Saturday, August 30, 2008

Living and Dying in Real Life

I sat down to write a condolence note to a friend... it seems there is a lot to talk about.
It started like this:

"I am grieved to hear of the loss of your student. Either heart attacks are becoming more common - or else we technicians are just prone to them. Either way it is tough to go through....

As i said in a previous post, my dad had a massive heart attack that kept him in the hospital until he died last March. I understand the pain of losing someone close to me. In fact, over the course of the last 7 years... I've been being' schooled on losing friends and family.

A member of the Internet Dental Forum asked me once - just after 9/11 - and after he had lost a lot of friends due to war in the country where he lived "Where was God", How could a good God let this happen."

You must understand, those two questions are usually the toughest for an apologist to answer - not because the answer isn't there - but because it carries with it so much personal feeling and anger toward this so-called "loving God". It didn't help much that I had been fairly insulated from that kind of pain and I didn't want to answer with platitudes and grandiose claims (bible thumping).

OnTheJobTraining to the rescue!

Within a week, my mother died, her sister ( a favorite aunt when i was a kid) and my mom's cousin - another favorite all died within a day of each other. As i was preparing my answer to my technician friend, I had been reading an advance copy of Ravi Zacharias' book "Light in the Shadow of Jihad" that he wrote in response to 9/11. I had just closed the chapter on the Christian view of death, closed my eyes and thought a little and prayed - when the phone rang and my dad told me mom had died. Was I being prepared or what? What timing!

It took me a day or to to see it - but in that difficult question my friend asked me in the hope he could gain some relief from his pain, It was clear my Lord was also preparing me for my own ordeal that was just beginning. For me - a miracle that God could get through a hard head like mine and in such a personal way! I had been taught well how God is sovereign and everything happens within His providence. But did I really believe it - trust it. C.S. Lewis said this :"You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? Only a real risk tests the reality of belief." People wonder how you can have a personal relationship with an all powerful being - pray to Him, He does answer. And begin first by praying that your spiritual eyes be opened.

Since that day, my wife and i have lost her grandmother who helped to raise her for a while, My old guitar player's wife committed suicide 3 years ago after suffering from severe depression for years - we loved her dearly and she was like a sister to Deb and I in many ways, here in the Atlanta area there have been something like 10 lab owners or technicians that have died from either cancer or heart attack in the last 5 or 6 years, Debbie's best friend committed suicide here in Atlanta last fall - Debbie was one of the last people she talked to before she shot herself in the head, she may have talked to her daughter - we don't know - and then my dad in March. Now we have just seen GC pass on and realize the loss of another friend that hits close to home here in this forum.

Right now, one of my best friends - who helped lead me to Christ - has a son out in San Diego suffering from a brain tumor that the drs gave him 2 months to live... 4 months ago. We are all praying for a miracle. Every day is a miracle at this point! And just 2 days ago my sister wrote to say she almost lost her oldest daughter last week due to complications from Cushings Disease and severe diabetes. In the last 7 years, it has been one after another, after another. I'm beginning to understand the pathos of my technician friend from overseas - it is starting to sink in - the depth of pain.

And yet we are left with two basic choices - there are more - but basically two. Either we throw up our hands, give up and say - that's life and then you die... and avoid the whole "God question" - or else you come to the realization this whole story is much bigger than we are, we are but mere players in the play, we have been given a part to play, to play it to our best, and it really isn't up to us as to how the play ends up. Our job is to do our part well, right now - and trust that the Playwrite knows the end from the beginning.

With every loss - over the last 7 years, there have been blessings too - that I would not have expected. Mostly for me in the Lord making me so aware of His part in all of this with the beyond co-incidental timing of that first emailed question wrapped up in the phone call of my mom's death. I have seen His hand in everything that has happened and it has done nothing but reassure me of my faith in a Sovereign God.

I wonder - had that question not come - what or who I might be today. How callous and uncaring and self centered would i be? C. S. Lewis is also quoted as saying "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world!" Would we even turn and shake our fist at Him when in pain like this... if this kind of thing never happened? If we were perfectly satisfied and had no wants or needs - would we even have personality? Needing nothing - we would not even need each other - much less a God whom we cannot see and would not even think about.

Yet we suffer - and only He can bring comfort. Only He can give us the answer to our destiny. Only then will the pain subside and the tears will be wiped away. That is where I find hope in all the darkness that surrounds us. There is a light.
Face the Light! Have Hope! Really "have" hope!

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