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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God's Answer

I'm going to a memorial service today. It's for a very dear friend of mine who died unexpectedly this past weekend. For several days now, I've been moving in and out of shock and sadness. Don't get me wrong, he was a good Christian, and anyone who knows him believes he was right with God when he died. That's not the problem.

There's a sadness that sweeps over you that somehow gets emphasized by the suddenness of it all. He was playing racquetball I think, with some friends from his church. Apparently he had a heart attack there on the court and died. The doctors say he went quickly and didn't suffer. Of course we're all grateful for that. But it's a loss for his family and for all who knew him and loved him. It might be an even greater loss for those who knew how much Tom loved them. (I'm in that latter category.)

Tom (that's his name) was a very good man. Kind, considerate, generous, loving ... all words that anyone who knew him would use to describe him. Probably anyone who knew him long enough had a story about his kindness too. He was very focused on doing the right thing. Always. And usually he did too. He did many right things.

One of the most profound right things Tom always did was use his influence, wherever he was in life, for the better cause. If Tom worked for a certain company, he'd get that company's products donated to the cause. If Tom had an opportunity to speak, for example, to youth about his own struggles as a youth - he didn't need to wait for an invitation or have to script what he wanted to say. He was always ready to leverage the opportunities that God might put in front of him.

I had lunch with my friend Tom just a few weeks ago. Now this guy always gave the impression of what some might consider a worrier ... it was one of his weaknesses. He appeared to worry about everything. I don't think that's accurate though, because worry is based on fear - and I don't believe Tom was afraid. But he stressed about everything it seemed. Don't get me wrong, it was never for selfish reasons. He stressed about everything because everything mattered to him. He thought everything ... and everyone was important. And he lived his life that way.

At any rate, the main topic of our lunch was Tom's laser-sharp focus on God's will for his life. We talked about the fact that he didn't think his current situation was where he was ultimately supposed to be. He said several times that he had this strong sense that God had other plans for him. Tom figured those other plans would of course be best, so he was anxious to discern what they might be and move into them. But first the question had to be answered.

"What is God's plan for my life? What does God want to do with me? What's next? Where am I going?" Those were the kinds of things my friend was saying to me. So Tom was acutely focused on listening to God. He prayed, he studied God's Word. He listened to his wife --- knowing full well that God often speaks to men through their wives. And of course he sought and listened to the voice of other mature Christians through whom he knew God might speak.

We prayed together after that lunch, right there in the food court at the mall. We held hands and specifically prayed that God would give Tom peace with the question, and an answer to the question in God's perfect timing. We thanked God for His perfect provision in Tom's life, and for the ministry Tom had with his family, his work and others. And Tom assured God that he would gladly accept whatever God had for him next. He didn't need to know what it was to make that claim ... because Tom knew who God is.

I can't help but think this week that the question has been answered. I want to call Tom on his cell phone and leave him a message. "Well, buddy, I guess you've got that question answered now!" I've been having that thought for a couple of days now. The question has been answered. Isn't that what we all want ... for God to answer the question?

I know my friend Tom was completely surprised by God's answer to the question. But I'm equally certain that he's not disappointed with God's answer. Oh sure, he was not ready to leave his wonderful wife and two precious daughters. But he knows who God is. And he knows God is enough for his wife. He knows God is enough for his daughters. He knows God will care for them perfectly. He also knows that his wife and daughters are firmly grounded in God's truth. He knows they won't waver or be blown in the winds of life. Tom left three women behind who know where they're going ... and how to get there.

It isn't often that someone dies suddenly and we can think about how completely ready they were to "meet their maker" (to coin a phrase). But I think those of us who knew and loved this man have that comfort right now. That is quite an enormous gift, really. We'll miss him, and the pain of that loss is real. But the question is answered. And it's a question that Tom wanted to be answered. Moreover, there is no doubt that Tom is satisfied with the answer.

If Tom is at peace with that answer (and I'm sure he is), then shouldn't we be at peace as well? Shouldn't we take our grief and sadness to the Lord, and leave them there at the cross? Can we find comfort in the fact that Jesus is enough for our losses? Can we trust Jesus with the future of those loved ones that are left behind?

Ironically, I had to attend another funeral yesterday, for the father of a dear friend of mine. The preacher said something that I thought was pretty profound. He said that death is necessary for life to be in perspective. He said that light can only be put into perspective by darkness, and similarly, life can only be put into perspective by death. Mind you, I don't want that to be true. But I see that it definitely is.

I was talking to someone the other day, and they said something like, "This isn't natural." They were referring to life without someone who had recently died. I thought to myself, "Of course it is. It is perfectly natural!" Death is a very natural part of life. God engineered it that way. So the things and the people that we love and share life with --- they live and they die in what is a very natural cycle.

It would seem that the challenge for each of us is to consider what God would have us do with this natural cycle of life and death. How does one honor God with the grief that we have to process? How do we celebrate the life that was - in the face of the loss that we feel? How do we give thanks to God for the gift of that life we shared - without blaming Him for the loss that we feel?

I've long known that feelings are not truth. Whatever I'm feeling is not representative of what's true. So the loss that I'm feeling is not what's true about the situation or even about me. To be clear, my friend Tom was a dear, sweet man. He was a very, very good man. But you know, God is better. In fact, He is so much better that He covers all the losses that we experience in the death of loved ones like Tom.

Quite frankly, I can't imagine that anything would please my friend Tom more than to know that the people who loved him might turn to God in their loss --- and see the splendor of God's goodness. There's no doubt that Tom was surprised with God's answer to his question. But like I said, I am quite certain that Tom is satisfied with that answer. Let me now be satisfied too.

1 comment:

  1. Laura5:42 PM

    I am not sure how I stumbled upon this site, but wanted to thank you for your thoughtful words of wisdom that you've shared. In March of 2009 we unexpectedly lost my first-born son Nathan. He was 20 years old and died in his sleep from cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart). He loved God and touched so many people's lives.

    It is hard to put into perspective the reality of eternity. This life is short. Shorter for some than others, but all of us must face death and the hereafter at some point. We only have one life to live. What account will we give for the way we have lived it? Hopefully, like Tom and Nathan, we will have left a legacy of pointing to the One we will ultimately meet.