Family reunited with message in a bottle written by their late son

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Family reunited with message in a bottle written by their late son

August 11, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

© By Kadmy/stock.adobe.com

© By Kadmy/stock.adobe.com

When Brian Dahl was eleven years old, he participated in a sixth-grade class project in which he wrote a note, put it in a bottle, and put the bottle in Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River. Eighteen years later, he died in an accident at home at the age of twenty-nine.

Thirty-three years after he wrote his note, Brian’s bottle was spotted by a salvage diver named Billy Mitchell. He and his boss were able to reconstruct the note and post a photo of it on the company’s Facebook page. As a result, the Dahls were reunited with their son’s bottle and note.

Mitchell said, “He’s with them still. I think that’s what the note meant when we found it. To let his parents know that he was watching over them as well.”

My purpose today is not to dispute the theology of Mitchell’s conjecture but to agree with his sentiment: there is something in us that seeks solidarity with those we love. When we love someone, we want to be with them.

God feels the same way.

When my grandchildren come to visit

Sociologist Peter Berger identified five “signals of transcendence”:

  • Humanity’s passion for order, pointing to a Designer
  • Our desire for play, mirroring our longing for eternal joy
  • Our innate commitment to hope, refusing to believe that death has the final word
  • Our belief in the necessity of damnation for true evil
  • Our propensity for laughing at our limitations, indicating our belief that they will be overcome.

I believe our desire to be close to those we love is another consequence of our creation in the image and likeness of our Father (Genesis 1:26–27).

The days when my children and grandchildren are coming to visit are high-water days for me. I look forward to them as though they were Christmas. If enmity arose between us and forced us apart, I would mourn in the depths of my soul. I have known many parents over the years in this situation and grieve deeply for them.

Our love for our loved ones harkens back to the garden of Eden, where God came looking for his estranged children (Genesis 3:8). Though our first parents hid themselves from him in disgrace, he found them (v. 9) and made “garments of skin” to clothe their shame (v. 21).

One of my Old Testament professors in seminary called Genesis 3 the “watershed” of the Bible. He noted that from the time sin expelled humans from God’s garden, he has been working to get us back. One day he will welcome us into another garden, one whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).

In the meantime, “the Lᴏʀᴅ longs to be gracious to you and . . . waits on high to have compassion on you” (Isaiah 30:18 NASB).

Four amazing facts

I was reading Jeremiah 31 today and was deeply impressed by four ways God describes his love for us.

One: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). God is faithful because he “is” love (1 Jn 4:8), not because of our merit. No matter what happens today, God cannot love you more or less than when his Son died for you.

Two: “The Lᴏʀᴅ has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him” (Jeremiah 31:11). No matter how strong our opponents, our Father is stronger still.

Three: “I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord” (v. 14). It is not presumptuous to recognize our Father’s desire to provide abundantly for his children.

Four: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (v. 34; cf. Is 43:25). When God forgives our sin, he forgets what he forgives. We can pray for the grace to be as gracious to ourselves (and to others) as God is to us.

“His fight is my fight”

By contrast, existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger described the human condition this way: you and I are each actors on a stage with no script, audience, director, past, or future. Courage, he claimed, is to face life as it is. Generations of Americans have believed this lie that we are on our own and that this world is all there is.

It is no wonder that loneliness, suicide, and substance abuse are at epidemic levels. In such a broken culture, the best news we can hear is that we are not on our own. We are not an actor alone on a stage. We are children loved passionately by a Father who is the King of the universe. We have a faith family of sisters and brothers numbering in the billions in this world and a “great multitude that no one could number” in the next (Revelation 7:9).

Have you welcomed your Father’s “everlasting love” yet today? Have you trusted him to deliver you from “hands too strong” for you? Have you asked him for his “abundance”? Have you claimed the fact that he forgives every sin you confess and will “remember” it no more?

One-year-old Luke Marquez has undergone five brain surgeries and has a shunt in his brain to control his hydrocephalus. His father, Carlos, wanted to honor his son and the battles he has faced in his short life, so he had an image of a shunt tattooed on his head in the same exact position as his son’s. Carlos also had words tattooed beside the shunt reading, “His fight is my fight.”

Your Father says the same to you today.

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