Thursday afternoon, I went to my mother’s to do some much needed work around the house. While I was there, the visiting nurse came to check her out, as did the rehab therapist. They were both very congenial. The therapist seemed unusually chatty. I busied myself in the house, putting up my mother’s Halloween decorations while she worked with my mother.
I was invited to join their conversation when Chris, the rehab therapist, mentioned she was from Sewickley. As we engaged in conversation, she seemed to know about me and the Sewickley United Methodist Church. As I sat at the kitchen table, she looked at me and said, “I want to thank you and your church for praying for me and my family. I am Katie Parish’s mother.” I was dumbfounded! Our Bible Study groups and I had been praying for her. Katie was the young 17-year-old senior who had been very involved in missions through the United Methodist Church. She had gone to Zimbabwe, as well as Fiji, this past summer.
Katie was a social justice warrior. Katie was a young woman with great faith, who put her faith into action. Katie loved the United Methodist camps and especially loved Jumonville. She was looking forward to future mission trips through the United Methodist Church, but her life ended suddenly and unexpectedly on September 8.
I counseled with Chris for well over an hour. As she was leaving, she asked that I (we) continue to hold her and her husband in prayer because it is only through prayer that she is able to get up in the morning and continue to live her life. She proclaimed, “The prayers are working.”
Chris talked openly about her only child, Katie. As she talked, she had a smile on her face and hope in her voice as she said, “I will see her again.” Not once did I hear her lament, “Why Katie?” Not once did I hear her say, “How could God allow this to happen to my sweet baby who was so involved in the church and missions?”
Shortly after she left, my cousin, Marcy, came to pay a visit. As she was leaving, she asked me to pray for a local friend. Her one-year-old granddaughter died, and the grandmother could not move beyond her grief. Marcy said, “All she does is cry.” Marcy suggested she turn to God for strength and peace. The grandmother said, “God and I are not on good terms at this point!”
Two very tragic deaths—just two examples of unfairness many people face—and two very different responses to that unfairness. Life is unfair. Even if you are serving God, life can treat you unfairly.
Philip Yancey, one of our very best Christian writers, devoted an entire book to this problem. He called it quite simply, “Disappointment with God.”
When something grossly unfair happens in our lives, many Christians blame God. Philip Yancey studied this problem at great length, and this is what he found: some people caved in when they felt God let them down, while others used their time of adversity as a stepping stone to a richer, fuller relationship with God.
Yancey said that when he got to the portion of “Disappointment with God” that dealt with the Book of Job, he decided to look around and find the person he knew who was most like Job. He found such a person. This man, he felt, was a righteous man in the same sense that Job was righteous.
Here is his story…
The man, named Douglas, was a good man. He had been trained as a psychotherapist, but he gave up his lucrative practice working primarily with the rich and well-connected and started to work in the inner-city among poor people. Most of us would agree that this was a noble endeavor. Yet after he did this, his life started to fall apart.
The first thing that happened was that his wife came down with breast cancer. She started taking chemotherapy treatments, and that affected his whole family. She was always tired and often felt sick. Douglas had to pick up a lot of work around the house. The spot of cancer spread and appeared on her lungs. His wife’s life was seriously threatened, and a new series of treatment started.
Douglas had to deal with that situation. Then, on top of this, his family was involved in a serious traffic accident. A drunk driver crossed the median and smashed into their car head on. Douglas’ twelve-year-old daughter went through the windshield and was badly lacerated in the face. His wife was also hurt. The worst injuries were to Douglas himself. Douglas hit his head on the dashboard. First, he had trouble with his vision. One of his eyes wouldn’t cooperate, and he saw double. He couldn’t even walk down a set of stairs without stumbling. The worst thing to happen was that he could no longer read. Douglas loved to read.
Yancey knew Douglas, and he knew his story. So, when he started to write about the Book of Job, he decided to interview Douglas. He called him up and scheduled an appointment. They met for breakfast. Douglas told him some of the story. They sat and chatted for awhile. After breakfast had been served, Yancey said, “Well, Douglas, I am writing a book about disappointment with God; you’re right at the top of the list. Tell me, what would you say to people who are disappointed with God?”
Douglas thought for a minute and stroked his beard. Finally, he looked at Yancey and said, “You know Philip, I don’t think I have ever been disappointed with God.”
This shocked Yancey. He was amazed. He had specifically chosen Douglas because he thought, of all the people he knew, he was the one most likely to be disappointed, even angry, at God because of the unfairness he had lived.
Yancey wanted to know how Douglas could possibly not be disappointed with God. He asked Douglas, “How can this be that you have no anger or disappointment with God?” Douglas said, “You know, Philip, I learned a long time ago, and especially through this accident, not to confuse God with life. Is life unfair? You bet! My life has been unfair. What has happened to my wife, what has happened to my daughter, what has happened to me, it’s unfair. But I think God feels exactly the same way. I think he is grieved and hurt by what the drunk driver did as much as I am. Don’t confuse God with life.”
When Douglas ended his time with Yancey he said, “I’ll leave you with one last thought and that’s this. If you are ever tempted to confuse God with life, go back and read the story of Jesus, the story of God on earth. Ask yourself how Jesus would have answered the question, is life unfair?” Just before he left, Douglas said, “For me, the cross of Christ demolished for all time the idea that life is supposed to be fair.”
Have you ever been disappointed with God? How do you handle the unfairness of life? When life treats you unfairly, do you find yourself like that grandmother, not on good terms with God, or does the unfairness draw you into a closer relationship with him?
The good news is we live on the other side of Easter. Resurrection faith is about living faithfully in an unfair world. God doesn’t make bad things happen. God does promise to be with us and to see us through to the other side. Trust in God’s promises.
As Cathy Parish left my mom’s house, she said, “It will be a long, long, long time before there is a new kind of normal for us, but I know God will get us there. I will let you know when that happens.”
That is faith! May it be ours as well!
Photo by Hamid Najafi