When rain falls like lead
The unexpected death of his sister led Andy Percey to explore the presence of God in the darkness of suffering. Do churches create enough space to allow people to ask their difficult questions?
The early morning rain fell like blocks of lead as I stood at six o'clock in the morning in the car park of Salisbury District Hospital. That's what I remember about Monday 6 June 2005. The summer that year had been glorious, with wonderful sunshine. Yet while the hope of a new day rose with the sun, as I stood there that Monday morning the hope seemed harder to see, even as the darkness lifted.
Twelve hours later, my sister Hannah died, aged 20. She had suffered a massive stroke just three days earlier. As a family we were devastated. Our lives had been turned upside down and we felt as though we would not recover. We were a close family; with Mum, Dad, Hannah, my sister Grace and I. Hannah and I were only fifteen months apart in age, and growing up together had made us close. I had not only lost a sister; I had lost a friend.
Perhaps there will be those of you reading this who have been through similar experiences? Even if you have not, there will have been experiences in your life that have felt as though the rain is falling like lead all around you. The question I found myself asking, as the days and weeks passed after Hannah's death, was this: Where is God when the rain falls like that?
Exploring that question became my journey of faith in the years following. It was the question that took hold of my heart as well as my mind; the question I explored in my dissertation at bible college; and the question I was encouraged to explore in a greater depth in writing this book.
As I look around me, in churches I have grown up in or have visited or ministered in; I see a need for us to find more space to allow people to ask their questions. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to accept the challenge of writing a book exploring this area, because since Hannah's death, I have become a person with lots of questions.
My experience has been that it is not always possible, or at least comfortable, to ask these questions in church. In church we seem to be very good at dishing out answers, but not very good at creating space to hold the questions. My hope, as I write and as I continue to visit churches to speak on these issues, is that in the holding of these questions we might find hope and Holy ground.
I use the phrase 'Holy ground' because so often it is in asking these questions that God meets us. The Bible is full of honest questions, asked by men and women of faith who wrestle with the goodness of God and the reality of their pain. Whether it's Job, or the Psalmists or any of God's people, it seems as though one of the hallmarks of God's people is to bring their pain before a loving God; and one of the hallmarks of our loving God is to be with His people. We see that, most clearly in Jesus. Jesus who honestly brings the reality of his pain before the Father; but also Jesus who shows us that God is with us in the middle of that pain.
These are some of the areas I wanted to explore in the book, as well as making sure that the story that sparked the journey for me, the story of my sister Hannah, remained weaved through it as well. The questions that we come with are not academic questions, they are deeply personal. And because they are deeply personal we need to address them, and give space for them in a deeply pastoral way.
I cannot offer you answers to the questions that have eluded the best and brightest minds for thousands of years. But my desire is that we might become more at home with asking the questions, and that we might provide the space to be genuine and honest with each other and with God.
Lamentations 3:19-24 remembers both the reality of pain and suffering, but also the hope that because of "the Lord's great love we are not consumed."
Darkness, and light. The reality is, in our journey of suffering we experience both. I have found that in the darkness of my own grief, there have been flickers of light from God's presence. Ultimately we are not alone, we have a companion on the journey, a God who not only hears our pain, but shows up in the middle of it. A God who is with us, even in the darkest of places.
The Revd Andy Percey is associate minister of Haywards Heath Baptist Church, West Sussex. His book When Rain Falls Like Lead: Exploring the presence of God in the darkness of suffering was published in September 2013 by Paternoster Press
To find out more or to purchase visit www.whenrainfallslikelead.com
"This is first - rate pastoral counselling direct from a broken heart. With a searing vulnerability the reader is drawn in to a raw edged story of ongoing suffering. The passages on "getting to know the darkness" and the long-term guilt of the bereaved are full of personal wisdom. The rich insights on the place of lament and praying out of the place of pain are deeply authentic."
On the site you can also contact Andy and book him to come and speak about these issues in your church.
David Coffey OBE, Global Ambassador BMS World Mission
"Andy Percey has written a most moving lament for a beloved sister which at the same time wrestles not only with the age old question of "why does God allow suffering?, but also with the more immediate question of "where is God in my suffering?" The answers he comes up with, if we can call them answers, are theologically robust and pastorally heart-warming. I am really glad this book is now out there."
Ian Stackhouse, Minister of Millmead, Guildford Baptist Church, UK