For this him, I was not inspired by any direct, personal loss, but I have known many people who grieved the loss of a child, in some cases their only child, and I've always felt – both personally and from a pastoral point of view – that a message like this is needed. It goes toward the same principle that led me to call my collections "Useful" and "Edifying" Hymns. Of course I drew on a lot of scripture for this hymn, but I'd also like to acknowledge its debt to some wonderful graveyards I've walked through, including children's gravestones that had some of the lines quoted below engraved on them in either German or English. I also got a kick in the rear, and material for one or two stanzas, from a sermon by my own pastor this past Sunday. For the tune, I'm content to re-use the same one, EX NIHILO, that I paired with this hymn.What is this strange thing, Lord, You do?
Our grieving hearts now question why
You'd send, and then call back to You,
A child so loved, so soon to die.
But You, three-personed God, know well
What joy a child's love brings, what pain:
Creating us, with You to dwell,
You paid so much for us again.
Aye, You know what it is to give
Your Son, in agony to die
That our rebellious race might live,
The apple of a Father's eye.
You know how far a Son might go
To please His Father's sense of right;
You cause that love on us to flow,
Proceeding Breath of life and light.
Therefore our grief must not be far,
O God, from Your kind, caring heart:
Nor shall its excess quench the star
Whereby our homeward way we chart—
Our faith, that is—which will recall
The witnesses of blessed yore
Who wore with us the mourner's shawl,
Yet kept Your goodness at the fore.
Eve found in Seth another seed
That Cain and Abel's loss repaid;
So for our race's greatest need
She held out hope, still unafraid.
When all he had was swept away
By whirlwind and marauding horde,
Job said, "He gives and takes away;
Blest be the name of God the Lord."
Until he heard his child was dead,
King David mortified his flesh;
Then, "He'll not come to me," he said,
"But I to him," and rose, refreshed.
A widow who had lost her son
Thought little of the bread God gives;
But when Elijah's work was done,
She heard the words, "See, your son lives."
Another widow's son was mourned,
Till our Lord's hand the coffin stayed;
The grave's uncleanness Jesus scorned,
To her a living son conveyed.
"Your son lives," Jesus said as well
To one who, hearing it, believed;
"She merely sleeps," he dared to tell
Those who for Jairus' daughter grieved.
All these, and Lazarus besides,
Bore witness what our eyes shall see
When with our dear one who has died
We too shall reunited be.
Till then, Lord Jesus, heal our grief;
Let it correct our worldly view.
Help us, and help our unbelief
Amid the strange things that You do.
Forgive us if we ask too much,
When we would understand this loss;
Yet let us learn, at least, that such
Draws us to shelter in Your cross.
And if indeed we need such pain
To topple idols from our eyes,
Show us how by this, too, we gain
Till we and all we love arise.