Today is in many ways a sad day as it’s the tenth anniversary of the death of our friend James Witham. Over the years we have lost a number of good friends, but none has been more poignant than this one. For those who are not aware, James died tragically in a hiking accident in Norway on 20 June 2013. No one saw it coming. We had hiked as a group to a well known spot and James, an experienced hiker, was just going to go a little bit further on his own and then catch us up on the way down. Sadly, he never did catch us up and his body was found by the Search & Rescue team the following day.
You will see from the links at the end of this email that I have written previously about James’ death on the 2 and 5 year anniversaries. While in reality little has changed from previous anniversaries, it does feel like the passing of 10 years, a whole decade, is a big milestone. My friend Adam also wrote a great piece about James’ life and journey of faith which you can read here. My intention in this blog is not to rehash thoughts from the past, but to continue to process my thinking on this. To this end I spent Sunday evening reflecting a little in the sauna and the following words have come out of that time.
In the past I have reflected on verses such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13 & Philippians 1:21-26, but this year I find myself drawn to Psalm 139. It is a well-known Psalm of David and I’ve quoted a portion of it below:
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you.Psalm 139:13-18
The Psalm is deeply personal and David points us to the God who knows us (v1-6), surrounds us (v7-12), made us (v13-18) and tests us (v19-24). The verses I’ve quoted speak of God’s Power and Sovereignty. He knows us intimately. He knew us when we were still in the womb and He knows the number of days that have been ordained for us. I find that last thought pretty mind-blowing. God knew the time we would have here on earth before we were even born. Those days were written in his book before the clock even started counting!
This truth does not however diminish our own responsibility to make good decisions, but it does stamp God’s Sovereignty all over every notion of our future. We don’t know the days that have been ordained for us and therefore we must live in the light of that – making the most of all the days that God gives us. We are to strive to honour and please the one who created us.
At the time of his death, James was only 21, he was full of life and in his prime. So it was very tragic to see him go. The Bible teaches us that to be with Jesus is better by far, but it is so hard for those who are left behind. We, along with many others, miss him and mourn his loss. For James however, there is no mourning, but rather pure joy as he enjoys the countless blessings of being home with Jesus, his Lord and Saviour. I love the following Billy Graham quote about death (NB: I think this actually originated from D.L Moody). In it he speaks about how much more alive he will be, when he arrives in the presence of God. Following Billy Graham’s death in February 2018, this is now as true of him, as it is of our friend James.
While there is still much sadness regarding James’ loss there is also hope because of his deep faith in Jesus. Our hope is of course rooted in eternity. Of course we have hope for the present, but it is inseparably linked to our hope for the future. One day all of us who know and love Jesus will live with Him in the New Heavens and the New Earth. James has a head start on us, but one day we will be reunited with him! These past ten years could have been very different had James continued to be in our lives. Who knows how God might have continued to use him. However, I’ve come to realise that the what if questions don’t really matter because James’ death was in no way a surprise to God. No, God Himself had ordained the days that James would be a blessing here on earth.
We know from our days in the student ministry that he was a huge blessing to others. We know too that his death has been a factor in others coming to know Jesus or grow deeper in their faith. But we also know that his death has been the cause of much pain and difficulty in people’s lives. This has been so difficult for all who knew and loved James. I am hugely thankful for the time that James was a part of my life. I enjoyed doing life with him and he was a blessing to my kids also (esp. Benjamin & Naomi). Like others, I continue to wrestle with the why question, but I also see how God has taught me so much through this past ten years.
- I’ve learned about the fragility of life.
- I’ve learned why it is so important to live a balanced life, rather than allowing myself to be driven by work.
- I’ve learned the value of making the most of the precious days that we do have.
- I’ve learned why we need to life with a mindset that this is not our true and eternal home.
I look forward one day to a reunion with James and many more days of hiking together to catch up on all that we have missed.
To God be the Glory,