Sustaining Grace

The sudden death of a too-young brother. It happened to me and it happened to today’s guest blogger, my friend, Jeff Larson. Both of us are all too familiar with the painful platitudes. If you are in the wake of extreme loss, Jeff’s words will help. And if you’re not, they will help you know what to say–and what not to say–to those who suffer.


by Jeff Larson 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Jeff & Brad Larson

There are times in life when a cursory reading of this verse rings hollow.  For me, that time came when a semi crossed the median and collided with a van of Taylor University banquet workers, killing my little brother Brad, three other students, and a University employee.  Consolers were quick to identify that this was part of God’s plan and assured me this was ultimately a good thing.  I confess that I had (have?) a cynical response to these platitudes.

Plans to prosper? Hope and a Future? It didn’t appear too prosperous for my brother, who was three months away from graduation and had his whole life ahead of him. And it wasn’t too great for my sister or for me, much less my parents, whose hopes and dreams for their last child were part of the wreckage on that stretch of Indiana interstate.

At my brother’s funeral, his godfather spoke these words:

Almighty God…has promised us a day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. When there will be no more tears or sorrow or sighing, and we will all be together again.  This is not that day.  

I remember feeling a sense of relief, like someone had finally given me permission to hate this thing that had happened.

Profound loss puts our faith on trial. When it comes, our beliefs about God’s nature, God’s will and the role of evil in this world are tested. How are verses such as Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 (“in all things God works for the good of those who love him”) reconciled with deep sadness and suffering?

Perhaps God’s will does not include evil for his followers, but rather triumph over it.

Ours is a religion of salvation. We have been promised victory over evil and death, but it is a victory that has yet to be realized.  Shortly before Paul tells us in Romans 8 that all things work for good, he identifies that “the whole creation [groans] in the pains of childbirth” until our redemption that awaits us beyond this earth. It is in this redemption that we hope for, and it is this hope that comforts us until it comes.

We live in a fallen world, surrounded by evil.  But as Christ followers, we can rest in the knowledge that He who redeems us also suffers with us. Jesus himself suffered profound loss during his time on earth (John 11:28-37), and Hebrews 4 counsels us that Christ “shares with us our flesh and blood” and was “made like his brothers in every respect.” As those who walk the path of loss and suffering, we may be lonely, but we follow in His footsteps.

Ultimately, we also rejoice in the truth that pain, suffering and grief are part of God’s plan only to the extent that He will one day deliver us from them. Until that time, our portion is grace. And it is this grace that sustains us until that day.

We can rest not only in the prospect of deliverance based on the redemptive work of Christ, but also in the knowledge that we will one day hear Him say,

“Behold, I make all things new.”

  • Ben

    How crazy it is that after just finishing Joe and Bob’s book, I would jump online and read an entry written by my roommate from freshmen year of college.  This past year has been one of numerous losses for my wife and me.  Yet in spite of everything, even in my times of not really walking with God and perhaps doubting, He has given us hope.  God has used His people, His word, and the Great Comforter to sustain my wife and me.  How wonderful indeed it is to know that in the end, “God will make all things new!”

  • Andrew

    Jeff, having lost my older brother in a car accident, later both parents and my wife going through cancer eventually successfully, life sure is messy.  Why would God allow those situations to occur when it obviously causes us to question his goodness, sovereignty and power?  Yet, in the quiet moments of our utter grief, when we have no other way to go, except to Him, He sustains us with grace and mercy.  He gives us a verse of hope when otherwise there is seemingly no hope.  He makes us more dependant upon Him.  And through His strength working through us, we can glorify Him.  It produces in us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…because He really is there.  Thanks for your honesty.  Very powerful.  Andrew

  • lynn bryant

    Thanks so much for sharing…by this you give others hope for a brighter day ahead…so sorry for your loss but hes with Jesus and one day you will be together again…God bless you alwys and your family

  • Robb

    Joe, wow!  This is so refreshing.  I lost my father december 27th and my grandmother march 27th and I have yet to grieve.  Perhaps because I have (had) a cynical view of what good could come from it all.  Selfish I know but know but this is a touching blog and has a healing quality.  Please tell Jeff thanks for sharing. 

    • Joe Coffey

      Rob, I will be praying for you to grieve. i think i can speak for Jeff when i say he is thankful whenever his loss helps any healing. There is something redemptive that helps heal us as well. 

  • Susan Moore

       Praise God for His regenerative Spirit!!  I’ve endured alot of losses in my lifetime, the greatest being that of my god-sister when we were in our early twenties.  We grew up together just like biological sisters.  I was mentally ill, and had compassion for people who were mentally ill. So I went into nursing school so that I could work as a psychiatric nurse, and I had just aced my psychiatric nursing rotation. She appeared to be her normal, bouncy, enthusiastic self when her family came home one evening and found her sitting on the floor of a sealed up garage with the car running.  She could not be resusitated. No one will ever know why, at least not in this life (or ever?).  I was numb for months, and if the head of the nursing school had not intervened, I would have flunked out of school. It took two years to process it at all.
       One of the verses that helped me through that was Jeremiah 29:11.  It got me out of my numbness when I realized when it says, ‘not to harm you’ means ‘not to damage you’.  It doesn’t say His plans don’t sometimes hurt.  But they never damage us when we maintain faith in Him.  In my mind our painful trials are like a whip in a horse trainer’s hand.  The whip is meant to encourage the horse to move forward and comply with the request, or to discipline a disobedient horse. But it is meant to be used as an extension of a loving, forgiving hand, because our arms our so short to reach where we need to tap.  It is never meant to be used in a way that causes damage, trauma or abuse to the horse.  Likewise, in my mind, our painful trials are one way God educates us and disciplines us.  He knows each of us from the inside out, because He made us.  He knows what we can ‘take’, and never gives us too much, even though it doesn’t always seem that way.  His goal is always to refine us, and make us more like Him.  He knows where we are and what we need, and promises to be with us, always. 
        “Blessed are the poor in spirit”: I call our God, ‘the God of ‘No-holds barred’, because He stops at nothing to make His dream come true.  I felt inadequate back then, and I still do. Because I am inadequate without Him, my Savior and my Lord.  As if He were a beautiful and fragrant white rose, my only viable choice is to hang on tight to Jesus, inspite of the thorns in life. When I let go of Jesus, I let go of life, itself, and become numb.  I’ve never told anyone about all this. It feels good to get it all out, even now, thirty years later.  Thanks for caring enough to write.