British editor and Activist Siobhan Dowd turned to writing books for young adults, when she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in 2004. Before her death she would write 4 young adult novels, but only one was published before her death. She also had outlined and contracted to write 2 more books.
While all her books have won numerous literary awards, it was her last unfinished novel that has taken the world by storm. The dark fantasy novel “A Monster Calls” was completed by Patrick Ness and turned into a movie in 2016.
“A Monster Calls” is the story of 13-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley, who is trying to come to terms with his mother’s terminal illness. Conor vents his emotions by way of drawing and daydreaming. At night, he suffers from a reoccurring nightmare about an old church near their home that collapses and falls into a large hole.
One night at 12:07am, Conor wakes to find a large Yew tree, near the church, has come to life and transformed itself into a large twisted monster. Throughout the book, the Monster reveals three stories that confronts Conor’s hidden emotions.
No one can see the monster but Conor, that is because the monster is a manifestation of the boy’s unbearable grief. In the end, Conor must face his own fears and come to understand his deepest, ugliest feelings that are far worse than any large twisted monster.
As is the case with many books written for young adults, it is an amazing insight for anyone who has experienced grief; young or old. Obviously, there is much more to the book and story, but if you want to know, you’ll just have to see them for yourself.
Here in the United States, about 2.5 million people die annually. And each person leaves behind an average of 5 people who are grieving. That means, at any given time, over 11 million Americans are grieving here in the US. But the problem with grief is; there is really no time limit. And dealing with grief is not an exact science. Truth be told, there are probably a lot more folks grieving than we know.
While I have read a lot of definitions for grief, few rise to the level needed to really capture its scope. The reason is, grief is a multifaceted emotion, that includes almost all the emotions we experience when we deal with a loss. Grief often comes from the loss of a loved one but can include almost any loss we face.
When we think of grief, we often think of the loss of a spouse, child, relative or a friend. Yet grief is also experienced with the loss of a pet, a job, a relationship, or any number of other things. And grief can manifest itself in anger, depression, guilt, fear, shame, sadness, confusion, loneliness, anxiety or even numbness. It’s no wonder we try so hard to avoid it!
Grief has been described in a couple of ways that I think are helpful. One is that grief is like a shipwreck, were the waves just keep coming, for what seems like a very long time. Another is that grief is an emotion that twists us and ties us in all kinds of knots; kind of like the twisted tree of emotions in the story ‘The Monster Calls’.
In our scripture passage today, we enter the life of Noah; but most importantly, the heart of God. In Genesis Chapter 5, we have a brief accounting of the 10 generations between Adam and Noah. Over the last few weeks, we have looked in depth at the Fall of Mankind to the first murder in the story of Cain and Abel.
Today we jump ahead to the life of Noah. Noah was 500 years old, when he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now, don’t ask me how they measured their ages because I have no idea. Even in dog years, that would put Noah at over 71 and he still had a lot of life ahead of him!
Chapter 6 verse 5 begins like this, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of mankind had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. And so, The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”
Here we read that God’s heart was deeply troubled. Other translations read; God’s heart was full of pain, God’s heart was broken, God’s heart was ripped asunder, and finally, that this caused God to grieve.
Most, if not all of us, are familiar with the story of Noah and the flood, but many people speak of God’s anger and wrath, not his pain, sorrow and grief. In fact, throughout the Bible, God should be known more for his unjust suffering than for his anger. So, why do we get this so wrong?
In the Old Testament, we often read that we should be in fear of the Lord. Fear here should be translated; awe, healthy respect and wonder at God’s amazing greatness. Unfortunately, for many generations, preachers have tried to scare people into faith. That is really missing the message of the Bible.
Our God is a God of patience, forgiveness, longing, grace, mercy and love. Only, when God is pushed to the edge of insanity, does he respond with destruction; and then, only with deep pain and sorrow. For instance, let’s look at what brought this all on.
Remember, God created a perfect world, one He called very good, but then the Fall brought the knowledge of Good and Evil into the world. The message was, eat this fruit and your eyes will be open and you will be like God. God was trying to protect us from knowing evil and all the pain and sorrow that comes with it. But Adam and Eve were enticed and mislead.
Mankind now knows so much more and must deal with all the trouble God was trying to save us from. Now we know the pain of sin and the consequences of evil. Cain killed Abel and the world just continued to spin out of control.
Within 10 generations, we read these words, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of mankind had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen. 6:5)
This is like Sodom and Gomorrah. On earth, God could not find ten good men or women. How do you go from ‘Very Good’ to only evil, all of the time?
God was heart sick, he was devastated. It reminds me of how the book of Judges ends, it reads, “In those days, Israel had no king; essentially, no moral compass, and everyone did as he or she saw fit.” (Judges 21:25)
They did not love God or their neighbors. Selfishness reigned and chaos ensued. All hell broke loose on earth. And I imagine God wept. The Hebrew word for God’s sorrow or grief is “Nacham”, it means to draw the breath forcibly or to give a deep painful sigh.
In Biblical times, they believed that the heart pumped blood and that was our life essence. Life was in the blood. But when it came to our emotions, they believed they originated in the internal organs. Feelings came from our gut, our spleen, stomach and intestines. That is why when we are emotionally sick, our stomach knots up and we get so twisted up inside.
Have you ever been emotionally sick? I have. I have been so emotionally overwhelmed that I lost weight, couldn’t sleep, laid in constant worry and sadness and wanted to die. It is a horrible way to live. Now, imagine God going through that ‘over our sin’. Imagine, as a parent, watching your kids fall, in a major way; maybe to a place where they cannot get help or refuse to get help. And finally, descend to a place where there is no hope.
My guess is, whatever we feel, God feels far worse and much deeper. Aristotle once said, “God is an Unmoved Mover”; in other words, he set the world in motion and left. Yet the Bible says that God is nothing like that, he suffers pain down to the very core of his being. And now,
God is thinking of doing the one thing he never wanted to do; to reverse his creation and wipe out all the evil.
It is almost like God cannot bring himself to do it. He was looking for any chance to save or salvage whatever he could. That is when he turned to Noah. There was only one guy left who has not bent to the whims of the world. Only one man who still had a shot at carrying mankind forward. Only one man who still had an abiding faith, respect for God and a heart of obedience.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Noah. Sure, he was not perfect. He could complain and fuss, but he would be true to God and never give up. Noah tried to turn the tide, but no one will listen to him. Everyone thought he was crazy. Who builds a boat in the middle of nowhere? At a time when they had never even heard of flooding.
It takes a lot of faith to build an Ark. It takes a lot of faith to attend church regularly, read your Bible, attend Sunday School, or Bible studies and pray, especially when most people don’t. But that is not all. You see, it also takes a lot of love and compassion to want to stop the heart of God from breaking.
According to the Bible, Father God is not the only one who grieves. So does God as the Holy Spirit and God in Flesh, as Jesus.
In Psalm 78:40 we read about Israel’s rebellion, “How often they rebelled against him (God) in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 63:10 reads, “But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore, He become their enemy, and He fought against them.”
Finally, we all know how Jesus was treated. He was rejected, abandon, betrayed, beaten and finally crucified. Isaiah 53:3-5 conveys these words about Jesus,
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely, he took up our infirmities and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace, was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Finally, Ezekiel 18:30-32 reads, “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, people of Israel? For ‘I take no pleasure in the death of anyone’, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and Live!”
Rev. John Piper once wrote, “It is not for God’s lack of compassion that men perish, but for a lack of heart that delights in the God of compassion because of our hard and rebellious hearts.”
You see, we are most like Jesus when our hearts break for the same things that breaks his heart. Jesus wept, for his own loss and the hurt others felt for the loss of a friend. He also wept over Jerusalem, for all the lost people. And I believe, he still weeps for every lost soul who sins and stands in judgement.
After the Flood came and left, God took it upon himself to make a covenant with us. Through Noah and every generation that followed, God wanted us to see better and brighter days. And his mercy still reigns. The truth is, I cannot stand to see God’s heart break anymore, it tears apart my very soul.
So, this morning, I now invite you, to join me in a prayer of confession.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We confess we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done and by what we have failed to do.
We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will. We have broken your law. We have rebelled against your love. We have not loved our neighbors, and We have not heard the cry of the needy.
We are truly sorry and humbly repent. Forgive us and show us mercy, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, so that we may walk faithfully in the Glory of our Lord, through the glorious grace of Jesus Christ. It is in His name, we pray. Amen.
Your assignment this week is…to go out and live in a way that others see Christ in you. We have hope for a reason, because God through the life of Jesus, rescued us. We are forgiven and redeemed. Live like resurrected People, Easter People, that Jesus gave his life for. Imagine how that would change the world!
May it be so, Amen.