Columnists > Soul Food

How soon we forget

How painful will God's best turn out to be?

Issue: "Rebel with a cause," Jan. 30, 1998

A month has gone by, and some of us already have forgotten 1997. Others will remember. One Minnesota newspaper story told of a fellow who jumped from a plane and his chute didn't open properly. According to the story, it took more than a minute to fall 3,000 feet. That's enough time for a lot of life to flash before your eyes. What do you suppose he thought during that descent? Did he cry out to God? Did he make promises to keep if he lived? Somehow, he survived. Can you hear him telling his children about this?

Another man is going to remember 1997. Last July he woke up in a morgue refrigerator after 12 hours in a coma. (This was in Cairo.) In total darkness he felt around and surprise! He discovered he was resting among the dead. He cried out for help and the paramedic who opened the door collapsed in shock and died.

Then there are natural disasters, sometimes called "acts of God." To review these I read a children's book, DISASTER! by Richard Bronson and Richard Platt. It was recommended by an 80-year-old woman, who told me: "It's about time you young people realize that the world is a very, very dangerous place. The real world has nothing to do with bunnies, birdies, and learning the right way to go wee-wee. No sir! Life is about being very, very careful. Repeat after me: Vigilance is next to godliness."

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The book proves her point by giving a cross-section of the most famous catastrophes that have shaken the earth. The bubonic plague. Pompeii. The San Francisco earthquake. The book ends with present and projected disasters that have or will take the lives of millions of people. The frightening power of natural forces seems to blindly roll over populations destroying all in its path. The guilty don't escape, but neither do the innocent or the righteous. I have no doubt about who orchestrates these calamities.

I will remember 1997 as the year our daughter survived a violent crime committed against her. It is one that will make her a mother and us grandparents in just a few weeks. I suppose this is a fairly small pain in the whole scheme of things. But I won't forget it, because this year I learned more about the terrifying side of the God we worship. A God whose ways are inscrutable-past understanding. His timing impeccable. A God who prepares an ovum to meet a sperm in the most singular way.

This year it's been hard to find a "Precious Moment." If that were the only Bible I had, I might have thrown it away. But God says, "Come now. Let us reason together." Not, "Get over here. I'm God. You're human. Let's hear no more about this." Like the psalmist, he permits me to make my complaint. Life is not a series of tender snapshots. We are down to bare ugly bones. What sort of father allows such things? We wait for joy. We wait for resolution that may not come until eternity. (Can I wait that long if I need to?)

Then God sends a friend to comfort me. She will remember this year. She has breast cancer. During chemotherapy she lost all her shining black hair in three days. It began in the shower. She pulled it out by the handful. Looking at it in wonder she ran to her family saying, "Look at this! God knows me. All my numbers have fallen!" Like the Dow Jones.

What strange comfort. My hair is numbered.

He calls my name from among the millions who perish. Slowly I make my way after the Christ who "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross scorning its shame."

"Consider Him," we are told. To consider is to think carefully about. To reflect. To regard.

I find it strange that merely reflecting on his earthly life should be so soothing. Slivers of hope pierce my consciousness as I regard him. He touched people. He got hungry and tired. He cried. He walked in the dust and coughed. There were crowds, but, ah, there were the individuals. Like Mary. "Mary," he calls to her, "Mary." And she cries out in recognition (John 20:16).

He doesn't explain everything, but he's the reason for living any year. My heart is hurt, but my eternal soul is forgiven and intact. "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us," said C.S. Lewis, "we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."


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