There are some sorrows harder even than the sorrow of death, he insists, some griefs deeper even than the grief of bereavement. And while I find little benefit in comparing one kind of grief to another, I am certain the sorrow of watching a living child careen toward hell is every bit as sharp as the pain of losing a child, but knowing he is safely in heaven.
I am worshipping with a congregation that is not my own, a community of Christians on the far side of the planet. Though I am there primarily to learn and to worship, I cannot help but observe one of the members of the church as he sits just in front of me. His wife is pressed close to him on one side and a chair has been left vacant on the other. He rises with the rest of the congregation as the pastor speaks the call to worship. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”
“Because God is worthy of our trust,” says the pastor, “you can pour out your heart before him. No matter the circumstances of your life, you can trust him because he is powerful and he is good. So let’s join our hearts and voices together to sing of this good and powerful God.”
The musicians take up the first strains of the opening hymn and the people soon join in.
O worship the King all-glorious above / O gratefully sing his power and his love. / our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days, / pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
I observe that as this man begins to sing, he glances toward the door at the back of the room, his eyes searching for something or for someone.
O tell of his might and sing of his grace, / whose robe is the light, whose canopy space. / His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form, / and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.
He sings a few more lines, then looks that way again.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, / in you do we trust, nor find you to fail. / Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end, / our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!
The hymn gives way to a Scripture reading, then to reciting a creed, and still I can see that his attention is divided—