I’ve been thinking about writing this post and what I would write for this entire week. It all started when I heard Casting Crowns’ rendition of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on Pandora (Be sure to check it out! Video posted at the bottom of this post).
Given today’s (it was the same day when I started this post) events with the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut, I thought it was only fitting to dedicate this little, measly as it is, post to those families who will be missing a little one around their tree this Christmas. I can’t even fathom that pain, even as tears stream down my cheeks.
“I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day” is not among the popular Christmas carols/songs. I only heard of it as a child because the pastor, God used to lead my dad to Christ, loved it – his favorite carol. In fact, if you ever have heard this song, you may not be familiar with the story behind it. As both a lover of writing and history, I love finding what inspired people’s creations. For me, these little additions/discoveries are more exciting than a kid whose eyes light up upon opening a gift on Christmas morning.
This song was originally a poem, written on Christmas Day, 1863, by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His son, Charles, joined the Union cause in the Civil War, against his father’s wishes. Longfellow was informed his son was severely wounded in November. That, along with the recent death of his wife in an accidental fire, inspired this poem and words:
…in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song…
But then, through his pain, he rightly rejoices and see the sovereignty of God as his poem ends in hope:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail…
I’d like to refer to an article by Barnabas Piper, John Piper’s son, titled The tension between “God is good” and “It shouldn’t be this way”
How are we to respond when we hear tragic news or when we experience something devastating?…It is a mix of “Why?” and “This shouldn’t have happened!” But for many of us, myself included, theology often catches up to instinct and says “Yeah, but God is sovereign” as if this is more true than out first reaction. This theological realization stands in direct opposition to the emotional response. Are we sit back and think that all is ok, then?
In these times of wracking grief it is the reality of God’s sovereignty that keeps us sane, keeps us afloat in our faith. But it is the grief itself that keeps us human and humane. These two realities exist in an inexplicable, symbiotic tension. Without knowledge of God’s goodness and sovereignty we risk a spiral of hopeless insanity. Without the reality of it-should-not-be-like-this grief we risk losing all connection to what God made us as human beings. With an over-emphasis on sovereignty we become emotionally retarded as we lose the ability to feel and acknowledge real human experience. With an over-emphasis on the emotion, the grief, we wallow in a La Brea tar pit of godless grief.