Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Short Story

The sound of crunching gravel under the tires of my truck were announcing my arrival in the farm-yard. My visit was not anticipated, for reasons of my own. The reception by the husband of the lady I wanted to visit was in question.

She had within the last two years or so become a Christian, having received Jesus as her Savior. Her faith has been tested, as there has been illness, first Parkinson's and now cancer. There has been opposition to her faith, her husband is anti-church, anti-Christian, perhaps anti-God. Her boys are undecided, only one of her sons showed up for her Baptism, and only one Daughter-in-law with two of her Grandchildren. She has been supported in large part by her sisters, who during the course of illness and now as she lays dying have travelled to be with her and care for her.

My knock at the door was answered by the husband. I introduced myself and explained the nature and intent of my visit. He invited me in. One of two sisters was present and I recognized her from the many times she has brought her sister to Church when she has visited. It was good to see her here.

I exchanged the usual pleasantries and asked to see the person who occasioned this trip. I was shown into a back bedroom, there lying on the bed was the dearest of ladies, a person who in an inexplicable way (one of those God-things) had become an endearing presence in my life. I had been given the incredible honour and privilege of being a part of her Baptism, it was a simple thing to do, her Parkinson's made it difficult and challenging to enter and extricate herself from the Baptismal Tank, so I, as I had done at regular services prior to this, I offered her my arm and escorted her to and from, as well as helping her descent and ascent from the Tank.

This wasn't the only connection I had with her. Her sons were businessmen in the Oil Industry, and through the various jobs and business ventures I have been involved with I knew two of her three sons reasonably well, and one of the three better than the others.

It is in this context that perhaps one of the most prominent ties had been formed. This lady had asked me to pray for her family, and I promised I would. I also prayed for her, for the strength of her faith, for her resolve, for her witness and that all these things would bring about the salvation of her family, because you see, she was the only Jesus that her family knew at this time.

"Hi, how are you?", I asked, thinking immediately how stupid that question was.

Her answer was full of grace, weakness, peace and discomfort,

I sat down beside her bed and grasped her hand, searching for words that would convey the thoughts of faith and comfort that I believed she needed to hear. The conversation went on, haltingly, with fumbling for words on my part, with inspired words that were obviously not my own, and there were interruptions from the sister, always timely and relieving.

As I was preparing to leave having spent enough time to exhaust my host, the husband took me aside. He asked me quite pointedly if I believed that God could heal his wife. It was an anticipated question, it was going to be the challenge to the belief and faith of his wife, it was going to provide the reasoning and justification for his dealing with the unwavering faith of his wife. My answer might have occasion to change the way this man thought about God and Christianity.

Did I believe? There was more to the question than just the pat answer I could give, an answer that would attest to my own faith, my own belief (and that answer shrouded by the What if God chooses not to) ... but what of the consequence, the result of that answer... what of the prayer for healing and the opportunity for that healing to be denied. Is it my faith in question, is it the faith of the lady, or does it become a question of what the husband will do with the result of healing and the subsequent decisions and actions that will be required of him in response to that healing. Was there adequate preparation for that answer? What if in light of healing there is still a hardening of the heart towards God?

And so the question was asked of the husband, "What will be your response to the healing of your wife?"

"Why is this my problem? It sounds like you're passing the buck and getting out of a jam, because you don't believe God can heal?", replied the husband.

"Well Sir, it is not so much the question whether God can heal or a question of when He will heal, it is just that I have never personally seen God actually heal. I have friends that have personally experienced and witnessed healing but I have not been a part of any such event. I will confess to you that the absence of this experience has shrouded my faith with questionings and a type of doubt, and in reality I have seen more friends and family die after prayer for healing then I care to account. The question that has come to mind has changed for me from one of What faith is required to believe for healing, to What of the consequences of that healing for the faith of those in the vicinity of illness and the long-term results of that healing for the person. I believe God to have that Infinite Wisdom that only He holds and I realize that that answer is not the thinking man's response to the question, but God is God and what happens is the best or is what God deems to be the 'good' in my life. I have no answer other than that. Should your wife be healed?, Could your wife be healed?, Yes!, Will your wife be healed?, I have no guarantees, no promise, and in fact my anticipation of healing is limited by my personal experience, and for that I am sorry."

What you are saying doesn't make sense, it would be foolish to live life without some reward or value to it.

Yes Sir, we all live our lives with a certain element of faith, whatever that 'faith' truly is or believes in. The Christian faces an enigma, especially with regard to how the world relates to faith and reward, hope and success and any other of those thoughts that you want to put together. The contradiction comes as a result of the combining of a secular view, more akin to common-sense, as compared to a spiritual view which is mystical. You end up comparing the natural to the spiritual. Faith has no basis in common-sense and for the most part, whenever faith is reduced to a format where understanding and evaluation are possible a contradictory event or series of events will occur, challenging the very core of what a Christian believes about God. The testing is not entirely of God's doing, there are 'valleys of affliction' that Christians pass through that are a part of living in an evil world, and there are those occurrences that bring about confidence that God will see the Christian through regardless of circumstance. Testing will either prove faith or kill it.

Why does faith have to be tested, isn't surviving enough?

"Well surviving would be enough, but we come with a mind-set predestined with thoughts of death and destruction and those thoughts are further enhanced by life and the possibility of all the evil that can happen and is happenning around us. We are born with the thoughts that there is always more to this life than what we are going to experience while living. You must admit Sir, that you don't believe this is all there is?

"Yes, I believe there is more after death, but Why must good people suffer unfairly?

What's the use of living your life for God only to find out that you have to suffer? What is life if it can't be made better by the choices? Why would I want to be a part of that?"

"The essence of the eternal changes the perspective of life, altering the character of pain, suffering, and even failure. The eternal perspective alienates the meaning of life; our sense of justice and fairness, from the temporal sufferings and pain of this world, because it compensates for the current injustice, pain and suffereing by believing that the subsequent life (the eternal) enables the transforming of this existence into a life where the practicing of virtue is the embodiment and entitlement to a reward which cannot be earned or bought and is only sought after because the emensity of the free gift demands our loyalty to the giver of the gift, God. There is meaning to life despite the experience of pain and suffering, despite the frustrations of failure, despite disappointments and dashed hopes because the Christain is noy limited to this finite existence and is not bound by the mind-set that this life is finally and exclusively the sum total of man's destiny"

The husband said, "I know a little about religion and it sounds like there is salvation by works involved in your little speech."

"It would be a works theology and I guess it would be nice if there was a relationship between the virtues, the goodness of God granted as recompense for obedience to those virtues and happiness or welfare or the absence of suffering and pain, but the absence of relationship achieved through a reasoning process, (heavy emphasis on reasoning process), anticipating a distinct cause and effect for our faith does not prove conclusively that God has failed or that our beliefs are flawed. Although this reasoning has formed the bulwark of secular societies proving of the absence of God or at least His love, not only that there is no relationship between the pursuit of happiness through virtue and the presence of pain though vice but that these are random and unpredictable events not actually consequential polarized opposites, but are reversed in actuality and are plentiful in example and provide substance and belief that the opposite occurs more prominently in reality. Life is understood as being without rhyme or reason and our human existence continues to stump our ability to create a plausible explanation of life's events in the context of the anticipation of reward or goodness for virtue and anticipation of punishment and pain for actions of vice and evil."

"That is a very sadistic God you serve, Who is said to have the power and Who won't even do good for those that give their life to Him", the husband said.

"Yes Sir, I have to agree with you on a certain aspect of what you say, God does appear to be sadistic, cruel and heartless and I believe any thinking Christian whether he will admit it or not has thought that thought at some point in time. It appears to be a wasted life when the evil-doers experience wealth, health, and flourish at every thing they do, while those living meager existences are claiming the life of virtue is the life to live. Sometimes it appears that it is just a mental crutch to alleviate the stresses of poverty, pain and misfortune. It could almost be felt that all the world punishes virtue and blesses vice. That is the tension that is created by those that think of life in terms of cause and effect, attempting to reason and think through life's quandaries and circumstance and wanting to be able to predict plausible outcomes for actions of either virtue or vice."

"Maybe that is why religion should be for the old or the dying, it has no place for the living and the striving", said the husband, "specially if you want to be successful."

"There are a lot of people in the world who view God in just that manner, they see the charity or love of God as being framed by either need or time, not worrying about the consequences of their life now, but reserving their devotion to religion for a time and place when it is 'needed' most. A lot of people thing that the eternal aspects of life need not impinge upon the current affairs and enjoyment of life now, assuming that they will have time and place for God when the question of their eternal destiny becomes more pressing. As you think about this, it is maybe in that context that the true value of the virtuous life should be held and esteemed, in that the full life lived when it has knowledge of God and the recognition of the decision that must be made in terms of how life is to be lived is only just and fair to all when seen through the eyes of God as He sits in judgement and looks at the total of life's accomplishments and the virtues that were practiced in that life. Basically I am postulating that there may be or will be an accountability for all of life, it's actions and motivations and God Who sees all and knows all will be the judge. Who is to say how people will be judged when they had knowledge of Jesus and yet still waited. When they had same attitudes and motivations of all those around them. When what they said and did was not authentic.

"What is authentic in this life, isn't everything just facade, smoke and mirrors?"

"Well that brings us back to the topic of virtue, those characteristics of life that are seen to hold the greatest of values, faith, courage, temperance, justice, goodness. We view these traits and virtues in light of the effect they have on people when faced with life's dilemmas. Just giving vocal assent to the importance and validity of virtues is of little effect when explaining the why-fores, without seeing the application of those virtues under duress. For example, Abraham's faith is held as a mile-marker of faith practiced because he was willing to sacrifice his only son at God's bidding. Courage, faith and obedience are only courage, faith and obedience when facing uncertainty, when the outcome has no guarantees, after all if everyone acted only when they knew the outcome, and no one truly does, there would be little accomplished in this world. There would exist no courage, faith or obedience. In a world where there is no evil, no ambiguity, life would become a series of behavioural self-interested calculations designed to achieve the greatest rewards known to man.

"So why go though all this pain, why not just end it before it gets so bad? You could just go to heaven and forget having to endure whatever sickness you have."

No comments: