Yesterday I woke up to the news that someone I knew—a loving and dedicated wife, mother, friend, and disciple of Christ—died very tragically and unexpectedly while on a mission trip in Africa. I thought about this all day long, pondering the reality that none of us is guaranteed a minimum number of days. My heart broke for her husband, her two sons, and the many, many whose lives were touched by her life of love.
This morning I woke early, preparing for a trip later today, and decided to spend a few moments on this blog entry — You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes. Hmmmm….
Many people, in responding to our friend’s unexpected death made comments such as:
- “I don’t understand God’s plan…”
- “There doesn’t seem to be any purpose in this…”
- “God needed her in heaven…”
These are the kinds of things people say, particularly when life ends unexpectedly or when tragedy comes without warning. Did God plan this car accident in Malawi? Was it by God’s purpose that this loving wife and mother was in the car? Or is God weeping alongside her husband and sons at the loss of such a meaningful soul who was touching the lives of so many? Did God not hear the prayers of many for safety and traveling mercies of this ministry team? Or did God ignore the prayers? Does God really need her in heaven more than she was being used in Malawi…and Oregon…and in her home?
These are the kinds of questions we ask at times like this.
These are the kinds of questions that we have so much difficulty trying to answer.
In the context of the Old Testament and its surrounding Ancient Near East culture, everything that happened on earth was attributed to the hand of God—God (or gods) planned it, God (or gods) purposed it, and God (or gods) carried it out. Today, we tend to look to other sources for much of what happens in our world —
- weather patterns and cycles
- natural laws of physics
- cultural assumptions and expectations
- human sin and disobedience
On a day-to-day level, at least, most of us do not probably attribute every moment as being planned, purposed, and carried out specifically by the hands of God. But when big things happen—those things that have significant and far-reaching consequences, either positive or negative—we still have a tendency to look to the heavens for answers. In such times there are a few common reactionss that tend to emerge. Each has some Biblical and theological foundation; none represent the one and only view expressed in Scripture or throughout Church History.
God caused this to happen —
- God causes all things from the beginning until now.
- Everything that has, is, and will happen in human history is by God plan, purpose, and power — this would include human actions, natural events, etc.
- The “Problem of Evil” — how can we reconcile a God whose name is “Love” with the unspeakable evil, unfairness, and injustice that has been, is being, and will be perpetuated by human beings?
- There may be comfort in knowing that God is in complete control — “God’s got this” — even when we cannot understand.
God allowed this to happen —
- God knows everything that will happen throughout the course of human history, but knowing what will happen is not the same as causing them to happen.
- God does not actively cause things to happen, but God does allow them to happen. This means what happens is still by God plan, purpose, and power because even though God could intervene, God does not.
- God does sometimes intervene and change circumstances so that certain events do not occur. At other times, though, God seems to do nothing.
- The “Problem of Evil” is muted, perhaps, but still not eliminated as a God who allows evil to occur is not much different than a God who causes evil to occur.
- We cannot fully understand why God allows certain things to happen, so we must find peace knowing that we cannot understand.
God knew this could happen —
- God lives in time with humanity which means, while God knows everything that could possibly happen, God neither causes nor knows the actions human beings, living in time, will make before they make them.
- God’s nature is love. As such, God always works for the good of those who love God, though that “good” may come about in many forms, including unexpected loss and events that we might not immediately see as “good.”
- God always works for what is good and best, but God cannot force human beings to do anything; God cannot override their free-will because that is not love. God can, and does, woo, encourage, and lead people to do things that will lead to good and loving results, cannot for such actions.
- Some reject any concept of a God that is not absolutely and overwhelmingly Sovereign (in control and powerful to do anything). Others find comfort in the this view of God as absolutely and overwhelming Loving, working for good in all things.
Whichever view you lean on, one thing is certain:
“Perfect love casts out fear. It is risky, reckless, selfless, hard, deep, abiding.”
― Catherine L. Morgan
The perfect love of God — the same kind of love that God pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—is not a safe, soft, temporary, or tame kind of love. It does not call us into safe places away from messiness and mud of this world in which we live. It does not call us to a manicured life of comfort and ease, free of hangnails and callouses. No, the perfect love of God—the same kind of love that Christ poured out during his time on earth—calls us to be uncomfortable and muddy, to get blisters on our feet and scrapes on our knees, to go where others dare not tread, to see what others will not see, hear what others refuse to hear, and touch the lives of those that other dare not touch.
That kind of life is risky and reckless…and sometimes “time and chance” (Ecc 9:11) catch up to those who live that way. And when it does we weep…we mourn…and I believe God weeps and mourns with us.
That kind of life is selfless and hard. In a world that clamors for heroes, worships celebrities, and is fixated on big & shiny personalities…the anonymous life of a servant is an intentional choice…a hard choice. But it’s a choice that brings us close enough to look into the eyes, hold the hands, and wash the feet of those that no one else sees.
That kind of life is deep and abiding. In a world where the grass withers and the flowers quickly fall (1 Pet 1:24), where nothing is permanent and nothing we gain can be taken with us…the slow, personal, meaningful connections between one human being and another become the tools of transformation that last beyond ourselves, beyond our time, and beyond our small corner of the world.
This is God’s perfect plan and purpose—that we would live our lives being perfected in love and reflecting to the world around us the perfect love of Christ that is within us.
My friend who ended her time on this earth in a place far away from her home on the Oregon Coast, lived a life of this kind of love. But this love was not limited only to Africa. Reading through the posts of those who have felt the pain of her loss I saw the pain of…
- a husband losing a wife,
- children losing a mother,
- a church family loving a valued and loved sister,
- colleagues and friends recalling her dedication as a teacher,
- former students remembering how, as a teacher, she had made them feel,
- an atheist who called her “my dearest friend”,
- African brothers and sisters in Christ,
- many, many more…
Each of them, in their own way, expressed what C.S. Lewis wrote about the death of his wife in A Grief Observed:
“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”