Many times in life we are faced with the reality that we are ‘helpless’. Whether it be facing the loss of a loved-one, an illness or infirmity of our own, a crime perpetrated against us, a loss of financial stability, we all eventually come face to face with the reality that WE are NOT in CONTROL.
This can be very scary. Traditionally, in the human experience, faith has often picked up where our best efforts leave off. Remember the famous quote attributed to St. Augustine: “Pray as if everything depended on God, work as though everything depended on you”. And when we feel like EVEN our faith… EVEN GOD has let us down… we can become angry.
The pain and injustice of loss, victimization, sickness, and suffering are not to be treated trivially. These are the deepest wounds and grief we human beings carry. There has never been a religion on earth that has succeeded in saving us from these experiences. This has led some to the conclusion: therefore, there must not be any God to believe in. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.
In the Christian faith we have a deep and meaningful relationship with God in Jesus precisely because our loss and suffering has NOT been treated trivially. No, all of our hurts and griefs have not been magically wiped away, but our God has committed to walking with us, side by side, through the worst… and then… into new life.
Remember the famous poem Footsteps(attributed to Carolyn Carty, 1963):
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.
This really bothered Him and He questioned the LORD about it. LORD you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.
The LORD replied, my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.
This week’s Scripture John 11:1-43 speaks to this character of God as it meets with our suffering and loss. The passage below is often read at funerals to inspire hope in the promise that our lives are all completely and fully in God’s hands.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:17-26)