My newest favorite BBC TV show is the cozy mystery series Father Brown, based on the character created by author G.K. Chesterton. He reminds me of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Father Tim of the Mitford books, this balding, kindly priest with equally incorrigible compassion for lost sheep and taste for a good mystery.
Going about God’s business with good humor and quick wit—and a taste for Mrs. McCarthy’s award-winning strawb’rry scones–he quietly solves cases in the small English town of Kembleford (much to the chagrin of the police inspector, as Father Brown tends to be far more adept at it than he).
I’ve tried to figure out just what it is about this series that charms me so. It’s partly the setting, a quaint English village in the mid-20th century, complete with medieval stone church, cottages with flowering English gardens, and quirky, lovable characters. It’s partly the excellent acting and writing, and the comforting Britishness of it all.
But I think it’s mostly Father Brown’s character, played by actor Mark Williams, that draws me in. It’s rare to see people of faith portrayed positively on TV, though Call the Midwife is another series that does that well. But Father Brown is a beautiful example to me. He is unassuming, never judgmental of others, and reflects a genuine, Christlike love for people, yet also never holds back from offering the chance for repentance, forgiveness, and turning to God, even for hardened criminals and those in their last moments of life. We get the feeling that, much as Father Brown loves a mystery—and his childlike curiosity and indomitable thirst to get to the bottom of a case, often against the inspector’s wishes, keep him from being saintly—he wants to save people’s souls even more.
And while his antics often make me laugh, sometimes an episode makes me cry.
Early in the first season, Father Brown was speaking with a mother who had lost a baby girl years ago to a birth defect. The unresolved grief had destroyed her marriage and now taken her nearly to the point of suicide. At the climax of the story, she cries out to Father Brown to give her a reason not to take the pills in her hand. I love the honesty of his response:
“I don’t know why your daughter died. And I don’t know why God allowed it to happen.”
“Then what do you know?” she cries out in anguish.
“I know that God knows what it is to lose a child,” he says, looking into her eyes. “And that He’s standing next to you…that He loves you. And that He loves your daughter. And if you let Him into your heart, you will see Olivia [her daughter] again.” And the woman was finally able to take steps toward healing.
It makes a difference to know a God who grieves.
The other day, unexpected grief rose in my own heart. Sparked by a novel I was reading where the main character’s baby sister dies, grief for my own baby sister suddenly mounted vivid and unbidden.
For you see, nineteen years ago, my sister and I had another baby sister. Her name was Danica Noelle, and she was born with Primary Lactic Acid Disorder, a mitochondrial condition the medical community deems “incompatible with life.”
Our little “Dani” amazed the doctors by living three-and-a-half weeks longer than they expected. We got to know and love her, see her sweet smile and patient spirit, kiss her tiny, wrinkled forehead and downy dark hair.
But at the end of July, Danica slipped gently from her daddy’s arms into the arms of Jesus.
It’s been nearly two decades, and while we still miss her, I hadn’t really wept for Dani in some time. But the other morning, in the still-dark wee hours after I dropped Anthony off at the train for work, for some reason the grief came fresh and raw. And the rebellious Why? pounded in my heart as it hadn’t for years.
I turned to Revelation 21:4, the promise of tears wiped away, along with all death and pain. It helped, but I still struggled with why the Lord allowed them in the first place…not just for our family in losing three babies all around the same time as Danica, but all over the world…the horrific famine right now in Sudan and other countries, the plight of millions of refugees.
I didn’t get an answer…except the same one Father Brown gave. And one emphasized too in Lori Benton’s newest novel, Many Sparrows, to be released later this month (I’ll share more details soon!).
Towards the end of the book, two young mothers face each other, from two different cultures, but both grieving terrible loss of husbands and children. Both have been struggling in their faith, and one lashes out at the other: “Why then follow such a God?”
And through her own pain, the other suddenly finds a clarity. “Be cause He knows how we feel…He knows.”
And then I found myself at Isaiah 53:
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted…”
My heart quieted, and the tears slowed. I still don’t understand, fully, why the Lord allows so much pain and suffering, even if in my head I know of the fall and sin and the beauty of a broken but redeemed world. But it’s still hard for my heart to grasp sometimes.
But what I can grasp is this—our God has not shielded Himself from that pain and suffering either. He has entered into it with us, fully and vulnerably, by His own will. And He has taken the worst of it, as Aslan promises in The Magician’s Nephew, onto Himself.
So while I may not understand, I can trust. And know that He is good.
I know of many people right now who are facing grief…friends, neighbors, fellow writers. If that is you too, feel free to share a way we can pray for you in the comments. Or if you’d rather keep it private, you can always send me a message through the “Contact” button at the top of this page.
For there is comfort, and hope, in this world. Because we have a God who grieves…a God who cares.