Last Sunday (July 11th) I had the privilege of being asked to say a few words at the memorial service of my friend Alvin Tan. He died from a heart attack, age 41, on 27 April 2010. I started my saying: “It’s such a waste that he died so young. If he had lived longer he could have done so much more good.” People nodded. Then I said “he was only 33.” I was referring to Jesus. Often we forget that Jesus is truly human and that He walked on this earth, and that He died at age 33. And because we forget His true humanity we forget to wonder, “what if.” What if Jesus had lived till 40? Or 35? How many more people could He have discipled? How much more significant teaching could He have given? A Sermon on the Mount part 2? And surely we would have been blessed with more miracles? We know that He had to die for our sins and is now with the Father but surely a few years longer on earth would have been so useful. But Jesus died at 33. And Alvin died at 41.
Once again, we are confronted with this hard truth:
Indeed, my plans are not like your plans,
and my deeds are not like your deeds,
for just as the sky is higher than the earth,
so my deeds are superior to your deeds
and my plans superior to your plans.
(Isaiah 55:8-9 NET)
Sometimes you just have no clue as to what the Almighty is up to. Why take Alvin home at this point in time? Why leave Sharon a widow and five children without a father? Why take away the pastor of an innovative church on the verge of major breakthroughs? Sooner or later we are humbled afresh by the incomprehensibility of God.
“God is incomprehensible” means that no human being can fully comprehend God or fathom the depth of the divine reality. Whatever knowledge we have about God is at best partial . . . The acknowledgement that God is incomprehensible is related to an awareness that God is transcendent. Because he is beyond creation and comes to the world from beyond, God is always higher than our ability to fathom. (Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1994, 45).
It seems unfair because it is God who gave us the capacity to think and to reason to begin with. Of all the creatures on earth, we are the ones who ask “why,” we are the ones with the need to understand the “whys” of things. Yet the same God who created us to ask “why” is also the same God who sometimes does things that defy our “whys.” I can only assume that when the “whys” are not forthcoming we are invited to trust.
There is a book in the bible that addresses this issue, the book of Job. Job had no idea why he was undergoing so much suffering even though he had lived a righteous life. I am not sure what was worse — the incredible suffering Job had to undergo or never knowing why. The readers of the book know about the heavenly wager between Satan and God but Job did not have the benefit of that knowledge. When God finally shows up Job is invited to trust in Him and in the end God blessed Job. I believe that Sharon and all of us who love Alvin are being called to trust in a God who always has a reason for all He does and who never makes mistakes. Indeed, as I shared during the memorial service, I believe that in His time, God will bless Sharon, and the children, and Glory Point abundantly, as He blessed Job in the end.
In fact we are in a better position than Job when it comes to reasons for trusting the Lord. We have seen God’s love demonstrated on the Cross of Jesus Christ. We have seen Jesus conquer death. We now know that:
Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32 NET)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NET)
In the face of our painful “whys”, we are invited to trust in the perfect will and the perfect love of God. What else can we do? But looking at the Cross and the empty tomb, we know that our faith will not be in vain. So goodbye Alvin. We miss you big time. But we know that it is going to be ok. May take awhile but it’s going to be ok.