Saturday, June 23, 2018

If Onlys, Accidents, and Dying on Schedule

I just finished reading One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody church.  I didn't agree with everything in it, but I liked his confidence, the questions I came away with, and the things it reminded me of.  In case you're not a reader (it seems like fewer people are these days), but you want to wonder with me, here are the things that have got me thinking...

What we call an accident might be a well-planned event to God.  Just think of the contingencies, the events that had to converge for the accident (or death) to happen...

If only we had called the doctor sooner...
If only there would not have been ice on the highway...
If only we had noticed the lump sooner...
If only they had operated...
If only they had not operated...

Let me encourage you to take those "if onlys" and draw a circle around them.  Then label the circle, "The providence of God."  The Christian believes that God is greater than our "if onlys."  His providential hand encompasses the whole of our lives, not just the good days, but the "bad" days too.  We have the word accident in our vocabulary; He does not.

Accidents, ill health, or even dying at the hand of an enemy - God uses all of these means to bring His children home.  As long as we entrust ourselves to His care, we can be confident that we are dying according to his timetable...The fact is God can send any chariot He wishes to fetch us for Himself.

I eagerly and confidently agree to all of this in my spirit and with the small part of my faith that is perfect.  And fleeting. 

But, the problem of pain enters, which reminds me at this moment that C.S. Lewis wrote a book so entitled, and I should probably read that next.  I think I've attempted it before, but it seemed too heavy for the flimsy framework I had to hang it on. 

Until I can think and write more intelligibly about the subject of pain, it will suffice to say that pain changes everything, including what we believe can be circled up and labeled as God's providence.

So, there's that. 

But, separately (although intimately tied to previous thoughts and subsequent conclusions), I'm entertaining the idea of dying on time, on schedule, or according to a meticulous plan.  Is it impossible to die "before your time"?  Is it?

It was for Jesus.  "His hour had not yet come"...repeatedly.

I've thought about all of this many a time, but the question has been given new life this go round, particularly in light of Christ's words to Peter about his own death.

"'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.'  Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God." (John 21:18-19)

To this, the author writes, "Can anyone deny that Christ chose the way in which Peter would die?" 

Umm.  Not so eager here. 

I'm tempted to rush past the question and the implications.  It leaves me with My Shepherd planning a death, even a terrible death, for me or someone I love.  I probably don't need to explain how this makes me feel, because I'm guessing you already know.  You feel it, too.   

As a grieving friend said earlier this week, "I wish I was one of those people who could go around believing and professing that everything is God's will."  I understand this.

I also understand that the desire to believe is a gift of its own.  That feeling the tension and believing anyway, is a gift of its own.  That living with belief in a good God who orchestrates death and allows unimaginable pain is a gift of its own.  A gift then.  From Who?

I'm reminded that I am never more at peace than when I believe that nothing happens outside of God's will.  This has re-centered me on as many days as I have been capable of conscious thought. 

Our life's work is not to never doubt, but to continue the work of believing, to live with unanswered questions, to attempt to live peacefully amidst ideas that are diametrically opposed, and to plead with the Lord to increase our faith, while remembering that so much more is happening than what we see and understand, and that whether we believe in chariots or not might not be the question.