and marginalize their pain. They notice on Instagram that their friends have excluded them and they are devastated, or they get cut from a team, or they’re not starting on the baseball team, or whatever it is, and we can act like, “Oh, please, wait until you grow up,” but what we’ve got to realize is these are the training grounds where God is teaching them how to trust Him.
I’ll be totally honest to you. Probably the most helpful trials in my life where the Lord taught me to trust Him to heal my heart were breakups in high school and college. It seems, looking back, that I was devastated about the conclusion of a four-week relationship. I mean, it is! Looking back, it seems so silly, but it was so real to me when I was 17 years old, and that is really when I looked back at when I had a broken heart, after my son died… a lot of times, I would look back to breakups in dating relationships in high school and college. So, one thing I would say is we want to be very careful not to minimize kids’ pain, and we want to also dignify the situations they’re going through and use it as an opportunity to teach them to trust the Lord for healing.
We also never want to shame ourselves about our suffering. Never believe that because what you’re going through isn’t considered a tragedy, that it’s not significant to God and it’s not something that the Lord wants to heal and redeem. Now, on the other end, I think that my problem was I thought there are some things in life that are too big for God to heal. I really did think that if I had a child die, that I would be ruined. I mean, I thought my life would be over. And when we look at scripture, scripture is a rough road in terms of the stories and the circumstances that people go through.
Think about the flood. The entire world population dies except for one family, and the Lord works redemption out of that. Think about the Samaritan woman and the prostitute in Luke, Chapter 7, these women who live promiscuous lives, they had been shamed and ostracized, and Jesus sees them and He heals them. Think about the life of David. I mean, David effectively rapes a woman. He murders somebody. He is betrayed and his friend tries to murder him repeatedly in Saul. He has a child die. He has another son who tries to take over his throne, and then dies, and we see in the Psalms that the Lord is constantly working to heal and redeem and forgive David.
And so, I think one thing that is valuable… when we teach the Bible, I think it is very important for us to extract the human element of what people are going through. We don’t just want to say that the woman who is bleeding and who reaches out to touch Jesus, that she had a medical situation. We want to get into the fact that she was unclean, so that meant for 10 years, she couldn’t go to the Temple, and for 10 years, no one could touch her. She was without affection for 10 years, and that she had spent all of her money looking for medical treatments and they had failed… one after the other. Get into the grit of the human element so that people see that God can redeem and heal real existential problems. So, the encouragement there is that no matter where you are right now, no matter where the people that you serve may go, there is always hope of redemption in healing and the Lord.
That’s the worst, and so the first truth we’re going to look at is lament. Lament. In Verse 1 and 2, this speaker says, “I cry to you, O Lord. O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.” So he, three times, calls out to the Lord and cries to the Lord with cries of lamentation. I’ll say it is unnatural for us to lament. Some of that is a sin matter, a matter of our flesh, that we want to manage and control our pain on our own; some of that, I think, is cultural. I’m from the American South, where, for whatever reason, we think the expectation of Christians is, “Everything is fine. We’re fine. Things are good.” Sorority smile. I think that could be a trend just among evangelicals that we feel like it’s not okay to be honest about our pain.
There’s a woman that I work with whose name is Krista, and her family went through great financial hardship. She has elementary-age kids, and every week, they were selling items out of their house. They were selling furniture, they were selling their cars, and this was really unsettling and very difficult for her kids. So, Krista and her husband, Jason, they talked about teaching their children how to lament. They would go through Psalms, they would look at Job, they would look at Jesus, and they would teach their kids through the word how to lament as a family.
And so, I think that is something that we need to hear, is that people need to be taught to lament, and we can see three characteristics of biblical lament here in these two verses. First, we see that the lament is directed to God. Who does he cry to in Verse 1? “I cry to you, O Lord.” Who is the direct address in Verse 2? “O Lord.” Who does he say, “Hear my cries, let your ears be attentive to my cry?” He is not hanging onto and trying to manage his pain, he is not grumbling, but instead, he is communicating his pain to the Lord. So, biblical lament directs our pain to God.
Secondly, we see that biblical lament is reverential. The names of God in the Hebrew, underneath the word “Lord,” one is Yahweh, and the other is Adonai. Adonai emphasizes the majesty of God, the authority of God, that God is the one true God; so, it appeals to His power and His transcendence. So, he is crying to the Lord with all his heart, but he is also remembering that God is God. There is no disrespect in his tone.
Finally, we see that lament is emotionally honest. It’s emotionally honest. I want to read Psalm 38, 1 – 11, and just listen to the honesty. Listen to how raw this lament is. “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath, for your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation. There is no health in my bones because of my sin, for my inequities have gone over my head like a heavy burden. They are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness. I am utterly bowed down and prostrate. All the day, I go about mourning, for my days are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed. I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is before you. My sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs. My strength fails me, and the light of my eyes, it has also gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.”
That is raw, that is honest, and this in the Bible. That is the word of God. So, something that you need to hear and something that we need to tell people, because they need to be taught how to lament, is that you have permission. You have permission to lament. You have permission to be confused. You have permission to be angry, and you need to take that to the Lord. You need to take that to the Lord.
So, that is lament. Second, we see the second truth that kind of is leading us towards hope is gospel truth, and we’ll see that in Verses 3 and 4, the verses take us into the crosshairs of the gospel. First, I will say that Lamentations, Chapter 3, Verse 21 was probably the most instrumental verse for me in the year after my son died. Lamentations 3 starts and says… and by the way, if you’ve not read Lamentations, the first two chapters, I mean, they are hard to read. I think it’s probably the most raw, intense, painful section of the Bible. It is just lament after lament after lament.
And so, there is this one glimmer of hope that you come to in Lamentations, Chapter 3; it says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” So, he remembers the doctrine, he remembers the truth of God, and these are the truths he remembers. He says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him.” So, it is the truth of the Lord, and particularly, truths that we associate with the grace of God, the gracious character of God, that bring him to this place of hope in the midst of great lament and sorrow.
And so, in Verses 3 and 4, in Verse 3, he first says, “If you, O Lord, should mark inequities, O Lord, who could stand?” Something I would like to point out here is that this is not Pollyanna. He is coming with hard truth; not the pleasant, “God loves you, God has a comfy pillow for you in Heaven.” This is hard truth to swallow. He acknowledges the justice and holiness of God. He acknowledges the sinfulness of man, and he acknowledges the judgment of God and eternal damnation, all in this verse.
And so, one thing I would like to communicate… I read an article for this, about this, on Gospel Coalition… is that hard doctrines are incredibly helpful in tragedy. Hard doctrines are incredibly helpful in tragedy. They protect you. They protect you.
I will tell you: the most negative emails and blog responses I’ve gotten to my book are on the sovereignty chapter, where I talk about how God… I’m not saying that God caused my son’s death, but God was sovereign in and fully in control in my son’s death. The Lord was not surprised that Richard Cameron Cole, Junior lived three years and 55 days. That was the Lord’s intention, okay? I would just say, it’s not until you’re in that trench that you know how utterly helpful it is to hear that.
When you are suffering and when you are in tragedy, the most spiritually dangerous place you can go is to become bitter and resentful and entitled, and I could feel myself going to that place, because after my son died, it’s not like the hits stopped coming. It wasn’t like I had paid my dues and difficult things stopped happening. Lots of other difficult things continued to happen those next two years, and I would find myself getting bitter and angry, and the thing that would catch me was the reality of what I had earned from God through my sin.
The reality is, the only thing that I have earned from God is judgment. That’s it. God does not owe me anything. I’m not entitled to a comfortable life. I have not bartered with the Lord. And so, when I would find myself going to this place of bitterness, as crazy as this sounds, I would write down the 20 worst things I had ever done, and I would remember, “You know what? Jesus suffered for all of this. Jesus suffered for all of this.” I mean, He hears me, but I am not entitled to anything, and so it was hard doctrine that protected me when I was going to spiritually dangerous places like bitterness and resentment.
It’s not just the hard doctrine here. We see that he also comes back and says, “But with you, there is forgiveness. With you, there is forgiveness.” What we see here is the truth is putting us in the crosshairs of the gospel, and what I would say the message of the cross. The cross tells us that God is so just that he must punish all sin, but God is so loving that he would punish all sin on the cross on himself in the person of Jesus. The cross tells us that our problem with sin is so bad that God himself would have to die on the cross, but it also tells us that our lives are so valuable to God, that we are so cared for and so precious to the Lord, that He would rather die on the cross than give us up.
And so, part of what I want to communicate here is that one of the best things that we can do to help people in suffering, and to particularly prepare people to suffer, is to constantly hold the gospel in front of them, constantly hold the cross before them, because existentially, the thing that you are really struggling with when you suffer is the question of whether or not God is good, and in particular, is God for me? Is God on my side? Nothing answers that question more emphatically than the cross.
And so, you can see here in this text, while this is obviously pre-Jesus, you can see he remembers the holiness and the justness of God, and his own sinfulness, but he remembers the grace and the mercy of God, and His forgiveness, and so this is instrumental to his hope.
Finally, we’re going to talk about faith. The gospel truth leads him perfectly to this place of faith, because he says, “With you, there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared. Therefore, you can be trusted.”
So, in Verses 5 and 6, he says, “I wait for the Lord. My soul waits, and in His word I hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than the watchman for the morning, more than the watchman for the morning.” I want to say this respectfully and humbly, but when it comes to tragedy and pain, the world has no answers. The world really has no answers. I can remember just being driven crazy by this song… I like the song, it’s a good tune… by the band fun., Carry On. Here’s how the words go: “Though I’ve never been through hell like that, I’ve closed enough windows to know that you can never look back. If you’re lost and all alone, or you’re sinking like a stone, carry on. May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground, carry on. Carry on. Carry on.”
What it does not recognize is, when you are in such a deep place of grief, your problem is there is no tank in the gas. There is nothing, there’s no power within to enable you to carry on. I will tell you: one of the most depressing… depressing to a frightening degree… places that you can go on the internet is to secular child loss blogs. I can remember going there… oh, it was a mistake. Going there, and people would write articles about losing children, and from a purely secular perspective, you read the comment section, and it was… I really want to say this sensitively… it was cliches and platitudes and law, self-help. “They’ll always live on in your heart. You’ll carry the memory with you forever.” I’m just going to tell you, folks: that does not get it done. That does not heal you. That does not give you hope when you are grieving something so deeply, when you are suffering in a great way.
But here’s the thing: a lot of times, in Christianity, when we have an un-biblical view of faith, we sound just like the world. I mean, the day of my son’s funeral… and I am not bitter at this dude; this dude was doing the best he could, but he was a pastor, and he always had big problems with my theology. That doesn’t have anything to do with this story, but you’ll kind of get it. You’ll kind of get it in a second. He sent me a message the day of my son’s funeral, and it said, “I’m so sorry,” and so on and so forth. He said, “Man, the best thing I can tell you is to keep on pressing on.” I’m like, “Bro, I’m going to carry my son’s coffin to a grave today.” Keep on pressing on? That is not getting it done. That is not getting it done, and praise the Lord, that is not what all the Lord leaves us with.
The Lord points us to faith as rescue. Faith in the Bible is better conceived as rescue. So, there are three observations we can make here about biblical faith in Verses 5 and 6. First is that biblical faith is based on the word. Verse 5, he says, “In His word, I hope,” so it is in response to truth. A mentor of mine named John Riddle, he would say, “The first step in faith is a proper response to God’s truth, a proper response to God’s revelation.” And so, biblical faith is in response to God’s word.
A second thing we can see here is that biblical faith involves total dependence, total dependence on God. The word that is used repeatedly here in Psalm 30 is wait. Wait for the Lord. I wait for the Lord. I think the word wait is one of the best terms to describe the Christian life, because when you are waiting, you are not in control. You have surrendered. That’s why there is nothing that can create more anxiety than having someone else pick you up to take you to the airport, particularly if that person is chronically late… and I’m not going to tell the story about how my friend Anna over here missed a flight because I was late picking her up to go to the airport a couple of months ago… but when we’re talking about waiting on the Lord, when he talks about waiting on the Lord here, he is saying, “Lord, you have total control. You have total control here.”
Finally… oh, no, before I go there, Psalm 40… absolutely one of my favorite Psalms. “I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He picked me out of the pit, out of the miry clay.” Here is this image of a person who is in a pit, and at the bottom of the pit is basically quicksand. There is no climbing out of that pit. You must be rescued, right? That is the image we have here of biblical faith.
Finally, biblical faith is expectant faith. We see that he twice says that he waits for the Lord more than the watchman for the morning, so the text insinuates that this a watchman who is looking to see if there are any enemies or any threats coming to the city, and this is the last watch of the night, and when will his watch end? When the sun comes up. Is there any doubt in the watchman’s mind that the sun is going to come up? Is there anything more reliable in the world than the sun coming up in the morning, right? The sun is undefeated.
And so, with that being said, he does say there is actually something more reliable than the sun coming up in the morning, and that is the redemption and the healing of the Lord. So we see that he waits, he’s giving the Lord control, but he is also expectant that the Lord, in His time, and on His terms, and in His way, can redeem and heal him.
I think a helpful thing to do, and I’m not going health, wealth and prosperity… don’t hear me wrong here… I think a helpful thing to do is to turn our prayers when we are in suffering into expectant prayers, and to pray… and when we pray with people who are suffering, to pray with expectation. Lord, my friend, who has suffered another miscarriage; Lord, we thank you that you are going to heal her heart. We thank you that you are going to redeem her life in your time and your way. Lord, my friend, who has just gotten the worst news in the world; Lord, we thank you that you are going to redeem the situation. We thank you that you are going to restore and heal their life in your time and your way.
I’m not saying it’s going to be on our terms. We’re not saying it’s going to be quick, but we are expecting that the Lord is a healer and that the Lord is a redeemer. That’s the very nature of who He is.
So, to review, biblical faith is the word telling us that Jesus can rescue us. Biblical faith is allowing Jesus to rescue us. Biblical faith is expecting Jesus to rescue us. It is critically important that we teach people a clear biblical picture of what faith really looks like, because if Jesus is my co-pilot, plane is going to go down.
All right, so we’ve gone from the worst, and we’ve seen lament, we have seen gospel truth, and we have seen faith. And so, at the end, we see that this speaker has been brought to a place of hope, and what is critical to understand is that his circumstances have not changed. I think a lot of time, a very dangerous and, honestly, depressing place that we can go in suffering is to just kind of go back and play the what if game. “Oh, what if this hadn’t happened, or what if this had happened, or what if I had done this,” and so on and so forth, and it can just put us in this depressing place of mental gymnastics and anxiety. We can’t change our circumstances, but the Lord can change our heart within our circumstances, right? The Lord can give us hope, the Lord can heal us in difficult circumstances.
And so, we see here that this speaker, who described himself as being in the absolute worst, in the depths of woe, now says, “O, is real, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord, there is steadfast love, and with Him, is plentiful redemption, and He will redeem Israel from all his inequities.” He has been brought to such solid ground, he’s been healed and encouraged to a degree that he is able to look outside himself, and to look to others and say, “Trust the Lord. You can hope in the Lord. He can redeem you.”
And so, I think an encouragement for us in our suffering, an encouragement… you have to be very careful about when you plant this seed… but a vision we can cast for people is what we see here in Verses 7 and 8, that the Lord can heal you, and the Lord can redeem you, and the Lord can take you to a place of solid ground where you might be able to minister to and help people who have gone through this thing that you’re going through right now. That’s a hopeful thing. That’s a purposeful thing in life.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with David and Nancy Guthrie. Nancy is doing a workshop down the hall. There are probably 70,000 people at it. David and Nancy lost two children, and they lead retreats for people who have lost children. My wife, Lauren, and I went to their retreat. They do five of these retreats a year, where they just sit with people who have lost children, and they minister to them, and they share their testimony of how the Lord has brought them to a place of hope. So, an encouragement, I would say, for you is that the Lord is a healer and a redeemer, and He can take you to a place where you can have the same word. You can say, “My friend who has gone through a divorce, hope in the Lord, for in the Lord, there is steadfast love and plenteous redemption.” “My friend, whose spouse has died, hope in the Lord, for in the Lord there is steadfast love, and in Him, there is plenteous redemption.”
I will say to you: a blessing of my life is that for me… and this is a praise the Lord kind of thing… but for me, it’s a powerful witness that I am five years removed from my son dying; I am really grateful to be alive. I really thought… I mean, there were definitely days in the months after my son died where I was like, “Lord, if you could just let a Mack truck hit me, I would be so grateful.” There was just no excitement. It was just not fun. It was awful. But today, I’ve got a really good marriage. I love my wife. She’s really cool, and my kids are really enjoyable. I love my kids. They’re really cute and fun, and I’m really into my job. I really like my job. I’m all about doing children, youth and family at the Church of the Advent. I get so fired up about Rooted, and I’m pretty amped about Alabama’s offensive line for next year. I mean, we’re going to average about 340 pounds across the front five, and I think we’re going to be able to run the ball, and I like that. That gets me excited?
But the fact that I have a functional life and I’m glad to be alive? Praise Jesus! The Lord has done healing and redemption in my life, right? So, praise Jesus. And so, all that to say, a hopeful thing for people not in the immediacy of suffering, but as they start to progress a little bit, is this word that I can say to you right now. The last thing I’ll say is, hope in the Lord, for in the Lord is steadfast love, and in Him, there is plenteous, plenteous redemption.
Let me pray for us, and then I’ll take some questions.
Lord Jesus, thanks for your goodness and your loving kindness. We are so grateful that you are a redeeming God. We are so grateful that you are God, the healer, and Lord, I personally am so grateful that I have received that grace in my life. Lord, for those of us who are here who are suffering, Lord, we pray that you would give them hope. Give them encouragement, Lord, that you can bring them to a place of solid ground, that you can bring their life to a functional place where they would have joy; and Lord, give us wisdom, give us direction on how to prepare adults and kids to suffer. Give us a discipline, Lord, to teach your word, the good stuff and the hard stuff, and Lord, empower us to do your work, as you are a worthy Lord. You are worthy of us submitting our lives and serving you. We ask you these prayers in Jesus’ name, amen.
All right. Does anybody… yes?
Audience: *asks question [inaudible]*
Cameron Cole: Yeah, sure.
Cameron Cole: Great, okay. So the question is, if you were with a person who was in deep suffering, what are good words to give? Nancy Guthrie actually published a really good book on this, that instructs people on how to care for people who are suffering.
Let me just say this first: I think that a lot of times, people feel a pressure, like I’ve got to have the magic words, and a lot of times people don’t enter into suffering because they’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I would encourage you, the first thing to say is, “You know what? I wish I had the magic words, but I just do not know what to say. I know that there’s nothing I can say that can make this right.” That right there, coming in with humility in that kind of way is really, really helpful.
I do think that one thing that is particularly helpful to say is to lead with empathy, to let a person know, “I want you to know that my heart is broken. I am so sad with you in this.” I just remember, in the receiving… oh, it’s so sweet, don’t cry… I can remember this, the receiving line at my son’s funeral, these three boys right in a row who were just bawling, and they were trying to hold it back, but I just still… I will never forget Will Hargrove and Michael Clark bawling their eyes out in the line at my son’s funeral.
And so, I know sometime, I think the whole wisdom is, “Never let them see your tears.” I personally don’t necessarily agree with that. Obviously, you don’t want to come on people in a way that burdens them, but I found it helpful when I knew that people were suffering with me. One of the best letters I ever got was from the headmistress at the school that’s associated with my church, and she just wrote, “My heart is broken with you. Una.” It was awesome. So, I hope that it helpful.
Audience: *asks question [inaudible]*
Cameron Cole: Got it. Question is, what advice would you give to help an eight-year-old cope with the loss of his mother?
First thing I would say is… I’ve been with a lot of kids who have lost parents, who have lost siblings, who have lost friends. First off, ministry of presence is really, really key. Just being there, just showing up… that’s the first thing.
The second thing I would say is, I had some kids in my youth group whose dad died about three years before my son died, and about three or four months afterwards, I called all of them up individually, and I got together with them, and I asked them, “What is your grief like now? What is it like three years after your dad has died?” The thing that is particularly true for kids that they’re not prepared for is that the tale of grief is going to be very, very long.
That girl? She was in the fifth grade when her dad died. When she gets married, a valuable thing for me to say is, “I want you to know that I grieve with you that your dad is not going to be here to be at this wedding. I know that that may be something that is on your heart, and I mourn that with you.” So, I would say to have a long-term ministry to a child, because especially as they mature emotionally, and they start to get greater understanding of things, to be a person who knows that that’s not in the back seat, but that’s something that will ever be present with them… I think that’s a really valuable thing that you can do for kids.
We’ll get the people in the back. How about very back with gray vest on?
Audience: *asks question [inaudible]*
Cameron Cole: Great, okay. So if I’m hearing your question properly, what I’m hearing is, after the lament stage, what does joy look like? In that, are you talking about spiritual joy and intimacy with the Lord, or just happiness in the circumstances of life, or both?
Cameron Cole: Right. Got it.
Cameron Cole: Right. Good. So, something I would say about joy and suffering… I think one of the most compelling things about following Jesus is the reality that we can have joy, irrespective of the circumstances. When you look at Jeremiah 34, it’s just a joy-filled chapter, but it’s talking about them being in exile. Jesus, in John, tells the disciples, “You are going to suffer, but you will have joy in your sorrow.”
For myself, I would say… this sounds total crazy talk, but if you’re a believer, you get it… my son’s funeral was one of the most joyful experiences of my life. The redemption of Jesus, the resurrection in the gospel, was never more real than it was the day of his funeral, because I knew that this was now not just about Heaven in an abstract way; this was now the place that my child lived. I now had the hope that I would be there with him, and it was because of Jesus, and it was a very joyful experience for me.
I think the one thing I would say to people is that, there is a joy in trusting Jesus. There is a joy in drawing close to Jesus, an intimacy and fellowship with Jesus, and so while the temptation is to draw away from the Lord, we really want to seek the joy of the Lord in intimate fellowship with Him. I don’t know if that’s helpful, but that’s my best.
Back row… yeah, yeah, goatee? Yep, you, you’re the one. Yep, uh-huh.
Audience: *asks question [inaudible]*
Cameron Cole: I think, in a kind way, not a dogmatic way… oh, sorry, the question is, how do you instruct people who, their understanding is that Jesus died so that they would be comfortable? The point of the Christian life, the fruit of obedience, and following Jesus is just to be comfortable, that’s the question.
I would pull out the Bible. I know that sounds terribly elementary, if I’m not being silly, but I mean, look, Romans 8. We love Romans 8, how it talks about the hope of glory and all of these wonderful things. We don’t really like that little subordinate clause that says, “Provided we suffer with Him.” Provided we suffer with Him… I think, especially going through Paul’s epistles, and showing the reality that we are unified with Christ in His life, in His resurrection, and we are unified with Jesus in His death… and, particularly, we look at a book like Philippians. Paul says it’s a privilege to suffer with Christ. So, as simple as it sounds, I think we have to show people that, number one, that is just false. It’s a lie, but also that there is hope in that, that there is joy in that suffering because we’re unified with Christ.
So, again, not a very sophisticated answer, but it’s all I got. Yes, right here?
Audience: *asks question [inaudible]*
Cameron Cole: That is really hard. That is really, really hard.
Cameron Cole: The question is, how would you pastor to a family who has lost a child to suicide?
I have been around that a ton in my career; never anyone in my congregation, but I felt like there was a stretch of about five years where at least one child in the school system committed suicide. Oh man, I’ve never had that happen to me, personally. Oh man, gosh, I don’t have a great answer. I mean, my kind of playbook on that is really just to be… I’ve mainly been with students who have grieved in that, but… it’s just really hard. I think to be present, to stay with them, and I think probably to be really patient with their doubts and their questions… there aren’t really easy, cut and dry answers to that.
I do remember being at Nancy’s retreat, and there was a couple there whose child had died as a result of suicide, and one of the things that Nancy said is, “Yes, absolutely, people have choices, but God is still sovereign in all things. He’s still sovereign in all things.” I think it does not mean he caused that, it does not mean that we advocate and bless that choice, and we still believe that God is a sovereign god, even in things like that. I’m sorry, that’s the best I have. My bad.
You here, and then you there. Yep. Yes, the person pointing to yourself, you. Yep.
Audience: I have two questions.
Cameron Cole: Okay.
Audience: Number one, how is your wife?
Cameron Cole: Yeah!
Audience: And number two, you communicated that sometimes we try to control our [inaudible].
Cameron Cole: Sure, right, right.
Audience: How does that look different?
Cameron Cole: Sure, when does it cross the line?
Cameron Cole: Yeah, okay. So, my wife is good. Her grief has been very different than mine. Her experience has been very different than mine. We are very different people. I am an open book. I am a verbal processor. She is very quiet. She’s more private. She’s great. She’s lovely.
You know what, guys? You know people say that the statistic is that couples who lose a child are more likely to get divorced? That’s actually not true. That’s not a scientifically-based statistic. There was a study in the last 10 years that looked at couples who have lost children versus couples who have not, and actually, couples who have lost children, the divorce rate is lower than the average population. So, that’s one little thing, but thank you for asking.
And then, the distinction I would make in terms of managing our pain versus having self-control, is when I think about us trying to manage our pain, I think about turning to idols, so getting really, really busy or picking up an addiction, or just pretending like things are not wrong. That’s what I mean by trying to manage our pain, trying to heal ourselves primarily through idolatry. So, is that a sufficient distinction? Okay, great.
How about you?
Cameron Cole: Right.
Audience: It’s easier for me to grab hold [inaudible], but I’m finding it hard to help them. How do I go about [inaudible]
Cameron Cole: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think one thing is you have to really, really lean on the Lord’s wisdom on what to say and not to say, because especially in an immediate circumstance, you don’t want to sound preachy. So, I think the first thing I would say is to be the best person at empathizing with them, the best person at suffering with them… I think that’s the first thing you can do to witness.
I will tell you, so, I have a friend who, his wife went through 9/11, and then she was diagnosed with cancer not long after that, and she was not a believer at this point. All of her non-believing friends hit the road. She didn’t hear from any of them. And so, some of her believing friends kind of showed up, even though she wasn’t a believer. So, I think that as Christians, we have … because of the Holy Spirit and because of the cross, because we know that on the other side of the cross is resurrection, we are uniquely equipped to enter into people’s pain, and to handle hard things and to listen with them. So, I think to be a really good, consistent, empathetic friend is helpful, and then I think there can be an opportunity probably to talk about the hope that you have. You have to be very careful to try to share common experience to suggest that you’ve gone through something they’re going through… but to talk about the hope I have and things like this, it has to do with the gospel.
I would speak more in your own voice, “This is my experience,” than sounding preachy to them, but I think those are some words that I might offer.
Everyone, thanks so much. Thanks so much for coming. God bless you.