Marissa Coblentz l NTS Class of 2013
Master of Divinity Degree Program
Last spring, I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. This discovery evoked a lot of emotions, but one of the strongest was fear. Most miscarriages happen in the first trimester, so I thought if I could make it through those first three months, I would stop being afraid. Then I heard about a woman who miscarried at six months. So six months was the goal. Then a lady in my birthing class told me about the loss of her baby immediately after birth. Then I learned about SIDS. I realized pretty quickly that I had started down a path with potential peril at every turn.
But my story does not begin there.
I met Janet Benefiel early in my seminary career. She taught the only Sunday School class at my church. I loved her enthusiasm for the book of Mark, so I began attending regularly. It quickly became apparent that Janet’s enthusiasm went beyond biblical studies. She was enthusiastic about organizing group games, thrift store and estate sale shopping, hosting events, and matchmaking the many single people in our church, among other things. But what she was most enthusiastic about was the coming of God’s kingdom. I had never met anyone who so thoroughly loved life and was yet so excited for the end of the world.
Growing up in the church, I heard lots about heaven and hell. I knew that the world could end at any moment, so I needed to “get right” with God every chance I had. Whenever I found myself unexpectedly alone, I considered the possibility that I had missed the rapture. I knew women who had prayed that they could just get married before The Second Coming. My ideas of heaven were vague, but the vividness of the sheep and the goats who said, “But when did we see you hungry?” never left my consciousness. How could this woman who was so joyful possibly pray with such fervor for the terrifying “Day of the Lord” when we would all be separated and most of us most likely condemned? How could she pray that joyous occasions like marriage and children and graduating from seminary would be preempted by some reincarnation of the city of Jerusalem?
As I listened to Janet’s husband, Dr. Benefiel, and others at NTS talk about the idea of the already/not yet kingdom of God over and over, I began to see what Janet saw. The joys of this life so often go hand in hand with deep grief. We experience the kingdom of God in the joys. Love, joy, and peace are all fruits of that kingdom. That is the “already” part. But God’s kingdom has not been fully established on earth. Sickness, pain, and death are part of the “not yet” where sin still reigns and creation still groans awaiting redemption. In the midst of this sometimes overwhelming fear I felt during my pregnancy, I forgot this. One of my classmates counseled me to just trust God with my baby’s life. But what about all those stories I had heard of miscarriage and stillbirth? What about those women? Had they not trusted God, I wondered?
I was mulling over my obvious lack of faith one day in chapel. Dr. Busic was in the midst of a series on the Lord’s Prayer, and that day’s message was on the phrase, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As I contemplated those words, my eyes were opened. The healthy birth of my child was God’s will! God and I are on the same side. It is sin and death that I was pushing against.
As I watched Janet face the cancer spreading in her body, I began to pray with her— not just for the healing of her body, but for the healing of all things. I don’t know all the details of the future coming of our Lord, but I do know that the redemption of creation does not include stillborn children or the invasion of cancer. I will miss Janet Benefiel and her enthusiasm for things, but I rejoice in the knowledge that she clung to—that there is coming a day when death will be no more, when all things will be made right, when we shall know fully even as we are fully known.
Dr. Noble said in one of his classes that the single most important doctrine that pastors can teach their congregations is the already/not yet kingdom. As I witnessed Janet’s longing and hope for the coming of God’s kingdom in the midst of her cancer and her complete confidence in ultimate victory over the grave, I cannot agree more. At the birth of my healthy child, I rejoiced in the already, in the way God’s kingdom is present on earth and leaks through the cracks from time to time. But I can also face my son’s future with the certainty that no matter what perils lie ahead, God’s kingdom will ultimately be victorious.