Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why?

She was early forties, the wife of an up-and-coming preacher, mother of three sons, a great disciple, and a wonderful mentor and teacher. Her approach to life and commitment to God had garnered her respect and devotion from many women both younger and older than she, of the congregations she had attended. She had spoken at national conferences and University presidents attended her funeral.

So why did she have to die of various abdominal cancers at her age? In six months of being diagnosed? This question has been raised a number of times and my current responsibilities require that I address this question to members of my flock. It isn’t an easy question to answer, and I’m pretty sure that whatever answer I could devise would be sufficient for some and leave others wanting. Nevertheless, I need some sort of response.

It might be easier if she had died suddenly in a car accident. But she didn’t and so we’ve had our congregation and more than a few folks around the world praying for her recovery for six months. Many of those have prayed fervently and often. Their faith, and the wording of their prayers, have beseeched God for mercy and healing. Were those prayers worth the effort? Is our faith, is our God, real enough that prayer actually changes things or are all the miraculous healings we think we see really just coincidences?

Did God leave us alone? Is He out there? Does He care?

Her death has challenged the faith of more than a couple people. What is the answer?

Let’s start by admitting we don’t know why she died rather than being healed. What we do know is that it is in these times when we need to do a gut-check of our faith. Faith is usually easy when things are going well, when life doesn’t require a whole lot of us. But faith that lives only as long as the sun is shining is a somewhat weak faith. And those who are challenged by such events in life have to ask ourselves whether our faith is real or not – do we really believe this God stuff?

I do. And no, I would just as soon not have my faith tested in a manner like this. What I trust is that God is faithful to keep my soul from Hell; that I can trust what I have committed to Him until I see Him face to face. No matter what happens in this world. Detractors will say that my attitude is one that belies the “blind faith” of Christians, that we are somehow ignorant of life or we rely on superstition to get us through our sorry lives. Let them. What they do not know is the love, acceptance, and freedom we have when we live for God, if we live in God.

I rely on what we read in Scripture of people hanging on to God in the midst of hurt and loss. Not Pollyanna’s, but real people with real hurts who come back to God time after time because they have tasted His goodness in other times or because they trust that their faith is not in vain. I rely on the fact that good people die every day. Some young, some old, some well known, but all loved by somebody who has been praying for them not to die. And yet they die.

And when it’s someone else’s loved one, or someone to whom I am not as close, it’s easier for me to accept what has happened. Only when I feel slighted, when God hasn’t listened to my prayers, when I can’t make heads or tails out of what has happened, does my faith waver. While that is a normal response, it is also a highly arrogant one. I am a creature. I do not know nor understand God’s great scheme. I do not comprehend His way of working in the world. And so I am slow to question and ready to say “I don’t get it.” And I trust that what I have seen in this community of loving people is simply a foretaste of the love and sweetness of what being with God will be like. And I am convinced that my faith and my God are true because I see them in other people all the time.

Why did she die? I don’t know but I trust that God knows what He’s doing.

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