BUT SWEET WILL BE THE FLOWER: The Life and Death of NBC’s David Bloom

Sep 18, 2006

At twelve o’clock stood New York Governor, George Pataki. At one o’clock , White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher. At two o’clock was former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani. At three o’clock , just across the aisle, were Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, and Ann Curry. Everywhere one looked were pundits and anchors and government officials, so many of them that you thought you had fallen into your tv set. There was Tom Brokaw and there was Tim Russert and there was Andrea Mitchell. And there was Chris Mathews and Lester Holt and Campbell Brown. And there was Dominic Dunne and there was General Barry MacCaffrey and there was Peggy Noonan. And there we were, my wife and I, at our friend’s funeral.

The scene was St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, just over a year ago, and the sad occasion was the funeral of David Bloom, the former NBC White House Correspondent and Weekend Today Show anchor whose good looks and brilliance and ebullience had recently brought him the greatest fame of his famous life. For several exhiliarating and tense weeks the entire country had watched him and prayed for him as he bounced along in his modified tank, which someone had dubbed the Bloom Mobile, windswept and typically enthusiastic, the best-known embed in the Iraq War, updating us from the ever-changing middle of it all, and somehow reassuring us by his very presence, by his inherent and ineffable upbeatness, that everything — despite everything — was okay.

There was something inescapably iconic about David now, as if in this new role he’d become something larger than himself, as if in spite of himself — shouting over the desert wind to those of us in our livingrooms — he now stood for something — something important. But what? It was as if bright and young and optimistic and brave he had come to represent the very best of us, of America — as if he had come to represent our own best image of ourselves as a people. And then one Sunday morning we got word that he had died, that our friend David had died, and for a little while, the whole world seemed to make no sense at all.

Our lives sometimes seem punctuated by these moments of bad news breaking into the delicate peace that surrounds us and that we don’t notice until it is broken. I was still in bed with The Times and coffee when my friend B.J. had phoned me with the news. B.J. Weber was the chaplain for the New York Yankees for twenty years, but he has a much wider ministry to Wall Street executives and other professionals and he had become a close friend of David’s in his last two years. “Beej, what’s up?!” I asked. He didn’t mince words: “Our friend David Bloom is dead.” This was the black news my wife and I and so many of our friends had been dreading in the weeks and weeks that we’d been watching and praying for David in Iraq. And as usual with this sort of news your whole being seems to reject it instantly, viscerally, even though it’s irrevocable. But somehow you sort of tense up once you ve heard it, as if to fight it back into non-being, something like the way a ball player desperately and inanely tries to will a long foul ball into fair territory from homeplate.

Lord, no. No. I gritted my teeth and pounded my thigh — damn, damn, damn! I then got the details from B.J., and learned that David had not died from an enemy-inflicted wound, but rather, had died of a pulmonary embolism. Then I hung up and just sat there, probably for the very first time in my entire life genuinely angry at God and utterly, hopelessly baffled at His purposes. I always knew that God never fails us, that however difficult it is to see sometimes, He has a plan in the midst of the chaos; and I knew that now. But I suddenly felt as if for the first time in my life I only knew these things intellectually, as if my faith in God had now, for the very first time, been tried and shaken.

* *

When something like this happens it is inevitable that you scroll back, as I did that morning, to the day that David and I had first met. I remembered meeting David one happy morning about two years before, at seven a.m. in the loud and hearty crowd at Jim Lane’s house in New Canaan, Connecticut. Jim Lane was a former partner at Goldman Sachs and every Friday now for the last nine years we have had our Men’s Fellowship/Bible Study at Jim’s house in New Canaan. It had started out in 1995 as a tiny group of men, mostly Wall Street financial types; but over the years the group had grown and grown until now it was extremely large, almost comically so. At least it was comic to me; there were now about 150 men crowding into Jim’s house every Friday morning, talking loudly and intensely, as though they had already been up for hours. This ragtag men’s biblestudy had gotten so big that we now even had an official sounding name: the New Canaan Society. Just a few years before it had been a group of eight or ten of us with me leading them through the Gospel of John. Now we were a veritable throng that swelled giddily past Jim’s vast livingroom, spilling into his dining room and foyer; there was even a group in his library watching on closed circuit tv! And we had internationally known speakers and teachers like Chuck Colson, Jack Hayford, Reinhard Bonnke, Luis Palau and Bruce Wilkinson. The whole affair had somehow become an undeniable phenomenon.

Every week more folks from New York and Connecticut were visiting to see what all the hoo-ha was about, and practically everyone in upscale New Canaan wondered what on earth was going on up there in that house on the hill so early every Friday morning, with cars parked a half mile down the road. For all we knew they probably thought we were some sort of strange cult of BMW owners.

What was going on was as much like an A.A. meeting as anything else: men from many many miles around had heard there was a place you could come and be with other men who wouldn’t judge you, but who knew we all had problems and that in order to deal with our problems we needed each other and we needed God. We’d meet almost every Friday and hear a speaker and sing a couple of songs and talk furiously with each other and then head off to work, recharged for another week. Our simple thesis was that men didn’t make friendships as easily as women did, and that when things got tough at home or in your career, you needed friends to carry the load with you, to be there for you. You needed friends who would help you make the right decisions when the temptation to make the wrong one was stronger than ever. And so we had simply gotten together in that spirit, week after week after week, until things were so out of hand we literally needed a traffic cop in the front of Jim’s house.

So it was on one of those mornings that I met David; I hadn’t had my coffee yet and dozens of friends were hailing me and buttonholing me and in the midst of the friendly melee I bumped into him; he looked awfully familiar, but I couldn’t exactly place him, certainly not without benefit of caffeine. David Bloom, NBC, he said, brightly and helpfully. Right! I said, I thought you looked familiar!

David told me he had been invited by a friend of his, but I didn’t even know the friend’s name; that’s how big this group had gotten. I used to know every single person. David seemed comfortable, even to be enjoying himself, and it didn’t take long for him to see that as serious as most of the men were about their faith, this was certainly not a pious bunch. Our laughter was raucous and frequent — sometimes a bit too raucous and frequent. We didn’t take ourselves very seriously, but we did take God seriously.

And so every week or so I’d see David there, whenever he wasn’t on assignment travelling. He soon became friends with B.J. and Jim, whose investment banking offices were close to 30 Rockefeller Center, where David worked at NBC. Through them he rather quickly came to find what he was looking for and for the first time in his life to finally understand the basics of the Gospel as we call it: that faith in God and Jesus is not about trying to be a morally perfect person. It’s about recognizing that you cannot be morally perfect — which is why you need a Savior. The simple fact is that we need God’s help to be the person He created us to be. So instead of redoubling our efforts and failing again we turn to Him and ask Him to come into our lives and change us. There’s a humility in that that is the core of the Christian faith and that flies in the face of anyone trying to appear morally superior. Jim and B.J. especially are great at making this plain, without the usual religious trappings and jargon, so that normal guys like David can see it in a way they ve never understood it before. And it changes lives.

David’s was no exception. Through his friendships with Jim and B.J. he seemed to find God — and inevitably, himself — in a way that was entirely new for him. And whenever he was at the New Canaan Society on those mornings you could see how genuinely happy he was to be there, how he thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember not long before he’d left for Iraq, after a number of weeks away (he’d been down in the DC area covering the sniper case) David returned and stood up in front — which he’d never done before — and he told us all how much the group meant to him. It had become easy for some of us to take the group and comraderie for granted, so it was especially moving to see how much it had come to mean to this man whom we all admired so.

But as with all of us who are a part of the New Canaan Society, it was and still is always the time apart from Friday mornings where the real business gets done, where the real life of our friendships with each other existed It’s in those phonecalls and lunches where we would privately share our hearts with one another and where we would challenge one another and pray together and for each other. I knew that Jim’s friendship with David was important for both of them and that much of their friendship was in their lunches together at 30 Rock and in their phonecalls, where they would always share the reading from a daily devotional titled My Utmost For His Highest, written by Oswald Chambers, a Scottish preacher from the early part of the 20th century. That little book, which its devotees often simply call Utmost or Oswald is a legendary book, in that it seems to capture and to distill the ineffable essence of faith in Jesus in a way that very very few books ever do. Many of us in NCS read that book every day, and it’s become a kind of unofficial handbook for us — the closest thing there is to Scripture, as some have said.

* *

The last time I saw David was in B.J.’s home here in Manhattan. We learned that he would be leaving the very next morning for Kuwait City, and then on to Iraq. We were excited for him, and envious, in a way — but we were also quite naturally concerned for him, especially those of us who were husbands and fathers. We knew that our friend was going into the heart of an unknown warzone on the other side of the planet; so we talked about it with him and before he left we laid hands on him — the whole group of us did — and we prayed earnestly that God would protect him and bring him back safely to his family and friends.

And then, once the war started, we saw him again, sort of. I’d shout, Hey, honey — it’s David! and my wife and I would watch him, our friend, reporting from his eponymously-named vehicle. Many of us continued to pray for him daily, to have a particular burden about his being there in the midst of so much danger, but I never imagined he would not return home. Frankly we couldn’t wait for him to be back; at the New Canaan Society we’d give him a huge hero’s welcome at some appropriate venue, with wine and cigars, and inevitably we’d all rib him mercilessly about what a bigshot he now was, about how lucky we were that he deigned to hang out with us, now that he was world famous. I was already laughing about what I’d say.

Ten minutes after hearing he had died I was thinking about that dinner — the one we’d never have now — and about the dumb jokes we’d never get to crack at his expense, and about the laughs we’d never get have with him. And then I thought of that final prayer in BJ’s house, and I thought of how God didn’t seem to have answered it. And I for the first time in my life I simply didn’t get it.

Soon after David’s death we learned that the embolism he had died from was a result of his sitting in the cramped space of that modified tank, for days and nights on end. He’d even slept in there. He had told a doctor that he had been experiencing leg cramps and the doctor had told him to take some aspirin and to seek medical attention. But of course this meant that he would have to stop charging ahead toward Baghdad and, naturally David, being the indefatigable and irrepressible optimist that he was elected to continue to charge ahead though the windswept sands of the desert with the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division. I think most of us would have done precisely the same, or would have liked to think so.

Who could have resisted the undeniably glorious feeling of being part of the central event of your time, and of being the one lucky enough to be bringing it all into America’s livingrooms? And we in our livingrooms could sense it through David and because of him; we could sense the hopefulness and barely bridled elation that came with being part of a liberating army; and America’s love affair with him for those weeks that he rode toward freedom was in a way our love affair with that noble and eternally hopeful and idealistic America, the shining city on a hill, to use John Winthrop’s famous words. So in his role on the other side of our television sets, on the other side of the world, David was a genuine, palpable hero for us, who like all of his kind touches and somehow inspires that which is heroic in us, who makes us all feel we are a part of what he represents, so that we are sharing in his braveness and optimism and exuberant life.

And then that one bright morning we got word that he had died, and that part of us that identified with David died too.

And so, the obvious and eternal and painful question: how could God let this happen? How? Especially after we had so specifically and lovingly prayed for him on the eve of his departure? How could God let someone like that die, someone so vigorous and young and at the peak of his professional success, with a beautiful wife and three gorgeous little girls, and with a faith more vibrant than it had ever been in his life — how?

I think for me it was the vibrance of David’s faith that especially made me ask why God had allowed him to die. What a difference someone makes in the world when their faith in God suddenly blossoms! You may have been some sort of Christian before, you may have believed, in your way; but then suddenly the penny drops and for some unknowable reason you turn your life over to Jesus in a completely new way and everything is new again, as though you had just been born again, which is where that overused and misunderstood term comes from. I had seen this transformation happen in my own life some years before and I had seen it happen in the lives of so many friends over the years. It’s an undeniably beautiful and moving and transcendent thing to witness, as most births are. And for most people, seeing the newborn continues to be beautiful and moving and transcendent. And in a way you are forever newborn, and the world will never be the same. As Scripture says, when this happens, you are a new creature — the old things have passed away. It was clear that David had given his life over to Jesus with that great exuberance and abandon which we recognize as the unmistakeable hallmarks of true love. Perhaps for the first time in his life he was truly himself, and it was a beautiful thing. Why would God have let that die?

And we thought of all the lives that David would touch now. We thought of the ramifications of his newfound faith in a media culture that generally tends not to be comfortable with faith, certainly not of the kind that David now evinced. It was always confusing, somehow, that the media culture seemed so oddly out of step with the religiousness of the very people to whom they were speaking, day in and day out, and it seemed a terrific blessing that now, through David’s dramatic coming-to-faith, there would be someone in that world who got it and who might even help others get it and see it as the wonderful thing it is and not something to be feared and held at arm’s length. What would it look like for someone of his professional and cultural status to be a serious Christian? We could hardly fathom it, but we looked forward to finding out.

So David’s death was a particularly tough pill to swallow, and again and again and again in the days after his death I asked God why.

A few days later I would get the beginning of an answer. It was the first Friday after David’s death and I was up at Jim Lane’s house on the Thursday night before our regular Friday morning Fellowship breakfast. He and B.J. and I were in his kitchen and Jim handed me the hardcopy of an email. He said it was David’s last email to his wife, Melanie, written twenty-four hours before he died. When he wrote the email there was no way David could have known that it would be his last email, none whatsoever; but when I read it there in Jim’s kitchen that night it seemed clear as a bell that God had known. I held the paper in my hands and read it over and over and I knew that I was witness to a miracle. This was the email that I read:

It’s 10 a.m. here Saturday morning, and I ve just been talking to my soundman Bob Lapp about his older brother, whom he obviously loves and admires very much, who’s undergoing chemotherapy treatment for Leukemia. Here Bob is out in the middle of the desert and the brother he cares the world for who had been the picture of health, devoted to his wife and kids, is dying.

Bob can’t wait to be home to be with him, and I can’t wait to be home to be with all of you. You can’t begin to fathom, cannot begin to even glimpse the enormity of the changes I have and am continuing to undergo. God takes you to the depths of your being until you are at rock bottom and then, if you turn to him with utter and blind faith, and resolve in your heart and mind to walk only with him and toward him, picks you up by your bootstraps and leads you home. I hope and pray that all my guys get out of this in one piece. But I tell you, Mel, I am at peace. Deeply saddened by the glimpses of death and destruction I have seen, but at peace with my God, and with you. I know only that my whole way of looking at life has turned upside down here. I am, supposedly at the peak of professional success, and I could frankly care less. Yes, I m proud of the good job we’ve all been doing, but in the scheme of things it matters little compared to my relationship with you, and the girls, and Jesus. There is something far beyond my level of human understanding or comprehension going on here, some forging of metal through fire.

I shifted my book of daily devotions and prayers to the inside of my flak jacket, so that it would be close to my heart, protecting me in a way, and foremost in my thoughts. When the moment comes when Jim or John or Christine or Nicole or Ava or you are talking about my last days, I am determined that they will say he was devoted to his wife and children and he gave every ounce of his being not for himself, but for those whom he cared about most, God and his family. Save this note. Look at it a month from now, a year from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. You cannot know now nor do I whether you will look at it with tears, heartbreak and a sense of anguish and regret over what might have been, or whether you will say he was and is a changed man, God did work a miracle in our lives. But I swear to you on everything that I hold dear I am speaking the truth to you. And I will continue to speak the truth to you. And, not to be trite, but that will set me free. God bless you, Melanie. I love you and I know that you still love me. Please give the girls a big hug; squeeze em tight and let them know just how much their daddy loves and cares for them. With love and devotion, Dave.

Well. Who could possibly fail to be moved by this profound and extraordinary email? It was transcendent; it was a miracle. I could hardly fathom what I had just read. How could David have written these words one day before he died without knowing that he was going to die? It was all just too much. How could a man who doesn’t know he has one day left on earth write all of this? There was only one answer: God knew. Just as God seemed to speak prophetically through Martin Luther King in his “I Have A Dream” speech, in which King seems to allude to his imminent death the next day, so God seemed to me to be speaking through David here. That was the only thing I could compare this to. Suddenly I felt like I was holding a very precious document. I held the paper in my hands and just marveled at it and smiled. When I looked up I saw that Jim and B.J. were smiling, too.

The next morning, instead of our usual Bible study, we had a special memorial for David, right in Jim’s living room, where we had always met. But this time there was a handful of women in our midst: a number of David’s colleagues at NBC news, including his Weekend Today Show co-host, Soledad O Brien. The speaker was the Rev. Tom Tewell of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and it was a powerful service. At the end of it Jim asked me to pray aloud. It’s not often that this happens to me, but as I began to pray I felt God’s anointing so that my words were more than my words; I could sense the presence and touch of God. As I was praying, I was shaking and on the verge of weeping, and as the words poured out of me I thanked God that David was with him and that that was true, that it was truer than anything we knew, that it wasn’t just something that we tell ourselves to feel better, that it was not a fairytale, that it was the Gospel truth.

* *

Over the next week I continued to marvel at that email, and I realized that it was God’s way of telling us that it was okay, that He was with David and with us, that this wasn’t something that had just happened. It was a measure of comfort.

And not long afterward I learned something else that was comforting: the funeral service for David was going to be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral right here in Manhattan, and Melanie had asked Jim to speak. She had wanted Jim to share something about his profound friendship with David, and about David’s faith, and I was greatly comforted that somehow now, despite everything, others would hear.

As the event approached, Jim began writing the comments he would make at the service and he showed them to me, inviting my suggestions. And in reading Jim’s comments I learned something else that was extraordinary. I already knew that Jim and David had been reading Oswald Chambers’ Utmost for His Highest together for months, and I knew they had even continued to do this when David was stationed in Kuwait City, waiting for the war to begin. But once David had been part of the Third Infantry and their advance toward Baghdad, David and Jim had been unable to speak directly, but they had still continued to trade voicemails with each other. In that way Jim continued to encourage David with the readings from Utmost, only now in the form of long voicemails which David heard every day as he famously bounced through the Iraqi desert. But what I hadn’t known was what Jim had read to David in his last voicemail.

Jim’s last voicemail to David before he died was from the April 5th entry of My Utmost For His Highest. And two things about the entry seemed undeniably extraordinary. First of all, the April 5th entry concerned Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the day before his death, on what we call Maundy Thursday. And of course Jim had read this to David on the day before his own death.

But there was a second way in which this entry struck me as perfectly stunning and which was most evident in its very last line. This is what Jim had read to David:

“The agony in the Garden was the agony of the Son of God in fulfilling His destiny as the Savior of the world. The veil is pulled back here to reveal all that it cost Him to make it possible for us to become sons of God. His agony was the basis for the simplicity of our salvation. The Cross of Christ was a triumph for the Son of Man. It was not only a sign that our Lord had triumphed, but that He had triumphed to save the human race. Because of what the Son of man went through, every human being can now get through into the very presence of God.”

And then, for emphasis, Jim read the last sentence a second time: “Because of what the Son of Man went through, every human being can now get through into the very presence of God.”

We learned from David’s cameraman that moments after he heard this last voicemail that morning, just after he had heard that last line twice, David climbed out of the Bloom Mobile and collapsed, and himself entered into the very presence of God.

Who can fathom such things? It seems that there are very rare times in life when the hand of God is easy to see, when God almost desperately seems to want us to know that He is involved in a situation, that it isn’t something that just happened, but that He was involved in orchestrating it, that He is with us in all of its details. It’s at these times that you know how tenderhearted our God is, because in communicating to us that He was involved, God is telling us that as terrible as things might seem, He is with us. We are not alone. I cannot doubt that the extraordinary events surrounding David’s death are a powerful example of one of those times.

* *

But there was still another thing to marvel at in all of this, and that concerned Oswald Chambers himself, the author of My Utmost for His Highest. I found it touching and telling that in that last email David told his wife that he had moved the book to the inside of his flak jacket so that it could be closer to his heart. It seemed that even in this God seemed to be communicating something.

That’s because as I learned more about Oswald Chambers, I noticed some truly remarkable similarities between him and our friend David. Like David, who was 39, Oswald Chambers had died young, at age 43. Like David he died among troops during a time of war, WWI. Both of them had died in the desert of the Middle East, in a warzone, David in Iraq and Oswald Chambers in Egypt. And as with David, who died of an embolism, something that was neither necessarily serious, nor combat-related, so, too Chambers died of a non-combat-related illness, and one that one wouldn’t normally think of as life threatening: he died from a complication that arose after having his appendix out. I couldn’t help being amazed by these parallels.

But there was a final parallel between these two young men and their deaths in the desert of the Middle East, as non-combatants during a war, that was most interesting of all.

It was that both of them died at a time and in a way that made everyone around them wonder how God could have possibly let it happen. Both of them had showed such extraordinary promise and had awakened such great hopes for their futures and all they might accomplish for the Kingdom of God. Both had been taken long before they had realized even a fraction of those great hopes. Both of them had died in a way that particularly staggered those of great and abiding faith.

When Oswald Chambers died, the thousands of young men whom he had given Bible lessons, and all those who knew Chambers, were devastated. He had been so extremely talented and valuable to them, and now all of that talent was unavailable. How could God let that happen? Who would teach them about God now?

But what happened after Chambers’s death begins to give us a glimpse of God’s mysterious purposes. Chambers’s wife, Gertrude — whom he called Biddy — was a prodigious note taker, who had learned Pitman shorthand as a teenager and who could write an amazing 250 words per minute, faster than most anyone talks. Biddy would sit in on her husband’s sermons and bible lessons and would transcribe everything that he was saying.

Shortly after her husband’s death someone asked Biddy if one of those sermons might be printed for the enlisted men to read. Biddy assented and the response was extraordinary. Very soon another of the sermons was printed; and then another and another. After she had returned to England with their daughter, Biddy continued to type out the seemingly endless shorthand notes of her husband’s many sermons that she had taken over the years. As the months and years passed the demand for them continued. Eventually someone approached Biddy with the idea of perhaps putting some of Oswald’s thoughts together in a devotional book, and in 1923 the first copies of My Utmost for His Highest were printed. That little book has been in continuous print for more than eighty years now, has sold many millions of copies, and is today still a best-seller read by people all over the globe. And Utmost is only the most famous and far-reaching example of how Chamber’s thoughts and teachings had reached the world, because before Biddy’s death in 1966, no less than forty books had been published from all of the notes she had taken of her husband’s talks and sermons.

It seems that through Chambers’s early death, and through his wife’s desire to keep his memory alive and his teachings available to those who had never heard him in person, his writings were scattered abroad and found an extraordinarily vast readership, something that likely would have never happened had Chambers lived and continued to preach and teach. More people have been affected and blessed by what he taught on those hot mornings in the desert near Cairo than if he had preached and taught there for ten or twenty or a hundred lifetimes. The more I thought about this unanticipated and astounding multiplication of Chambers sermons the more I couldn’t help wondering whether God didn’t have something similar in mind with David — even before I knew of the remarkable similarities between these two men. I began to wonder afresh at the old saying that God works in mysterious ways.

* *

I couldn’t help feeling that already a part of God’s mysterious ways involved Jim speaking at David’s funeral. Who could have thought, a few weeks before, that the deep and extraordinary faith that David had would be broadcast like this, to an untold audience watching on television and to the assembled throng in that great sacred space on Fifth Avenue? Who could have imagined that my friend Jim would have the singular privilege of telling the world of the central most important fact of David’s life, that he had had a life-changing experience with the living God, and had in his last days been gloriously transformed and filled with hope and joy?

And perhaps most remarkable of all, who could have known that we all would hear these things not just from Jim, but from David himself, when Jim read David’s last email? We would hear these things that morning in David’s own words, which he had written alone to his dear wife in his last day on earth, on that battlefield where he had become so famous. We would hear that the most important thing in life was his relationship with God and with his family, and that he aspired, above all things, to give every ounce of his being serving his family and Jesus. This was more than any of us might have hoped for and we who knew him and loved him could hardly contain ourselves in thinking of God’s faithfulness to us all, in the midst of our doubts.

I think now of a hymn by William Cowper, written in 1774. Cowper was one of England’s greatest and most celebrated 18th century poets, who suffered greatly thoughout his life from depression. But his faith in God sustained him, and besides the hundreds of poems he wrote, he wrote hundreds of hymns, too, many of which we sing today. This is the one I think of now:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

**

There was a time, not long before David’s death, when I might have seen the sentiments in Cowper’s hymn as bromides — as somehow true, but as cloying in their simplicity. No longer.

And when I think now of that celebration dinner that we would never have, in honor of David’s homecoming, I realize I was wrong in two ways: first of all, we will have that celebration, and second, the homecoming will not be David’s, but ours.

There are some facts more factual and true than that two and two make four. One of them is that God’s children never die. As Chambers put it in his sermon in Egypt during the First World War, and as his wife Biddy transcribed it, and as millions have read it over the decades, and as Jim read it twice on April 5th, 2003, and as David Bloom heard it twice in the very last moments of his life: “Because of what the Son of Man went through, every human being can now get through into the very presence of God.”

And we will. And when we join David in God’s presence there we will rejoice with him as we never could have dreamt of rejoicing with him in this life, and our joy together will be like a waterfall of grace; and our laughter together will be brilliant and golden and everlasting. This is not a fairytale. It is the Gospel truth.

Eric Metaxas
New York City
May 2004