Finding Comfort at the Cross


Nothing challenges our faith more than the death of children. We consider Herod the Great to be a monster for ordering the death of all male children in Palestine two years and younger to eliminate a possible rival. But God himself ordered the death of all Egyptian firstborn sons in the first Passover to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. Were the wails of Egyptian mothers any less horrific than those of Jewish mothers?

The novel The Blood of the Lamb by Peter DeVries[1] explores the tragedy of a child's death. Carol, the daughter of Don Wanderhope, the main character, is dying. Two-thirds of the book is about Don's life and doubts and his struggle with God. The last third is about Carol and her dying. Wanderhope is damaged by the death of close family members, including his wife, but finds hope in eleven-year-old Carol. She becomes ill and he takes her to the hospital, where doctors diagnose her with strep throat. Thrilled, Don takes her home. That night, with Carol curled up in her chair, Don begins to feel more positive and think more hopefully about God. Then Carol's fever and back pain return. A few days later, the doctors tell him that she has leukemia and readmit her to the hospital.

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Don goes to St. Catherine's Church to kneel and pray before Saint Jude, the saint of lost causes and hopeless cases. He asks that Carol live for one year. Beside him is a boxed cake that he is planning on bringing to the hospital so that Carol can have a birthday party. As he is about to leave the church, the nurse who had been with Carol the night before enters, looking for him in order to tell him Carol has developed a serious infection. Wanderhope rushes to the hospital, where the news is grim. One look at Carol and he knows is it time to say good-bye. The illness has ravaged her bloodstream and she has septicemic discolorations all over her body. When the nurse leaves the room, Wanderhope whispers quickly to Carol, "The Lord bless thee and keep thee: The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace."

A short while later Carol dies. Stunned, Wanderhope retreats to the bar down the street and drinks until the bartender refuses to serve him any longer. When he passes St. Catherine's, he is reminded that in his haste to get to the hospital that morning, he had left Carol's cake at the church. After retrieving it and taking it outside, he turns to the crucified Christ hanging over the central doorway of the church and vents his pent-up rage and pain. The following scene, written in Wanderhope's voice, describes what happens next:

Then my arm drew back and let fly with all the strength within me.... It was miracle enough that the pastry should reach its target at all, at that height from the sidewalk. The more so that it should land squarely, just beneath the crown of thorns. Then through scalded eyes I seemed to see the hands free themselves of the nails and move slowly toward the soiled face. Very slowly, very deliberately, with infinite patience, the icing was wiped from the eyes and flung away. I could see it fall in clumps to the porch steps. Then the cheeks were wiped down with the same sense of grave and gentle ritual, with all the kind sobriety of one whose voice could be heard saying, "Suffer the little children to come unto me ... for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

Then the scene dissolved itself in a mist in which my legs could no longer support their weight, and I sank down to the steps. I sat on its worn stones, to rest a moment before going on. Thus Wanderhope found at that place which for the diabolists of his literary youth, and for those with more modest spiritual histories too, was said to be the only alternative to the muzzle of a pistol: the foot of the Cross.[2]

 Like Wanderhope, when we are faced with such intense pain and suffering, the only place we can find hope and comfort is at the foot of the cross. Let's return for a moment to Jesus on his knees in Gethsemane. Why was he in such agony? I think it important to point out that Jesus had a perfect will to live, much more so than the normal human. Humankind's will to live is debilitated by sin, by the wear and tear of life. Jesus' will to live, however, did not diminish; he prayed that the "cup of death" would pass him by. Scripture tells us he had great drops of sweat mixed with blood. Medical doctors have commented that this is possible only if someone is in great distress.

It mystifies us that Jesus, who knew that physical death was not the end of his existence, would be so upset. If anyone ever had all the answers to suffering and death, it would have been God himself. So why was he so upset? The stock answer is that the unknown of becoming sin, of bearing sin, of taking the punishment for all sin, created the agony in Jesus. In the face of death, we too fear the unknown. The randomness of death and the senselessness of it all have created a great deal of fear and doubt, anger and depression. We can find comfort and strength in Jesus' example and teachings, and in his promise to help us cope with all the unknowns, including the greatest of all unknowns: death.


[1] Peter DeVries, The Blood of the Lamb (Boston: Little,
Brown, 1969).

[2] DeVries, 237-238.

 Written by Bill Hull

 Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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