Purpose in the Shadow of Death.
|Photo courtesy of goody2230|
The thoughts for this post were inspired by two things. First, it came from a discussion I had with my father-in-law in our Sunday School class last night. Secondly, it has come from the experience of a dear saint of God, Pastor Mike Wilkinson, who went home to be with the Lord Jesus on Saturday night at 6:04 pm. Pastor Mike was the father of my good friend, and our youth pastor, Matthew Wilkinson. Though I was only able to spend a few hours with Mike over the past year his life, testimony and ministry were well known to myself and so many in our church family. His passing came at the end of a long battle with various forms of cancer and though he will most assuredly be missed there is no doubt that he is rejoicing with Christ this very moment.
The question that naturally arises when you see a saint of God, one of His faithful servants, succumb to a terrible disease is, "Why wouldn't God heal him?" To say that prayers were offered on Mike's behalf would be a massive understatement. Between our church, his church and all the other believers who were praying for him I can be fairly certain that the Throne of Grace was overwhelmed with the name Mike Wilkinson. Yet, in the end the answer was "No." Beyond the true, albeit obvious, answer that it was the Lord's sovereign will, what explanation can we give? What good news can we find in the shadow of death?
While contemplating these questions last night two scriptures came to my mind. The first you see at the top of this post; "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." It is generally dangerous to take Job at face value but I think this statement applies and I'll explain as we move along. The second scripture was from Matthew 7:24-29 where we have the statement of Jesus concerning the house built on the rock and the house built on the sand.
Let me preface the rest of my comments with a question, one that I aim to answer. What have we, American Christians, built our faith upon? I would suggest that, like our business ventures, we often base our faith on results. If we have enough of the right kind of faith we will never be poor, hungry, sick or without a custom silk suit. There are those out there who believe that if our faith is genuine and strong then we will never experience the tragic, uncomfortable consequences of a sin ravaged world. If you have enough faith you will be rich. If you have enough faith you will be healthy and prosperous. Then if the results of riches and health are not present two things can happen. First, you can be condemned by others as being faithless. Second, in the absence of those results in your own life you can abandon your faith.
Let us now return to Job for a moment. There is much that went wrong in Job. Though he started out strong he did end up falling prey to the sin of pride and self-righteousness. However, along the way there is much that went right. After being afflicted by Satan Job's wife encourages him to "curse God and die." To which he replies;
You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity? Job 2:20
Then we have the aforementioned words of 13:15. What kind of faith does it take to trust in God even though our world is falling apart around us? Is it a greater or lesser faith than the one that is based on the good results? I would submit that it is the former. Herein lies the lesson that came to me as we were searching for meaning and purpose behind the passing of Pastor Mike. His entire life was devoted to preaching, sharing and displaying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those around him. What if this tragic end was allowed by God to show the world what it really looks like to build our faith on the solid Rock of Christ. If his faith was built on the sand of results then it would have failed when it was evident that the battle was lost. Yet, from what I can understand we have an image of a man who was clinging to the hope given to him by Jesus Christ. The hope that there is something beyond this life, something that is far more amazing, precious and wonderful. The hope in the promise that whatever pains we suffer, whatever sacrifices we make in this life will be repaid exponentially when we meet the Lord.
This lesson can be extrapolated to any saint who suffers and dies at a time that the world would define as "premature." It flies in the face of theology that bases the measure of faith on results because it puts the measure of our faith in the person of Jesus Christ, His sovereign will, and the promises of His Gospel. I accept that this may not be the happy-feely answer we are looking for in our times of grief and mourning. Nor is it meant to be. However, one old saying is that the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." If that is so then I pray that the suffering of the saints is a lesson for the Church in the construction of faith's foundation. I think that one day we will find that those who built on the firm foundation of Christ had a ministry that outlasted their life on this earth and even in their absence God used their example for the edification of His people. It takes a faith that is not easily measured to say with Job, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." That is no shallow results driven faith. It is, as I believe Bonhoeffer would say, a costly faith and a faith that God rewards and uses to impact the world. May we all be so bold.