A friend of mine was part of a rapid deployment unit in the military. The task of his division was to be in a perpetual state of readiness, able to be deployed at a moment’s notice. When a need for their services arose, those soldiers were to be geared up, loaded up, and wheels up within hours. Because they could not know when a conflict would arise or what manner of conflict it might be, they had to be prepared for any mission at any time. And they were.
I have often repeated a refrain to myself and to others: When you’re at your best, plan for your worst. I usually use this phrase to refer to sin and temptation, as an application of 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” It is when we are not being tempted, it is when we are standing strong in the Lord’s grace, that we ought to consider the times we will be weak and tempted and eager to sin. We need to assume such times will come and we need to use the moments of strength to put measures in place that will protect us when we are weak. It is in peacetime that we must plan for war.
The past 6 weeks have taught me the importance of this phrase not just as it pertains to sin and temptation, but also as it pertains to suffering. Just as it equips us to battle for holiness against sin, it equips us to battle for light against darkness, for joy when sorrow seems overwhelming.
On the evening of November 3 we received the news that our son had collapsed and died. Much of the next few hours have been mercifully erased from my mind. But I do have a few vivid memories, and among them is grabbing hold of Aileen, looking her in the eyes, and rehearsing together what we knew to be true. We spoke of our rock-solid convictions that God is good so had done no wrong, that God is sovereign so had not missed an opportunity to intervene, that God’s will is better than ours even when the two seem to clash so sharply, so painfully. In that moment we subjugated our feelings to our doctrine. We allowed what we knew to interpret what we felt.
We only realized later that when we were at our best we had prepared ourselves for our worst. We only realized later that in the days and years leading up to that night we had put ourselves in a state of readiness. When times were good, when life was easy, when our family was whole, we had trained ourselves in sound doctrine, in biblical truths. We had listened to sermons and read books and studied scripture. We knew the character of God, we knew the promises of God, we knew where we stood with God. Through it all we had been preparing ourselves. We had equipped ourselves with rapid deployment theology, doctrine that was at our beck and call, truths that were ready to be called upon and relied upon in the moment of need.
The easiest part of our loss has been the theology of it. That’s not to say we don’t at times have questions or that we haven’t at times faced uncertainty. But it is to say that our trauma has been far more emotional than theological. While there was no way we could have prepared ourselves for the emotional agony of losing a child, we did prepare ourselves theologically. In this time of “warfare” we have not had to ask the big questions about whether God is good, or whether something can happen outside of God’s control, or whether God is punishing us, or whether there is really a heaven or hell. Those issues were considered, discussed, and decided long ago. We had established in our minds and hearts the truths that would interpret our experience.
So I repeat the phrase I’ve uttered so often: When you’re at your best, plan for your worst. When you are standing strong by grace, plan for when you will be tempted by sin. But I add this new application: when all seems to be gain, plan for when all may seem to be loss. Learn your doctrine in peacetime so you can deploy it in war.