We were on our way to dinner. It was a long anticipated feast for some old friends. We were going to have steamboat in Bangsar. It was a good night for steamboat. It was raining heavily.
We drove through the rainstorm, laughing, talking, anticipating. My friend, a pastor, was driving. Many calls came through his mobile. There was one about his church elder having breathing difficulties after a tennis game. He had been taken to hospital. We thought nothing of it. After all we had all just seen him in the morning, serving communion.
Then another call came. The elder had died. We had to quickly figure out the best route to the hospital. Again, death had rudely interrupted the plans of the living.
Death’s track record is horrible. He is well known for being terribly inconsiderate. He comes at the worst times. He gives no warning. He doesn’t ask for permission.
He interrupts dinners. He takes away a loving husband and father. He takes away the key elder of a church. He takes away a tennis partner. He takes away a precious friend. What the hell is he doing?
We are much more polite than death. We say “death” when actually we mean God. But we are too polite to call God names. But since we believe that God is in total control of life, it is therefore God who is rude.
God interrupts dinners. He takes away a loving husband and father. He takes away the key elder of a church. He takes away a tennis partner. He takes away a precious friend. What the **** is He doing?
Our hearts are cold. Our hands are shaking. The full enormity of the loss will take a long time to sink in. If it ever does.
Why God, why? Why now?
We run to God and we want to throw these questions in His face. Politely of course. But when we approach Him, we find that there is a long line ahead of us. And someone says, “take a number”.
As we are waiting, someone walks past. He’s had his turn already. It’s Job.
Here was a man who tried his best to live a righteous life. And God had taken away everything. He had gone with his lawyers to confront God. Surely there had been a glitch in the system. Surely, just this once, the Almighty had made a mistake. Job kept banging on God”s door.
When God finally appeared, Job almost soiled his pants. But all God did was establish that He was much more clever than Job, that there was indeed this enormous gulf between His thoughts and Job’s.
God took His time and bombarded Job with many questions but that was all He did. No apologies, no explanations. Just the reminder that God was much smarter and much more powerful than Job.
I suspect that when our number is called and we get to see God, this is all we are going to get as well. “Why did you take Elder Philip at this time? Why?” I fear that all we are going to get from God is this: “Who is cleverer, you or Me?”
Frankly I don’t see how taking away Elder Philip at this time is something clever. Surely not for his wife and children. Surely not for the church.
But that’s just it. My evaluation is based on what my eyes can see. And what my mind can comprehend. And I have lived long enough to trust neither. So I have to trust in God. I have no other choice.
The writer of the book of Lamentations reminds us of the character of this God that we are cornered into trusting. Faced with his own devastation, he remembers that:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3: 22–24 ESV)
He understands that there will be no quick fixes though, and so he exhorts us to wait for God to make sense of things.
“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:25–26 ESV)
In the long run, God will be no man’s debtor. Even Job had a foretaste of this truth (Job 42:10–17). In the long run, there is only wholeness and completeness (Revelation 21, 22). In the long run, everything will make sense.
In the meantime there is pain and confusion. In the meantime there is the absence of rhyme and reason.
And so we wait upon the Lord and press on, confident that the last line of Elder Philip’s life, and ours, has not yet been written.
We press on, utterly confident that the Divine Poet does not make mistakes, and that when the poem is complete, everything harmonizes. Everything will make perfect sense.
And so we press on.