Dr. Will Varner, my teacher, mentor, and friend, spoke in TMC chapel today. For the first time, he spoke publicly about the death of his beloved daughter Lynda. It was an agonizing experience for all who cared.
It is dangerous to assume that you understand someone else's grief. Shallow is the man who believes he can comprehend every sob of those drowning in sorrow. His thoughts will be shallow, his words cheap, and his prayers few. Offering theological dainties to those whose hearts have been amputated by some great loss is not as loving as we might think it is. Often, silence is wisdom.
As I sat in the second row in chapel today watching a man empty his tears before a thousand students, I was reminded of a quote by missionary John Paton. John Piper quoted it with deep emotion in his biographical sermon entitled "You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals!" Lessons from the Life of John G. Paton. Paton left his native Scotland as a missionary to the tribes of the New Hebrides Islands in the south seas. People thought he was mad. And if there is no resurrection from the dead, they were right.
John Paton suffered immensely, not by force but by choice (and sometimes there is a difference). He arrived on the island of Tanna on November 5, 1858. After arriving "in excellent health and full of all tender and holy hopes," his wife Mary Ann died four months later. "To crown my sorrows, and complete my loneliness," Paton's newborn son died two and a half weeks after that.
I will never forget what he wrote about his grief (John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), 79):
Let those who have ever passed through any similar darkness as of midnight feel for me; as for all others, it would be more than vain to try to paint my sorrows!
There are some sorrows that are unpaintable. When this is the case, it is our wisdom not to try.