farewellsTalk about timing. When I was in Singapore recently, I picked up a new Henri Nouwen book: TURN MY MOURNING INTO DANCING. No, Henri Nouwen hasn’t come back from the beyond. The book was put together by Timothy Jones, who compiled the book after working through “hundreds of pages of lecture notes and sermon transcripts that Henri Nouwen (had) left behind in shelved archive boxes.”

God knew I needed this book because it contained the following comment about the ways of God. “But suffering frequently teaches us a lesson about the incomprehensibility of God. Says God through Isaiah: ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isa 55:9).

This is ultimately a freeing word. It invites us not to make God conform to our desires, not to try to fix the rules. For we cannot, even should we try, get God in our grip and think, Finally, now I understand” (38).

I really needed to be reminded of the incomprehensibility of God because after coming back from Singapore I received news that Hwa Chien, a good friend and a key Malaysian Christian leader, had been killed in a road accident. He was 50.

I have known Hwa Chien for almost 16 years. Our friendship was forged in the years when he served as a pastor in Sitiawan. My late wife came from Sitiawan. And no trip home would have been complete without a long visit with Chien and Kim Guat his dear wife. In recent years, the busyness and complexity of our lives had meant that we had spent very little time together. Till this year.

We had become part of a prayer support group that covenanted to meet at least once every two months for sharing and prayer. I had rediscovered my friend–only to lose him. Humanly speaking it made no sense whatsoever for him to be taken at this time of his life. He was entering a comfortable phase in his family life, where he was beginning to truly relish his relationships with his children. There was a solid maturity to his marriage.

On the work front, he was at the forefront of many vital ministry initiatives. He was the president of all the english speaking Methodist churches in Malaysia, a key leadership position. He had put into place many initiatives for the renewal of his denomination. But much remained undone. He was in the midst of many battles. Hardly the time to go.

But he is gone. And again we are thrown back to Isaiah 55:8-9: “My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond what you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (NLT)

Which for some reason brings to mind 1Corinthians 1:25: “This ‘foolish’ plan of God is far wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is far stronger than the greatest of human strength”(NLT).

Here Paul is referring to the cross. Another divine act that defies human logic, rejected by Jew and Gentile alike (1Corinthians 1: 18-25). Since we are all beneficiaries of this act of divine foolishness, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn God’s actions at the court of human logic.

In the light of the cross it seems much more clever to trust that in the guise of weakness and set-back, God has again done/allowed something that is ultimately good. Its not easy to think like this. We are haunted by the possibility that we are merely playing mind games to console ourselves. At the very least then, we should hold back from jumping to any conclusions until we see Christ face to face. Things should be much clearer then.

Till then, I will miss you Chien. Others will miss you even more.