Each of us must determine in his own heart
to view his circumstances always against the backdrop of the Cross.
Paul Chappell, A Maze of Grace
We all go through tragedy; the type even Greek playwrights couldn’t make into a comedy. It is our lot in life as humans to face heartache and loss because we are subject to whims that are outside of our control. Meaning that we are not in control of even the smallest of things.
John McCain in his autobiography detailing his and his family’s lives, spoke about his time in a Viet Nam prisoner of war camp. He said that he came to realize that the only thing he had control of was his reaction. How he reacted to all that was happening around him. His captors had all of the physical and most of the mental control, but McCain could control how he reacted. It may seem small, but at times it is the only thing that is important.
So what does this mean in the grand scheme of things?
These thoughts were brought to mind for several reasons just recently. First, I read a small booklet put out by Paul Chappell, a pastor in Lancaster, CA, called A Maze of Grace. I was just grabbing things from a shelf to read and thought this might make easy reading (seeing it was a very small book) before I went to bed. This thought couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The subtitle of the book is “claiming God’s grace during a season of suffering”. As I said, I was just looking for something to read, I am not going through any suffering at the moment, but I know people who are. I won’t mention any names because we all experience tragedy and I may get some of the details wrong. I just want to use these two lives as examples.
One of these people, a young lady around 30 years of age, was in a constant fight against the cancer which ravaged her body. Since the age of 14 she had been fighting on and off. Can you imagine the joy you would feel, the emotional explosion of happiness when a doctor tells you after a long fight that you are in remission? I can’t, but I am sure it is one of the greatest days in a person’s life. But what if you here it several times and through fights with different cancers? The joy would diminish with each remission because of the very real possibility that it may come back again. Because it always does.
So from the age of 14 until she died just recently, this young lady fought a physical battle with cancer almost constantly. But, she did not fight alone. She had a loving family, a loving church family and hope in the only one who could heal her: which He eventually did. Never doubt that physical death is just as healing as any other cure. For a Christian it is more so since God and an eternity without pain waits for the follower of Christ. The young lady had lost her beautiful mantle many times, she had lost her leg and she eventually lost her life to cancer. Some may say this is a tragedy? Not me.
The other story is of someone who still lives and though she has had some physical problems herself, has been relatively healthy. It is within her family that we find the tragedy. A little while ago she lost a grandson very suddenly, then just a few days ago (as of this writing which is in Feb, 2017) she lost her husband just as suddenly. These two tragedies happened so close on one another it didn’t seem as if there was any chance to recover from one before a greater one happened.
What happens when an individual faces tragedy? They could curse God, as Job’s wife told him to do (Job 2:9). Or, we can answer like Job did a few verses earlier and say,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away: Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21
Obviously, these are not the only two responses possible, but it seem that they are the positive and negative boundaries of all such thoughts. On which side of the continuum do you fall?
Of these two women – the one taken by cancer, the other crippled by loss piled on loss – I have been thinking. How did they respond? The young lady with cancer, by all accounts, was a model of how someone should go to meet their Comforter. The other lady has always been the soul of graciousness and industry. Likely, she will meet these tragedies in her life in the same way. I want to make what may seem a controversial statement about loss based on these two women and a story from the Bible.
Do you remember a blind man that Jesus healed of whom His disciples asked a question regarding sin? If not, here is the story:
“Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And his disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” John 9:1-3
The thought was always that a person who endured tragedy was someone who had sinned or was under the sin of their parents. Jesus said that this was not the case. Sometimes people go through tragedy so that they can be a beacon to others.
Now for the somewhat controversial statement. We look at supposed tragedy the wrong way. Paul said to the Philippians,
“according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20,21
It would be almost impossible to do, unless we had a mind that was completely filled with God, but the proper way to look at tragedy is with rejoicing. The young lady with cancer lived a life that was an inspiration to many because of her cancer. The other lady was afflicted with two tragedies that happened on the heels of one another. Is it possible that God deemed her faith strong enough that He knew she could not only persevere (as it talks about in the first chapter of James) but also to be a blessing to others? The blind man, due to his blindness and subsequent healing, is still offering a blessing to millions of readers. The entire book of Job has the same effect.
Of course, I am not making any positive statement here. What these two women experienced was an earthly tragedy of the greatest magnitude. What I am saying is that God uses whatever He deems necessary to further His will and purpose. It is all in how we perceive the tragedy.
My reaction to the trials these two women endured is awe. I am humbled to have known both of them. I am sure that God will work amazing things through their lives and the tragedies they have endured.
The next time I experience suffering, I hope that I see it against the “backdrop of the Cross.” As a Christian, I want to further God’s kingdom. I want Him to use me to bless others. Put tragedy, suffering, pain, trials in their proper place. At the feet of Jesus, so that He can use them as blessings for others.