Category Archives: Suffering

“Bring Lexi Home”: The Page Family’s Situation (Part 2)

This was a really hard post to write. I want to express the fiercest disapproval, disappointment, and grief at a child being taken from her family, and I will. But I also want to think about how to respond when something like this happens–not from a “theology of suffering” sense, but from a Christian worldview sense, because I need to be asking myself, “How does the Bible clarify this situation, this stand-off, between a family and the courts?”

So I’ll do a little of both. I’ll give my internal reaction to the Page family’s situation, referring back to quotes from an original court document I excerpted in part 1. (Page references to the document will be given in parentheses, like so: (#).) Then I’ll walk myself through what an external reaction ought to look like as it is shaped and even, perhaps, bounded by Scripture. For lack of better terms, I’ll call those sections “the reality” and “the response” respectively.

The biggest reason this is so hard to write is that it’s not my situation. I don’t feel the pain as keenly, or the outrage as ferociously, as the Page family does. For me to drop a casual thousand-word post on how the Bible should govern a response would be woefully uninformed of the emotions and details of the Page family’s situation, not to mention insensitive. “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” the Bible says, and “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I intend to weep. And yet, “Set your minds on things that are above” (Col. 3:2a). I intend to do that, too.

The reality

So to recap, the court document says the following: Lexi “formed a strong primary bond and attachment with the entire P. family, viewing the parents as her own parents and the P. children as her siblings” (5). The Pages “have provided her with clear and consistent rules, and a loving environment” (8). Lexi “is bonded to the P.s, and has a healthy attachment to them” (8). It’s clear that Lexi has found a family. God placed her with a mom and dad and siblings who all love her as their own flesh and blood.

Then I don’t think that there’s any other way to put it: Lexi was taken from her family. She was torn away and a devastated family was left in her wake.

I’m upset about it. I feel that key decision makers along the way messed up. Lexi’s attorney, whose primary responsibility is for her client’s best interest, “withdrew her objection to Alexandria’s change in placement [thus favoring Lexi’s move from the Pages to Utah]” (10). One “expert” stated that he “believed that with appropriate intervention and support, Alexandria would cope with a transition resiliently, characterizing the possible trauma as a loss, but not the equivalent of the death of a parent” (11). Because, you know, that’s the high standard we want to maintain when we figure out if we should remove a child from the people she calls “mom” and “dad”–as long as the resulting trauma isn’t perceived as equivalent to the death of mom and dad, go ahead, rip her from their arms. The Choctaw nation leadership–to be clear here, I’m not generalizing to the Choctaw community, or the Native American community, but limiting my reaction to Choctaw nation decision makers–“selected the R.s as the planned adoptive placement” (8). And even after Lexi had lived with the Page family for over a year, the Choctaw nation leadership maintained their request for Lexi to move to Utah (10).

For their part, the courts ruled that “the P.s had not demonstrated good cause to depart from the placement preferences and ordering a gradual transition for Alexandria to move from the P.s’ home to the R.s’ home” (12). This despite the fact that another expert directly countered the ridiculous rationalization above, to say that “compared the transition to the death or loss of a parent or family, because ‘she is being taken away from everything that is familiar to her, everything that she’s known to be stability'” (11). So… failure at pretty much every point in that whole system.

Am I upset? Is this wrong? Yes. And yes.

The reaction

Here the objection might be raised that the courts were constrained by ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) and ruled in the only course permitted by the law, even if as individuals, those presiding would have wanted Lexi to stay with the Pages. I understand that, though I still think there were plenty of ways the court could have ruled in Lexi’s best interests. First, according to the Judicial Council of California’s Dependency Quick Guide, a child’s attorney “has the responsibility to represent ‘the child’s interests,’ specifically to investigate the facts; interview, examine, and cross examine witnesses; and make recommendations to the court regarding the child’s welfare. Counsel must interview children age four and older and communicate the client’s wishes to the court” (H-11). I’m not convinced that Lexi’s interests were known and relayed by her attorney, much less represented to the court.

Moreover, given the conflicting testimony by the experts, I would think that there would be room to conclude that yes, this would in fact be traumatic for Lexi. To reiterate, there was an expert who testified that Lexi’s removal from the Pages could be “compared the transition to the death or loss of a parent or family, because ‘she is being taken away from everything that is familiar to her, everything that she’s known to be stability.'” Granted, I am no legal scholar. It may be that the courts were indeed constrained by ICWA to rule in favor of the tribe’s placement preferences. If so, then the courts have an immediate responsibility to uphold the law.

But let me make this clear: the courts have a “one step removed” responsibility to uphold biblical morality, because the courts uphold the law, and the law has an immediate responsibility to reflect biblical morality. Romans 13 makes this clear: “[T]here is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (13:1b); “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (13:3a); “he is God’s servant for your good” (13:4a). Earthly, human government is a sub-authority of God to uphold its citizens’ good and deter bad conduct. It is safe to assume that Paul assumes a biblical moral definition of “good” and “bad” as “that which reflects God and His statutes” and “that which does not.”

I think there is a tension here. The court decided something which is immoral. Isaiah urges, “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (1:17). Lexi’s cause was not pleaded here. A law was followed, but to the detriment of the well-being of a little girl. How do we react to an unbiblical, immoral decision? How do we respond?

Here’s how Mr. Page responded: “In spite of our pleas to the county, we’ve received word that the county has every intention of taking Lexi today. And we will, with very heavy hearts, comply with the order and we’ll be waiting here for them to come take her” (source–I originally saw the video on Facebook but can’t seem to find it any more). Given that the Pages attend church–my church, actually–I think this comes from a Spirit-led understanding of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” and 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” Given that the historical context of 1 Peter is during Nero’s reign, who was not at all kind to Christians, I think that the “or” in the middle of the passage is a contrasting “or”–as in, some governors that are sent by God do their job properly, or at other times, emperors do as they please in abuse of their earthly supremacy.

There are situations in which we can–and must–disobey the governing authorities. In Exodus 1, the Hebrew midwives disobey Pharaoh’s commands for male infanticide/genocide, and are blessed by God for it. Namely, we must disobey earthly authority if we are instructed to transgress God’s authority. But the Bible does not model disobedience to authorities that are immoral but do not instruct us to do wrong. Such was the case with Nero, who, I’m told, had Christians sewn alive into the carcasses of dead animals and dropped in the middle of sports arenas to be eaten by predators. Did Nero do wrong? Most definitely. It was a horrific abuse of delegated divine authority. Were the Christians instructed to commit evil? No. And in response to authorities that are immoral but do not instruct their citizens to commit evil, Peter does not instruct the Christians to run away, or resist, or disobey. He instructs them to be subject to the emperor, and even to “[h]onor the emperor” (2:17).

The Page family situation, I think, parallels the latter example. The decision makers in this whole process did wrong. It is immoral. They are injuring Lexi and the Page family. They are separating a daughter from her parents, a girl from her family. And yet, the governing authorities have not instructed the Pages to sin. So in the face of all that, I am thankful for Mr. Page’s example: “[W]e will, with very heavy hearts, comply.” Not because the courts were right, or because the Pages want to be separated from Lexi, but because God’s divine authority instructs us to be subject to His delegated human authorities as long as they do not compel us to commit evil. It is a difficult thing, and He means for us to love Him and trust Him in the midst of it.

Meanwhile, God blesses us with a country where citizens have been given means to appeal to the government in a way that honors those authorities. The Pages continue to fight to be united with Lexi, to bring Lexi home, by means of appeals to higher courts. More importantly, though, God fully intends for us to trust Him, appeal to Him, rely on Him. In light of the fierce persecution of the Christians, the close of Peter’s first epistle is all the more poignant: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (5:6-7). The weak, the persecuted, the suffering–God cares for them and encourages them to be humble before Him and to trust Him. We love Lexi and the Pages, and we join them in prayer for the reunification of their family. We pray, too, that they would rest their full weight on the Lord knowing that He cares for them.

The Last Enemy

A couple weeks ago, I posted a short thought about the future destruction of death itself. I expanded on this idea in a post for the Grace on Campus UCLA blog. I’ve posted it in its entirety below.

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I’ve seen death touch GOC in the past couple of months. People I know and care about have suffered more losses than I care to count. Some have been a cause for rejoicing, since God has called home His beloved children, to gather them to Himself in the comfort of His presence. He has ended their suffering and their long and weary journey here on this earth. In the words of the psalmist, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Other losses have been tragic and heartbreaking, as loved ones have passed away in a state of unbelief. Both have been a cause for grief, because those we care about have been taken from us.

And they rightly should be a cause for grief. Death was not what God desired for the first humans. It was not something He originally placed into creation–in His sovereignty, and even wisdom, He allowed it, but it was not how creation should have been. It was only when sin entered the world during the Fall that death also entered (Romans 5:12). So when we weep, when we grieve over death, this is part of what we weep about: a fallen creation that dies because it does not fully see and uphold God’s glory.

Here’s the thing: as much as we grieve because of the inherent wrongness of death, because it takes away the people we care about, because it ends a life that we were supposed to live more fully and endlessly, Jesus grieves over it more. Early in his ministry, Jesus was told that John the Baptist had been beheaded. Jesus’ response was not an emotionless appeal to God’s sovereignty, that everything was fine because God had this to happen. Nor was it a recitation of the truth that God was working this death for Jesus’ good. Jesus, in his humanity, “withdrew . . . in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). Though Jesus understood the sovereignty and goodness of God, in his humanity he desired to be alone to grieve. He did not withstand such a blow with a cold stoicism, he allowed himself to feel the full weight of it.

Or to put it another way–to reference a verse that every church kid knows–“Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He wept because his friend Lazarus had died, and “he loved him” (11:36). He could not behold Lazarus’s sister Mary weeping without being “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (11:33). Jesus empathizes! Jesus understands the brutality of death! In fact, Jesus understands it better than you or I do because he actually died and we haven’t! So we do not have a God who watches from a distance, disappointed that we would be concerned with such a thing so trifling as death. No–Jesus grieves with us.

The incredible thing is that because he is Jesus, because he is the Son of God, he has the right and the power to avenge. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19b). And avenge he will. One of the first things that I think about when I think about God’s vengeance is the martyrs, who will cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). And God does not tell them to be quiet, or that they desire a wrong thing. He tells them to “rest a little longer” (6:11), and then he will avenge their deaths.

For you and me as believers, we hope in the perfect anger of our God because He will avenge us and our grief at death by pouring out His anger on death itself. There is coming a day–a great and glorious day!–when he will put an end to death. He will stop it in its tracks. Whether or not you are a martyr, He will avenge your death. And whether or not they are martyrs, He will avenge your mother’s death and your father’s death and your brother’s death and your sister’s death and your friend’s death and your child’s death–everyone’s death will be avenged by God personally. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15:26). And John writes that in the new heaven and new earth, “death shall be no more” (Revelation 21:4). So know this, Christian: Jesus is storing up wrath. The day is appointed, and is coming, when he will throw Death into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). He will utterly destroy death, and it shall be no more.

Perhaps you’re dealing with this right now. Perhaps you have in the past. You will in the future. I don’t just want to quote Romans 8:28, or James 1:2-4, or Romans 5:3-5, or 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 for you. They’re true, and I want you to believe them, because they offer great hope. But I also want you to know that it’s OK to grieve. Death is terrible, and as much as I can, as your brother in Christ, I grieve with you. But we grieve with the beautiful knowledge that our Savior grieves with us. We can hope in his beautiful anger at death, because we know that he will one day pour his furious wrath on it for eternity. And you and I, as believers, can worship God in the beautiful hope that we have victory over death in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:57). Because we trust in the second Adam, in his righteousness and perfect atonement, in his death and resurrection, death will not be the final word for you or for me (Romans 5:17). God allows death, for now, as one last opportunity for His children to trust Him, but when it has served its purpose, make no mistake: He will destroy it forever.

A Compendium for Suffering: Introduction and Future Glory

compendium, n.: “an abridgement or condensation of a larger work or treatise, giving the sense and substance, within smaller compass”; “an epitome, a summary, a brief” (Oxford English Dictionary)

This is by no means a definitive nor exhaustive collection of thoughts on suffering. In fact, it’s not a collection about suffering at all–rather, it’s a compendium for suffering. In installments, I hope to establish a large summary of thoughts to help me get through suffering. And if you, along the way, find yourself encouraged to whatever degree by what you find in this compendium, then I will be satisfied and God will be glorified that His Word and His people have done what they are supposed to do: support His redeemed in suffering and point them to the hope that rests within Him.

It is critical–utterly critical–that we amass such a collection of thoughts and convictions before suffering begins. We need to know what our rock is and where it is before the storm hits, before the wind buffets us and the rain pours into our eyes, before the cold numbs our hands and feet and minds, making it nigh impossible to get our bearings and all too easy to abandon truth and hope. The more we remind ourselves during the times of relative ease of Scripture’s truths about suffering, the more assured we will be when suffering comes. We will have verses, quotes, songs to remind us what we need to know.

And it is again critical that in times of suffering, we not lean back on the convictions that we built so long ago when the harvest was full and the famine unseen. We need to preach verses to ourselves, remind ourselves without ceasing the hope that Scripture promises to those who suffer. The darkness is heavy and deep and oppressive, and the light is necessary to ward it away. In a quotes that resonates most deeply with my own soul, John Piper acknowledges (in a chapter on Scripture!), “[We are] much aware that every day with Jesus is not ‘sweeter than the day before.’ Some days with Jesus our disposition is sour. Some days with Jesus, we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus, we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry” (Desiring God 143). Then he notes this promise: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7).

Or again, from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. . . . Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. . . . Now [the psalmist’s] treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks” (qtd. in Future Grace 304-305). That last quotation by the psalmist is from one of my favorite verses to turn to in suffering, Psalm 42:11. It is critical that we address ourselves when we suffer, in order that our flesh might not weigh us down with grief and agony. With that in mind, I begin this compendium for suffering with two verses:

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16-18)

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

This we know: there is glory coming–glory beyond what we can imagine at this moment. It will outweigh all our suffering. In comparison, our affliction is “light” and “momentary”: compared to the “weight” of glory that is “beyond all comparison,” we know that this affliction cannot be worth much at all. If we must endure this affliction, endure it we shall, for we know the result and reward will be utterly worth it. And our affliction is “momentary,” even if it be ended only by death–then we shall have an eternity of glory to behold as we commune sinlessly with our infinitely glorious God. And so I preach this to myself: “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us!” This truth does not remove the suffering, but pronounces echoes of joy in my soul that I cling to when the bell of rejoicing I can hear not.