Did I ask for a son, my lord?” she said, “Did I not tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes?’ (2 Kings 4:28)
The first story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman is filled with life and joy. The woman extends the hospitality of her table and eventually has a room built to house the prophet. In gratitude, she is promised a son and receives. Even after his death, when she runs to the prophet, he comes and restores her son to life.
Life and New Life. She receives her son not once, but twice.
Yet there is another side of this story. It does not move from one high point to another, but plunges into the valley of despair. The son she never thought would come dies as she holds him in her arms. She punctuates her ‘bitter distress’ as she cries to Elisha, “Did I not tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes?’”
Life, Death, and New Life. In our urge to rejoice in the gifts of life and new life, we can easily desire to slide past death. But the story of the Shunammite woman makes that impossible. The very gracious miracle of new life appears in the midst of death. We cannot get to the son’s resurrection by sliding past his death. His death is the very occasion for resurrection.
By the end of the story, the woman has received her son again, back from the dead. But for a time, her hopes seem dashed and distress and grief appear to overwhelm her. I believe God’s promise of life and new life. I believe God can and will raise the dead. But many of us live with this story still unresolved in our own lives. We live waiting with the woman, uncertain our hopes will ever be realized, crushed by the loss. Whether by miscarriage, stillbirth, disease, or accident, children are still lost to death and few parents see them raised back to life. The bitter cries of the Shunammite woman continue to find their echoes in parents today.
The hope of the resurrection is real and sure. Yet that hope serves not as a bridge over the deep waters of grief, but as a light that shines in the darkness. And the darkness cannot overcome it.