There are times when I think that we have too narrow of a view on the purposes of God in regards to pain, suffering, and death. Now, let me state a few disclaimers right from the start: the suffering I experienced as a result of this recent heart attack was very short-lived, and in no way do I think that this uniquely qualifies me to talk about the theological paradoxes related to human suffering. I do not claim to speak exhaustively for God on the subject, like I even know 1% of what is in His omniscient mind in regards to my own suffering or the pain of others. And I realize that many of you who may read this blog most likely have more insight and experiences than I. Nevertheless, I press on…
In retelling the story of my heart attack on March 6, 2009, and the events immediately following, the evidence of God’s intervention seems obvious:
- I thought it was important, before I drove to the top of the hill to set up, to put a wind-indicating streamer in the same area of the field where I later landed. In the gusty conditions, this helped me to have a safe landing.
- I didn’t lose consciousness while in the air, minimizing the danger to myself and others.
- Bob had driven to the launch area, and he and his vehicle were immediately available to transport me to emergency help. All of the other cars were on top of the ridge.
- Bob was the right guy. Few people would go to the extremes he did in order to deliver me quickly. If the tables were turned, I probably would have been more conservative (careful and worried about breaking traffic laws).
- His call to 9-1-1 and the way the emergency transport procedures were orchestrated were flawless.
- Only two doctors perform catheterizations at this hospital. Dr. Bradley and a cath team were still at the hospital on a Friday evening. This was unusual. One of the attendants in the emergency room told Bob I was “one lucky guy” because normally a team would have had to have been called in, a process that could take quite a bit of time.
- Adena Health Systems has an excellent heart health division; their facilities and their cardiac team are among the best in the state. If I had to be out in the middle of nowhere and having a heart emergency, this was the place to be.
As was stated in an earlier blog, Dr. Bradley and another doctor who spoke with us over the weekend said my life was saved by a matter of a few minutes. If one tiny thing had delayed my timely arrival in the cath lab, I may not be alive now.
Countless times my friends and family have commented on the miraculous way things came together. And I agree and humbly give God the thanks and the glory for His intervention. But as I’ve thought about this in relation to the experiences of others, I realize that many wonderful people, even God-fearing people, are not so fortunate. It’s dangerous, theologically, for us to fall into a belief system that assumes it is always God’s purpose to save us from suffering or even death.
Practically thinking, God, in His omniscient foreknowledge, could have easily a) never let me have a heart attack, or even heart problems, to start with. He could have bequeathed me with genes that made me immune to these problems – but He didn’t. b) He could have rewarded me, because of the extreme measures I have taken to avoid further heart-related issues, by allowing these measures to avert another heart attack, but He didn’t. c) if I had to experience the heart attack, he could have let it happen while I was driving right by the Adena Hospital on my way to the ridge, but He didn’t.
It seems obvious to me that it was/is part of God’s purposes to allow me, Bob and my hang gliding buddies, my family, my friends, my co-workers, and the hospital staff to have the experiences that were a result of this symphony of events. We’ve got to be careful, when discussing this situation or others like it, to not form a mental picture of God as someone who was very busy, and all of a sudden I am having having an emergency, so He had to drop everything to make it all work out just in time. Whew, another death has been averted! We all can relate, as humans, to this predicament. In my own world, when we watch our two granddaughters, it’s easy to become absorbed with what the 2 1/2 year old is doing, and suddenly the 11 month-old is reaching up to pull something breakable off the shelf, so we run over and catch it just in time. We are human, we aren’t all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present so accidents can happen. It’s not this way with God.
One of the most oft quoted verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28 which states “And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We should not view God’s “working together” as something that is reactive on His part – like a philosophy that says “Sh** happens, but God can fix it.” We should, instead, view this as God’s sovereign proactivity…He makes/allows things to happen for our ultimate good. Materialistic human-centered faith teachers are on television every week spewing the profane philosophy that comfort and prosperity are our rights as Christians, and God is obligated to bring health and wealth our way if we just say the right formulas. This is guilt-inducing, implying that if you aren’t perfectly healthy or rolling in wealth, somehow you are not spiritual or on God’s favored list. I like to imagine these preachers talking, in the next life, to the great heroes of the faith who are commended in Hebrews 11 for their suffering, or to Paul who suffered from the thorn in the flesh that was given to him – all for God’s ultimate glory.
Nor should we expect that some time in this life we will understand why He allows things to happen to us. God works in mysterious ways. He has the right to keep secrets.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Too often we live as if this life is all there is. But scripture makes it clear that God holds our life, and our death, in His hands. There is something special about human suffering – it’s a tool that He wields like a scalpel in the hands of a master surgeon. And when it comes to death, and the timing of our death…
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His holy ones.” Psalm 116:15
True faith is trusting, in spite of what happens, in the One who holds our life and our death in the palms of His hands.