Appendix 6: Tears In Heaven: A Missionary Obituary
For Sister Michelle Jamieson, who
gave her life in mission work,
21st May 2000
Some readers will have known something of Sis. Michelle Jamieson (Newcastle, Australia). She had dedicated her life to the spreading of the Gospel, through campaigning in Eastern Europe, Israel and finally Fiji- in addition to extensive involvement in correspondence work in many areas. She fell asleep in Christ following a tragic road accident during a campaign in Fiji. She will always have a special place in my heart and that of many who knew her, as a truly spiritual sister, with an unpretended zeal for her Lord and His service, and an exceptionally high level of spiritual development for her 23 years.
For those of us who remain to continue her work and strive to emulate her example, the ‘why?’ question remains. Why did a loving Father take her life, of all our community…with so much in front of her? This ‘why?’ question will afflict all of us in the tragedies of life. Why is God apparently so cruel, to set up a young sister like that, so naïve, so pure, in His service… and then take her life in such a way? Why, her, and not some others sitting next to her in the fateful vehicle? I am aware that for some, these questions and other ones related to other tragedies, loom large.
I was with Michelle shortly before the tragedy; having spent the weekend with her parents, she drove me to Sydney airport, where I flew to New Caledonia and she flew to Fiji. She was full of her plans to visit upcoming Bible Schools in Israel, Latvia and Russia. I was very nearly with her in Fiji, but cut short those plans because of needs to be back in Europe. My own grief for her revealed what came to the fore in many hearts: Would God I had died for her. For in all sober intellectual honesty, in all practical reality, I fain would have done if I could have. And surely so would all who knew her. For a righteous person, some would even dare to die. Not as David for a worthless Absalom, but as the lesser believer for the altogether more spiritual. One can only resolve to live life, especially in the sphere of preaching, as she would have wished us to live. Our response to the death of the Lord, the just for the unjust, must be the same. His death, if meditated upon, elicits in us a desire to die for Him, not that this is possible literally, but therefore in the life of hourly doing of His will, living and being and seeking to achieve what we know His will was and is.
This is all we can do in tribute to Him, and to Michelle. In seeking to know why she died as she did, I admit to coming up against a dead end, a brick wall, or more like, a steel one, incapable of the slightest penetration. If we are to suppose that it was for reason x or y, then immediately the question arises: ‘Well in that case, that result could have been produced in another way that didn’t require such a tragedy’. In our seeking to plumb the exact reasons for the death of our Lord- our brother- we do have some degree of understanding. But in the end, why that death, why that method for our redemption, rather than any other, surely remains mysterious. We have rightly observed that the shedding of the Lord’s blood as red liquid did not in itself ‘appease’ God. This is a wrong view. To say it was to fulfil the types of the Law only, to me, throws the question one stage further back- for those types were not deterministic of the Lord’s sufferings. They were there because of God’s foreknowledge of how it would be. All we can say is that the Lord died as He did in order that we might respond. There could have been another way to elicit the same response from us, but for some reason the terror of the cross was chosen. And so with the response to the passing of our dear Michelle. The response which it elicits from us could have been provoked another way. But the Lord chose this way. We ask, before the cross of our Lord, ‘Was it for me…’, for the sake of my response, that this was as it was…? And yes, it was. And before the loss of our dear Michelle, we may in the end come to the same conclusion. If ever I am sure any of us will be in the Kingdom, it is that Michelle will surely be there. We, or I at least, cannot be passive to her death. It is an imperative to us to respond.
But let us not think, ever, ever, that God is cruel or hard or unfeeling. He arranged her death, just as He arranged that of His Son. The shocked, grieving community of disciples frequently stressed that it was by the determinate will and foreknowledge of God that His Son died. And yet He grieved for the loss of His Son. It hurt Him. Amos 8 describes how there would be darkness at noon, as at a funeral for an only child. This was all in prophecy of the cross. There, God Almighty mourned for His Son. As the spear pierced the side of Jesus, and blood and water flowed, Yahweh’s own words in Zech. 12:10 came true: “Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him [Jesus]”. Yahweh Himself was as it were pierced there. Just as Mary’s sensitive soul was pierced when she saw the same event (Lk. 2:35). The Father, like the mother, felt intensely the death of His Son. They were both united with similar feelings. He was as the owner of the vineyard who sent His only Son to receive the fruits, and found the tenants killed Him. We are left to imagine the deep sense of shock and disappointment and grief. Yet He brings all these things about… and yet feels so hurt and cut up about them. Whilst we can never to the end “find out God”, this assures us of one thing: God feels for us in what seem cruel tragedies, and He doesn’t do it to be cruel to us. Because He feels just as much as we do. There were tears in Heaven as the spear pierced the side of the Lord’s naked body, just as there were tears on Mary’s face. And there were, as it were, tears in Heaven as the breath of life was withdrawn from our dear Michelle.
That the Father, Son and their Angels feel for us is so hard to grasp, because we are aware of God’s omnipotence and foreknowledge. But consider again the parable of the life of Hosea, reflecting as it does the feelings of God. Hosea, as God, reared rebellious children, and loved an adulterous wife (all representing Israel). Hosea experiences the heartache and betrayal of God as he vainly hoped for reconciliation, somehow, some place, some day. And it is God Himself who cries out in Hos. 11:8 “How shall I give thee up [to destruction by their enemies], Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee [to captivity], Israel?…mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together”. He told them they would be taken into captivity, and arranged that they were. But Almighty God struggled awfully with doing this. The way He did it can be read as an omnipotent God bringing about tragedy. Yes, they were taken to captivity, but not without the acutest grief and pain of God Himself. The reality is, God can be aggrieved, hurt, feel rejected. Even though He is Almighty and could avoid all the situations that cause Him these feelings from arising in the first place. Or take Jer. 31:20: “Is Ephraim my dear son?…for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him”. And the later grief and emotional breakdown of Jeremiah in Lamentations, sitting by the street with none to comfort him, tears dropping in the dust, clutching his hair with his hands…was an intended statement to Judah of God’s feelings for them.
God can feel for us. He allows His omnipotence to be in some ways limited by us. So identified was He with His people Israel that He says that in Egypt, He heard a language which He understood not. He so felt Himself as in their shoes. And likewise the Lord Jesus is truly empathetic with us, a High Priest who can feel for us in our need for succour. Surely He too cries for us. For He is our representative, not our substitute. It is stressed many times in Hebrews that the Lord is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, mediating for us. And yet in Acts 7, Stephen sees the Lord standing at the right hand, mediating for him. The Lord Jesus isn’t passive to the condition, needs or sufferings of His little brethren and sisters here on earth. He rose up to stand, in passion and feeling and pleading. And so He did for the thousands of faithful prayers offered for Michelle as she lay in a coma for some days before her death. Let us never doubt the activity and passionate feeling of the Lord, even though it can seem as if Heaven is silent to our crises.
We hope, in utter certainty, for the resurrection at the Lord’s coming, and our desire for that day is all the more heightened after this tragedy. And yet for now, all we can say is that there are tears in Heaven, as it were, along with ours. The Father and His Son are with us. Yes, they look to us to respond to Michelle, especially it seems to me in her well known zeal to give her all for the sake of the spreading of the Gospel. And yet all the same, they feel for us not only in our grief over her, but in all our griefs. In all Israel’s afflictions in Egypt and in the wilderness, Yahweh was afflicted, as was the Angel of His presence. We have the tendency to see Him as passive to our sufferings, bringing them into our lives in a calculated way that lacks any feeling. But His dealings with His people earlier show this is just not the case. More positively, there is joy in Heaven over the sinner who repents- as the parables of the lost coin, sheep and son all portray. The woman [Jesus?] calls together others [the Angels?] to share His joy. Of course, it is foreknown who will respond to the Gospel, but this doesn’t take away the joy of Heaven at the actual moment of response, be it a heartfelt prayer of repentance, or the ceremony of baptism. And by the same token, He foreknew the death of His Son and that of His daughter Michelle. And that foreknowledge and prearranging was something the grieving brethren so often comment upon in the Acts record, as many of us have too in this present context. And therefore we can know that there were tears in Heaven, just as there is joy in Heaven at repentance and in our realistic efforts to respond to the deaths and tragedies we face. Brethren, sisters: we must rally ourselves and respond. For Michelle’s sake, and above all, for the Lord’s sake. Now we see through a glass darkly, and only face to face in the Kingdom. Then, we will see how and why all had to be as it was. But for now, we can only respond in quietened and humbled service.