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The light shining in the darkness

Regular contributor James Knight points out that good can come out of the pain and anguish that surround bereavement.

My father passed away a few weeks ago, and I have been reflecting on his life, his pain, and his death, in the hope of writing something meaningful and encouraging. The final chapter of my father's life saw him suffer with dementia - nature's nasty double cross, when your mind and body slowly turn from being a friend to being a foe. Throughout the pain and grief that accompanies dementia, God has spoken to me in profound ways that I'm still in the process of trying to unpack.
In the last year of his life, in particular, I've had to watch my father suffer in ways that penetrate my heart and soul beyond mere words. Even as a Christian, it is difficult to think of a gradual process in life that's more upsetting and demoralising - the slow decline of a loved one into a perpetual state of unsettled and confused torment.
But throughout the dark period, I've seen so much light, and so much to be amazed at, as God's love and comfort has been bestowed with such abundance throughout. Given the way that God has shown His presence throughout this ordeal, it gives me an even more acute awareness of how amazing He is, and what an astonishing thing it is that He cares about every part of our life, and craves an even closer relationship with each of us.
When I delivered the eulogy at my father's funeral, I also paid tribute to my dear mum, who did an absolutely incredible job looking after dad for so many years during his decline, right until the end. It's one of the most remarkable things a human can do for a loved one - to effectively forsake the majority of their own life for years, so that their loved one can be cared for, and looked after with the full protection of their own dignity, as they start to become more and more vulnerable. Giving up our life with sacrificial love is Christ-like in nature - it reflects what our Lord did for us on the cross, and it's a continuous act that has the power to speak to us through the love and devotion of our fellow humans.
Dad suffered so much with his decline in health - and while I always felt God's closeness throughout, I began to discover how my father's affliction and the love that surrounded him brought about a testimony that will continue to live on. In a way that's easier to feel than to articulate, if dad was destined to pay the price of his decline, there a sense in which the Lord has used this unwilful sacrifice to illuminate the goodness, kindness, and love of Jesus through all the good that came out of its surroundings.
My father didn't choose to spend his final years in so much torment and confusion - but in a profound way, his involuntary suffering helped create the conditions under which the power of Divine love could be exhibited through the human love and devotion that surrounded his hardship.
My father knew the Lord - and now that he's at peace with Him, I think he'll have comfort in the knowledge that God can continue to use his suffering as a testimony and a force for good in the world, as his remaining loved ones testify in spoken eulogies, and reflections in articles like this, about how we have felt God's love so profoundly during this time of pain, grief, and loss, and how God's presence has been so strong throughout.
When you are that close to the end of life with dementia, you don't know or remember much - but I believe you still sense the power of love from those with you who love you - especially the love of Christ through the Holy Spirit inside. God's love is always there, of course, it's just often felt more acutely during pain and anguish. There's a piece of spiritual wisdom from Carl Jung, who says "What you most want to be found will be found where you least want to look". That's such a deep thing to contemplate - it's one of the reasons why, I think, when we confront suffering with love, we start to see just how infinitely powerful a force love is.
The light has always been more powerful than the darkness - and it's at the darkest part where the light is brightest, and where we feel close to God, and sense our reliance upon Him, in ways we otherwise might not.

The image is courtesy of pixabay.com.

james knight 500James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC). 

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