It’s been exactly one week since the news. Someone I held in high regard died. His name was Jeremiah. Jeremiah Small. He was a dedicated Christian, profoundly humble and deeply caring for other people. He was one of those uncommon types who saw every person as an end in themselves. When we talked together, he talked to me, not at me, and listened in the same manner. He had the qualities of a keen listener. That is probably what made him such a great teacher. He taught at a Christian school in Sulaimaniah, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan. He was on his sixth year, teaching History, English, and the like. Jeremiah was wildly popular with his students. They were crazy about him, because he was crazy about them. This teacher poured himself into his teaching and his students. He didn’t aim to just give facts. He aimed to inspire. And show people the goodness of his God he loved so dearly and the awe of God’s world. I could go on (two further articles from World are here and here). But it ended.
On the morning of March 1st, a Thursday, Jeremiah was opening up his class with a prayer, his pupils in front of him as normal. He thanked God for a beautiful day. Before he could finish, one of them pulled out a pistol and shot him three times. I hear he died with his hands still clasped together. The student then shot himself, and also died shortly thereafter. To this day no one knows why he did it. No note, no clues, nothing.
It is so senseless. It shouldn’t have happened. His existence was important. Men like him are rare. Teachers like him are very rare. Why? It’s as though it left a hole in the world that shouldn’t have been there. The atmosphere itself seemed to disrupt over it. Within 24 hours of his death, a winter storm blew into Sulaimaniah. Frigid wind screamed down from the Kurdish mountains Jeremiah loved so much. Cold snow tumbled down from the frozen sky, thunder and lightening grumbled in displeasure, and grey clouds brooded over Kurdistan with their gloomy presence for several days.A winter storm so late in the year is strange. From ancient times, strange events are reported to accompany the death of great men, from Julius Caesar to Jesus Christ. Truly, a great man did pass from us.
One thing that made Jeremiah great is his love for forgiveness. He saw himself as a much-forgiven man. I keep hearing how whenever he realized his wrongness on something, he didn’t tarry to apologize. Sometimes he wasn’t even wrong. I found he grew up in a family where apologies and forgiveness were highly prized. His parents and some of his siblings flew out to Kurdistan to bury their son and brother. The memorial service was filled with an unusual quality, for victim of a murder – forgiveness. The teen’s family was invited to the service. Mom, brothers, and his dad all voiced the same anti-bitterness medicine. Dad said this was a momentary act by a confused young man, and repeated his goodwill towards the family. When they left the podium, the teen’s father came to the front and embraced them. I’ve never witnessed anything like this. It redefined love and reconciliation.
But its touching benefit was for the living. That day they buried Jeremiah. I regret I wasn’t able to attend that one, needing to go back to my place of work.
Regrets are haunting. I have many. I wish I had a chance to get to know him more. We were both so busy. I had hoped to see him during the Nawroz holiday now upon us, where all the schools in Kurdistan let out for two weeks. So much for that. Yet I can hear his deep, kind voice saying those pleasant things if I concentrate.
I don’t know how much of this post is nonsense. This is grieving. I just miss him. I will miss our authentic conversations. The way he was with kids. His smile. His voice. Everything. Times that I’ve seen him run through my mind like a movie. Tragedy like this makes you think. Death means “over” in our experience. The dead are gone. No more of their presence and all that goes along with it.
But two thousand years ago in the mourning of another dead man, Jesus told the mourners he himself was resurrection and life. Those who believe in him will live again (John 11.25). Tall claims. But what hopeful claims, no? These humanist platitudes of “death is a part of life” and “at least he lived (once)” are idiotic to me. How is that hopeful? May as well say nothing. Put a bow-tie on a rotting eel. Hope doesn’t accept death as the victor. Hope means death isn’t the end: Those who die can go right through death and out the other side to a new kind of life, one that is eternal. Jeremiah firmly believed in that hope. His conviction was that his dead bones will rise yet again. That’s what made him the person he was. He believed he had a heavenly future. So he lived as though he were a heavenly man.
A memorial video made by a student
God tells us He forgives to the very depth of our soul, covering the worst outbursts of our depravity:
“… Through His name, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” – (Acts 10.43)
“If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, Oh Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord. My soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130.3-4)
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. . . . If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world.” (1 John 1.9, 2.1-2).
Introspective hearts will ask, “Will this really work yet again? Will God forgive me today, just like yesterday? He can’t forgive me again. I can’t ask His forgiveness now. He’s bound to be angry. Maybe later when I’m doing better.”
This thinking is absolutely wrong! God will forgive you every day of your life! Every moment of your life! To say that God can’t forgive us because we’re “too bad,” to delay going to God in order to make ourselves “good” again — all is a kind of pride. That’s saying God isn’t gracious enough. Let’s be humble enough to accept God’s forgiveness! HE is God and has the right to forgive, and fortunately for us, He does. His Word guarantees it. God is immensely gracious, beyond anything we can comprehend! All because of the cross of Christ satisfying the penalty for our guilt, believers in Him go free forever, and when we sin now we can come to God and ask forgiveness to receive renewed fellowship with God.
Not that we deserve it. We never merit forgiveness, nor can we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be good by ourselves, or atone for our own sins by asceticism or self-punishment or doing some kind deed. Let God be God. The cross of Christ atoned for every last ounce of your sin.
Let’s seek God for forgiveness when we’ve done wrong. This causes us to revere God, and therefore glorifies Him. And isn’t that what God wants? What else does He want you to do: to stay away from Him? Punish yourself in some way first? Our Lord is clear: He has been punished for us; so every time we sin, the only thing Christ desires is our rush back into His love and grace – and stay there.
If you believe this, you can take on anything in the world.