The anniversary of my first wife’s death and my marriage to my second wife fall within a week of each other in June. By no means does my life look like I thought it would. So many things that I assumed and leaned upon have fallen away, but the glory of God has been an unchanging rock.
To say that things have been different is not to say that things have gone all wrong. Altered paths are not necessarily poorer paths but bad things have clearly happened. My first wife Amy was a fantastic and beautiful person. It is God’s good gift to us that we had her as wife and mother and friend. The cancer that ended her life about a year after our third child was born was undeniably a bad thing. Our family lost a great deal on that day and we live with the unfading grief of knowing that we will never get it back.
A Grand View?
I was driving home from the hospital when Amy died. She had been in palliative care and mostly sedated for the last few days of her life. I had sat with her in the hospital through the day and was on my way to pick up the kids for the night. My cell phone rang and by chance I pulled over by the mailboxes at a road called Grandview Drive. After the nurse on the phone told me that Amy had passed away I noticed the street sign and felt the deep irony.
Grandview Drive earned its name by offering a view of the Saint John River and it does have a lovely outlook. But what was in my view in those moments? There was some relief because Amy was finally no longer sick and suffering. It had been a long year between diagnosis and that day when she died. Both the cancer and the side effects of trying to slow it down caused her great suffering. We could be glad that Amy was finally released from the constriction of terminal disease, but the view was not grand. When I hung up the phone I was looking at taking the kids home and telling them that their mother was gone. And then what? I gazed ahead at a certain and yet ambiguous grief. Tomorrow would be the first day I woke up as a widower. It would also be the first day the kids woke up without a mom. What would it look like as I walked with the kids through a major loss on a path that would extend far beyond the funeral?
It is difficult for me to know how to frame all this. We benefit from living in a place where it is unusual for a mother of three young kids to die. There are all kinds of people whose suffering is far greater and do not have the safety nets that helped us. I want to be careful not to exaggerate our situation but I also recognize that we can only lose and grieve from where we are standing. For us, Amy’s terminal cancer was both a shock and a great loss.
The Glory of God
Yet the impression that dominates these years as I look back on them is that God has been very good to us. Looking at where we stand now and the path that brought us here, I can testify with joy that this great loss has not sunk us. This is not a claim to any sort of heroic faith on our part but only a testimony to what God has done as a statement of fact. The ordeal of Amy’s sickness and death raised questions about all the most important things but it did not undo our grip on them. I can see that this is because of the glory of God.
The glory of God is a difficult thing to describe or define. In this effort we are choosing to extend our reach as far as we can, knowing that it will fall short no matter how far we get. God’s glory is sometimes spoken of as his weightiness or significance. It ties in his beauty and holiness. His glory is often used as a term to describe the collection of all that is wonderful in God and in his ways. We find that seeing him both undoes us and makes us complete all at the same time and we use ‘glory’ to try and capture what it is about God that does this. Because I had learned to see that God is glorious my grief did not overthrow me. Because I had been given eyes to see the glory of God I have been able to love my God while losing my wife.
There are a lot of things I can say about how I saw the glory of God through this process and the way it affected me in it. For now I will point to two things and the first is that God’s glory is sufficient. On the one hand this means that he is as glorious as he ‘ought’ to be. On the other it means that a view of his glory is enough is carry us through whatever we face. I think this is what surfaces in Psalm 46:10. Even though the earth is giving way and the mountains tremble, God tells us: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Our comfort and confidence are not in the earth ceasing to shake but in knowing that God is God and that he will be exalted.
A Persistent Sight
The second point is that the glory of God is persistent. His glory is the thing that we need most to behold and the good news for us is that it is all around us. The heavens declare it and his Word displays it. Jesus was glorified by the Father so that the Son would then turn and glorify the Father (John 17:1-5). The Spirit of truth poured out by Christ upon us continues to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). When Jesus prayed “Father, glorify your name,” the voice from heaven answered, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28). When we begin our prayers with “hallowed be your name” we pray for what we need most and what God is most eager to do.
Another time, I was doing the familiar drive between home and hospital. The sky was overcast. I got thinking about the way that both the sun and the glory of God are persistent. Even though the sky was cloud-packed from horizon to horizon I was not driving in darkness. Even though I could not have found the circle of the sun to save my life, I was still surrounded by its light. When you sit in the shade you are ‘out of the sun’ but you are not in total blackness. The sun is pervasive. Even at night the moon reflects it to us. The sun rises “like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” so that “there is nothing hidden from its heat.” In the same way, the glory of God is persistently proclaimed “to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1-6).
We will never be without a view of the glory of God. My testimony of the goodness of God is not due to him making up for the loss of my first wife by providing me with another. It is because he has given me eyes to see his glory. That view does not cure cancer and it will not undo anything that we grieve, but the key is to see that it does not need to. Even if there are desolations on the earth, it is enough for us to see that he is God and that he will be exalted on the earth.