Monday, March 14, 2011
#308: Life Isn't Fair: So What Are You Gonna Do About It?
It was a joyful weekend in some ways. Mrs P and I spent some good time together. She cheered me on through the race, We went out to dinner for some fantastic Indian food. Sunday morning we got up early and drove down to Metcalfe county for church to hear our nephew preach and pray with the family. We got to play with our little grand niece, Kayla and contribute our share to the process of spoiling her beyond all redemption.
But it was not all happy times. We visited with Brother. He is one of "The Five": the group of our family and friends who were all diagnosed with cancer within a few weeks of one another. Two of us are gone now, our cousin's brain tumor is progressing quickly, and Brother's liver cancer is inoperable. Yesterday, we sat in his bedroom and talked about what he wanted to do next. The treatment the doctor at Vanderbilt recommends is brutal, especially on a man who has been getting chemo steadilly for almost 12 months. Brother is preparing to die.
It couldn't be less fair. Brother is a preacher and a man who has worked so hard, suffered so much all his life. No one deserves cancer, but no one could ever deserve it less. So we visit with him. We pray. We weep. And we ask "Why?" "Why would God allow this man, of all men, to suffer like this? Why didn't God protect him? Why did God give him cancer?" They aren't easy questions, but I think they're fair ones.
The trouble is, I think they miss the point. Did God make this happen? Let it happen? I don't think so. I think some things just happen. We get sick. Babies are born. Storms blow. The earth quakes. Trees blossom. Things happen. We want to ask "Why?" but to be honest, what difference does it make? What if we knew why innocent kids die of famine or why good people die of cancer? What would we do with that information? Nothing. We couldn't do anything with those answers. We can learn what causes a disease, and try to combat it, but we can never find any logic in it. Not even God's logic.
So what is the right question to ask? I think it's this... "What shall I do?" "My friend has cancer. What shall I do?" "Japan is in ruins. What shall I do?" "They're breaking the unions; the levees didn't hold; sick people can't afford health care, my neighbor lost his job. What shall I do?" Or how about this one... "I'm dying. What shall I do?"
It's one thing to say you can donate money or offer a ride or drop in for a visit. It's another thing entirely to think you're going to die... to know you're going to die... and then decide what you're going to do with the time you have left. That's a decision I was afraid I'd have to make, but thank God, I never did. I don't want to be that close to death again for a long time. Brother can feel the Old Man's breath on his neck, and he has to decide. There aren't a lot of people who can help you down that dark road.
During today's Morning Prayers, I thought of one. That's why the scripture reading jumped out at me so.
Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. ~ Hebrews 2:18.
Jesus suffered his whole life. Chased from his parents home before he was born. Driven out of Israel by Herod a few days after. Harrassed by the authorities. Rejected by his people. Betrayed by his friends. Tortured to death by foreign occupiers. And all he did was preach. Serve. Heal. No one deserved to suffer less. So why did he go through all that?
No reason. It's just something that happened. What matters is what he did about it. Love is what he did. Jesus kept on loving. He kept on preaching. He kept on healing. The writer to the Hebrews says that his suffering made him able to help others who suffered. My cancer gave me knowledge, experience, compassion that people who have never lived through it can never have. But, what am I going to do about that? Brother is suffering terribly and surrounded by people in pain. What is he going to do about it?
Brother and I will both die, someday. We know that. We know it a lot better than we did a year ago. But in the meantime, there are people to love. There are tears to be shared and burdens to be eased. It may well be that, like Jesus, when we are at our weakest, God is best able to use us to bring about the kingdom in this world. Paul knew plenty about suffering in his life, and here's what he had to say about it...
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
No matter how weak we feel. No matter how defeated or lost or unfit to serve... God can work through us. As long as we have breath, we have a chance to minister to God's creation. As long as there is life in us, God has work for us to do. May it be so with Brother. May it be so with me. May we be a blessing to those who know us in life, and to those we leave behind. And, please, God, may that be so for all of us.
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