I saw an old friend while out of town. We were attending a conference for our youngest son and it happened to be close to where she lives. She is someone very special to me, one of those people whom you meet and remember forever. Over the years the business of life and our different paths have resulted in few contacts. She and her husband came to Memphis a half dozen years ago for a gathering and we were delighted when they came by our house for a few hours as they driving home. Aside from that brief contact we have had rare interaction.
Her husband was a remarkable man. A commited father and devout Christian he is the sort of fellow who would have been described as "the salt of the earth" in a previous generation. He was truly ideal. His life ended tragically in an accident and he left behind his grieving wife and their two young children. As is often the case in such tragedies, I have found the roots of relationships regenerate. I reached out to her (like hundreds of others) and she called me some time ago. We talked, although I really listened more than talked. Her wounds are so fresh, the experience she is going through too raw. When we saw her it had been another week of living into the new and painful reality.
She made the drive and we visisted for forty five minutes. However, this time I did say something: "God redeems." She texted me later and asked what I meant. I told her I would blog on it (actually I texted I would "clog on it"). I have written about this before but wanted to revisit it here again, more intentionally. I told her I was going to write about it in a general way, but also for her. I love her and treasure her deeply and wish I could take away the pain. I cannot. I do know, however, that over time the pain will decrease. It will get better. It will heal.
"God is asking too much." Those simple words carry such depth of meaning. They are simultaneously a declaration of faith and a cry for help. Those of us who believe in God are different. Some folks believe that there is a God. They think that He is out there, but there is not much of a relationship. Other folks believe in God. There is a trusting faith, a belief which is transformed into worship and obedience.Some who believe in God think that God creates and orders things. They love God and want to serve Him. My friend is one of those people. She sees the current events as part of God's plan and is seeking to faithfully serve and love Him. Yet the pain is so unbearable. The sadness is so real. The loss and emptiness are so debilitating. So the question rises; this is God's plan? The Lord thought the best way for us to serve him was by an untimely death and loss and pain and sadness and crying and feeling empty and unable to breathe?
There are certainly places in the Bible that insinuate that God is the one who creates good and bad, who is behind everything, controlling everything. However, I think the more prevalent message of Scripture is that God is primarilly outside of it all in a very real way. I believe God creates and keeps things going. I believe He has a plan. I also believe He made the world to exist on its own and He does not micro-manage every single event. I believe God intervenes. That means, by definition, He cannot be controlling it all. TO intervene is to come from outside. If God controls everything than He is already controlling it and cannot intervene. (Just as I cannot intervene to correct my own driving). Here is an example from the Bible. When Joseph (see Genesis) comes to Egypt we are told it is God's answer to the threat of the famine. So that begs the question, why is there a famine? If God wanted to save His people why make a famine in the first place? Why all the selling into slavery and problems with Potipher's wife and going to jail and all the twists and turns of the story? However, if the famine is not God's creation then the twists and turns suddenly make sense. God at work inside is trying to achieve His goal. "The plan" in this case is to make Israel a light to the nations. The plan is being worked out in the midst of the chaos of life. God is not creating the chaos, He is ordering it (at least a small Joseph sized piece of it). Creation is Redemption. He redeems/saves/sets right what has unfolded contrary to His will (in the sense of desire). God allows things to happen which are not His will because He respects the world He created. Sometimes He intervenes to make sure His ultimate plan is achieved. He seems, though, to respect the independence of creation most of the time. Things just happen because He is not running the show....
So is God asking too much in this loss of life? I think not. I think God is redeeming this personal tragedy. Why did this young man die? There are mechanical reason, biological reasons, physical reasons. It is what happens in our world all the time. People are born, people die, people suffer, people cry. I do not think God does it to us anymore. I think His plan is to reign among us SOME DAY (in the Glory Alleluia, His Kingdom finally comes on earth as in heaven day). In the meantime, God redeems. Someone dies, He offers His presence in love and silence. He comes in and through other people and other events. He opens our eyes to see and our hearts to love (even when loving is the reason the losing hurts so dang much). He redeems through the cross of Jesus. There is something holy about faithful suffering. He redeems eventually and finally through resurrection and new life. In the meantime He does not ask too much, at least not in the sense that He kills our loved ones as a test (some would say that is the point of the Abraham&Isaac story). What He asks is that we trust Him to fully redeem even life's worst moments. He asks us to live today like it is true that "Tomorrow" (on the Great Day) He will make all things new. He asks us to be open to healing and hope and joy. He gives us eyes to see the sunrise and hear the birds sing. He is present in the midst of it all, not as the cause of the loss but as the source of hope for the renewal.
I may be wrong. Perhaps God actually pulls every string and controls every event. Perhaps He does take our loved ones for a higher purpose. If so, then I am wrong (but then He is also controlling what I write, so I am writing this because He wants me to be wrong and He is creating my error). However, then everything is just as He intends it and there is no redemption, because nothing needs to be bought back...
However, I think that reality is different. I do not think He controls everything. I do not think "everything happens for a reason" in the sense that God is doing these things and we need to accept them and say "He has a plan." So the only comfort I can give anyone (including my much loved mourning friend) is that I believe our God saves. I believe our God has created a world which exists because He sustains it, but unfolds according to the laws of nature and choices of creatures. As such, it is a world where the laws of physics and biology produce horrid tragedy and painful loss. As such, it is a world which is sometimes a dream and sometimes a nightmare. As such, it is a world where good men die too young, where good kids lose their dads, where good women lose their husbands, where good families lose a brother and son. As such, it is a world sometimes too awful to go on, where the act of surviving day to day feels like being "asked too much." But if I am right, when God redeems it totally, the pain and ugliness will be transformed. The bitter cross of Jesus gave way to the sweetness of resurrection glory. I believe the dead will rise again. I believe and so I have trust and hope and even joy. No loss totally blots out the gain. No darkness fully overcomes that light. No sadness can take away the peace and joy completely. And some day (on that Day) all will be well and all will be redeemed. Redeemed, saved, made new by the God Who does not control everything, but will redeem everything some day.
Obviously all of us have our own experience of "God asking too much." My own presence at that conference is a case in point. It is hard here on the earth. I have come over the years to see the world as real and independent (though created and dependent on God). I have come to see events as not so much God doing things but as God's world exercising its God-given freedom of choice and being. I have come to see redemption as new creation and redemption as central to understanding everything. I have come to see God as an ally Who is on my/our side, not the all controlling Power to which I submit even when It is doing terrible things to me and those whom I love. Someday it will be different, in the New Creation, but not yet. Now, in this time, He asks will you love me and be faithful? It would be too much to ask if He had not submitted to life on this planet in Jesus. His power is there, in the weakness of the fragile human life of Jesus. He redeems all our poain because He suffered the same losses in our human condition.
So I look at Jesus when I pray for all who face difficulties. I pray for orphans and widows, for people facing all manner of struggles. I pray "Your Kingdom Come. soon, please." And I wait the fullness of redemption with trust in my heart, even as I blot the tears from my eyes. That is why watching, waiting, being steadfast and trusting are such important Christian virtues. That is why. Because His Kingdom has not come yet, He is not exerting His control and power yet, and in this time people die and suffer.