There is no greater dispenser of hard lessons than life, eh? Yet my faith in God is never shaken, no matter how horrific or terrible the news. A very good friend just had open heart surgery and another is now under hospice care. These are men my age with whom I have shared Africa, Christ, and the passion for helping others. Why them and not me? I have faith that God knows why, but that is not to say that I am not hurt, angry, or extremely disappointed. There is a saying here “Ndivyo Ilivyo” which literally means “what can you do?” but to the local culture it means “Life hands us horrible things sometimes that we cannot prevent.” I don’t like it, but I do like free will. When God gave us free will He insured that we would do horrible and terrible things to each other as well as loving, healing, and wonderful things. The fact that, to my mind, creation is continuing and producing earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves (I couldn’t spell the other word), tornadoes, and hurricanes whose swath of death and destruction seems to know no bounds is another of those hard lessons we have to learn. We don’t have to build our houses on the beaches where hurricanes happen often, or to gather in villages in the shadow of a volcano, but we seem to do it over and over again. We really like to have control over our lives and the lives of those we love, but it isn’t to be, is it? We cannot control where or when lightning will strike, or where a tornado will touch down. We cannot control who gets cancer--who will die from it and who will survive it, but we have all been touched by it. We cannot control when a crazed gunman will open fire in an elementary school (and not just in the U.S.—Google “Dunblane” in Scotland, fifteen students and one teacher dead in 1996) or when a man will build a bomb and blow up a government building in Oklahoma City, killing hundreds including small children. (When that happened, I was living in a small town in Arkansas, and a man loudly proclaimed in a public place that whenever we found out what country the bomber was from, we should annihilate the whole country with nuclear bombs. When he found out an American had done it, he shut up.)
My point is that we cannot insulate ourselves or build adequate protection to keep us from losing loved ones, having cancer attack our bodies, or slowly losing our memories to Alzheimers disease. We do what we can to minimize risk: we fasten our seat belts, we build tornado shelters, we evacuate areas when hurricanes are coming, we try to eat and live healthy lives, but as Gilda Radner wrote, “It’s always something.” What can we count on? God. God has never abandoned us, never left us alone, never failed to do whatever was possible to keep us going. God gave His only Son to suffer and die on the cross that we should not perish but have eternal life. God has already made the ultimate sacrifice. All He asks of us is to trust Him. Maybe everything won’t be all right in this world, but it will be in the next, and you can take that to the bank. Maybe He is asking us to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others. C.S. Lewis says that true humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less. Maybe God wants us to live lives exemplified by kindness and not hate or resentment or bitterness (what do I mean “maybe?” We know through Christ the lives of kindness and love we are to live). I have personally known several survivors of the Holocaust who smiled and carried on with love in their hearts and a twinkle still in their eyes. One such woman, Clara, was in one of my classes where we were studying the Book of Job. I asked her how she could still be so positive about life after all the undeserved suffering she had endured. She smiled, reached over and put her hand on my arm and said quietly, “God gives, God takes away, blessed be His name.” That was all she said, but it silenced me and has given me great comfort through my own struggles. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always control our response to it. Christ showed us the way and that way is kindness and love, period.