Hope in the Midst of Despair

By Grant Dibden, first printed in “Compass”, Winter 1999. Edited for this version.

On 23 March 1991 our son Ian died the day before his first birthday. He had contracted bacterial meningitis and died within 24 hours of exhibiting his first symptoms. I think it was the hardest thing Jeanette and I had ever been through. We prayed incessantly, as did many friends around Australia, that Ian would be healed, and yet he died. Where was God? Was he hard of hearing? Didn’t he have the power to heal Ian? Did he love us? Was this the action of a loving God or had the devil beaten God in this particular instance? Were we being punished? Is Ian in heaven?

Grant and Jeanette’s Story: Hope in the Midst of Despair

The questions

The questions were flooding in and our emotions were all over the place. But hard as it was, we were not without hope. Hope—solid, certain hope—comes from God. Already in my life I had found that God is sovereign, faithful, gracious and kind. He loved me so much that Jesus died for me and paid my debt of sin. Someone once said that we need to remember in the dark what was true in the light. When things are hard, God doesn’t change. When things are very hard, God still doesn’t change. Hope comes from relying on that. If we had relied on our feelings and experiences, or someone’s opinion, we would not have had a firm foundation to deal with our questions as we tried to cope with our loss.

As we faced the hard questions it was God’s word that gave us hope. And by that I do not mean just reading one verse of scripture to find ‘the answer’ to our questions, but an understanding of the deep truths of scripture that we were forced to hang onto as our world came apart at the seams.

In a time like this, God was the only one we could turn to, and he did not let us down. He gave us hope in the midst of our despair as he reminded us through his word of the deep truths we knew about him. His word told us that he is absolutely sovereign. God is in control and evil is not free to ravage us. God is the Lord of all, including evil and death and so he was in charge and Ian’s death was under his control.

Now, while this could have resulted in our becoming angry with God, he kept us from this as his word reminded us that he was absolutely loving, good and wise. We could not become angry with a God like that, even if we did not understand why God had allowed Ian to die then. God’s word reminded us that he loved us. Our greatest need is to be in a relationship with God and he has met this need with the death of his Son.

His word reminded us that God is infinitely wise. God selects the best possible means for the accomplishment of the best possible thing—his glory. And he was using (not causing) our suffering to that end as we were driven to rely totally on him as we had nowhere else to go.

In heaven

His word also confirmed that Ian is in heaven. In 2 Samuel 12:18-23 David’s baby son dies and, in verse 23, he says what we found to be wise and full of hope: “But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” Ian is now in the best possible place for him, in heaven, and we will see him again. We do not have a hollow hope based on wishful thinking, nor an uncertain hope. We have a certain hope, based on God’s word, that we will see our dear little boy in heaven.

There is some mystery in all of this as we cannot fully understand God and his ways, but these truths gave us a sure hope in the midst of our despair. Not only did God give us hope in the midst of our despair, he even graciously gave us some joy. My sister Gloria saw the Christian love of my friends at the time Ian died, and Jeanette and I were able to share the gospel with her the day he died. She became a Christian, much to our delight, and continues to walk with the Lord.

We thank God for the twelve beautiful months with our son. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b).

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