This is part ten of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.
From Alan July 22, 2019 (87 days after first email):
I’ve been trying to understand what you’re saying, and I guess I so want there to be a benefit to having a God as opposed to not having one. I find myself clinging to Scripture that seems to impart black and white promises, but at the same time totally befuddled that the promise does not seem to actually work. “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be done for you.” No qualifiers. No, “Yeah, but…” Just the King of Kings making a statement. But it did not work for Lynn and me. I am convinced that we both abided in Him and that His word abided in us. So, either that is not black and white, or I don’t understand what Jesus meant, or something is amiss in what Christianity is offering. I’m not ready to deduce that Christianity is not true—I hope I am going to Heaven when I die—although I think I told you I have a fear of having committed the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit when I was a kid.
But we really have no assurance of anything else. Scripture says that the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus. What does that mean for someone whose wife is dying and believing that those promises are yes and amen—including the healing ones—only to have her die in front of him?
Our (I’m still using us and our) pastor’s wife is a cancer survivor. He prayed for Lynn and ministered to us in extraordinary ways. Suddenly we got the news in church that his wife had to have emergency surgery to remove a tumor from her head and that there is cancer in her lungs. He was serving communion and reminding the church that “by His stripes, we are healed,” and I did not mean to be cynical, but I said under my breath, “Lord, I hope it works for him.” My heart is breaking for him and what his family has to go through again after having beaten it once years ago.
I’m not sure how to pray anymore for people when I used to be a prayer warrior, fervently storming heaven with a strong faith in Scriptures’ promises. Now, I just can’t because I know that there is not the weight that I used to believe was in those verses. God may or may not answer my prayers regardless of what the Bible says, so why bother? I know that is not an attitude I need to have, especially as one trying to live the call of God out in ministering to others.
I miss Lynn terribly. I have had three occasions this past week wherein I had fallen asleep on the couch after work, and I woke up suddenly with the strong impression that I had to get things ready because Lynn was going to be home from work soon. Then, of course, the brutal reality set in once I was fully awake. I guess this is normal when grieving.
Reading your answer to my why-pray question makes me see the faith as kind of a downer—sort of a “better get what he wants right” mentality. I have discovered the grace and love of God and do not see him that way. I see him as coming to give life and life more abundantly. And I know that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I guess he killed Lynn, stole Lynn from me and destroyed our marriage. You would say, “No! No! No!” But I sure do not see much life and life more abundantly in my precious bride dying of cancer and going through the suffering she did. I do not see how the grace and love of God fit into this.
Can I be blunt? People say, “God will get you through.” “Turn to Him.” Yet, Wayne, he is the one who allowed Lynn to die, who did not grant our requests for healing. How can I find solace there?
I’m sorry. I guess I should be getting it by now. Eight and a half weeks and I’m still asking and saying cynical things. I’m sorry.
Please don’t be sorry. I appreciate what you are going through, and honesty is the only way to grow through all of this.
This is all part of the grieving process, for sure. Eight and a half weeks is nothing. I’ve woken up overseas, not remembering where I was and turned toward Sara only to be reminded, she was a few thousand miles away. Waking up is being reminded of reality again. I’m so sorry you’re going through it. Death of a beloved spouse or child is as painful as it gets in this world, which means we only need him even more. I’m so sorry your past theology is not serving you well here. It’s not the best time to look beyond it, with all the grief you’re facing, but there is a way to view all this that will make your sorrow less dominating.
The benefit to having God at times like this is so that we can draw on his strength, wisdom, and presence to help us navigate through the brokenness of this world. If he just gave us everything we wanted, then we would be our own god and he our servant, and the world would make no sense at all. He does have your best interests at heart, and though that’s hard to believe when our most noble expectations have been disappointed, it is nonetheless true.
He is at work in this horrific situation to work good out of what the enemy intended for evil. I sat with the widow of my best friend, who passed away over ten years ago. She said that as hard as losing her husband has been, she is grateful for all God has done in her heart through it. “I am a different person now,” she said, “and I’m so grateful not that he died, but what he has changed in me.” Lynn’s passing is not the end for you, either. God has life and joy ahead.
As to your question, we do look at these Scriptures very differently. There’s not much in our reasoning that is so clearly black and white, when it comes to how God works. We have tried to teach people “certainty” from Scripture for the last couple of centuries and have lost the mystery of a transcendent God. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you…” is the most significant qualifier ever. I know you think you have that down. I used to think I did, too, but there may be a great lesson in these words. Instead of asking for whatever we want and thinking Scripture is false if we don’t get it, perhaps we could see that as an encouragement to lean into him more deeply. It’s not a lack of love on his part, but a lack of perspective on ours. And I don’t mean by that that we weren’t close enough to get the miracle we wanted but to see a larger purpose unfolding in his reality, even in our pain and disappointment. I have nowhere else to go when my hopes are disappointed. His love is the only sure thing in the universe, and when I start there, I can see how he works good out of everything, even the things I find abhorrent.
I don’t see his “word abiding in us” as referring to my understanding of the Scriptures. He’s referring to us living inside his purpose as he reveals it inside our growing relationship. That’s the wider context of Scripture. God is not here to give us everything we want, but to draw us into his reality so we can be shaped by his purpose. That’s where the fullness of joy comes in a broken world. And yes, I know those words sound hollow now. Can there be any joy without Lynn? Yes, there can, and there will be. She was a part of your life for a long season; she has a legacy in your heart that will last your whole life long. But there is life abundant beyond her presence. Yes, impossible to see now, but I’ve seen him do it in tragedies like this with so many people. All our dreams were never going to be fulfilled here. The cry in our hearts is for eternity. Life here is a brief snippet of all God wants for both of you.
I don’t think Jesus meant to promise all of us that as long as we were good Christians and knew the Scriptures well, we could claim whatever we want and he would get it, even if we think it is something clearly promised in Scripture. That has never worked for anyone I’ve ever known. I don’t think it worked in the New Testament, either. Remember, Jesus only did the things he saw the Father doing. His power came from the work of the Spirit inside of him. He wasn’t claiming promises; he was being carried by the wind of the Spirit. The larger context of Scripture is always how we learn to trust our Creator and live inside of his unfolding purpose on a fallen planet. God hasn’t promised to give us everything we’d ever want. If that were true, Christians would be wealthy, never be sick, and none of them would have ever died.
“By his stripes, we are healed,” is not a guarantee of physical healing whenever we can work the keys right. Of course, it includes healing here, which I believe in and have witnessed, but it also includes the ultimate healing of freedom from these broken bodies, and from the war of flesh and spirit. Lynn is completely healed today in a way that your spirit still yearns to experience. She didn’t get second best. Can you even imagine what she saw the moment she opened her eyes in eternity? I doubt she’d want to come back here even if she could. And, she also knows how all this pain in your heart is transforming something in you that will bear great fruit for the kingdom in which she now dwells. I’m sure, too, she’s looking forward to the day you show up there, but there’s no impatience now in her.
And honestly, how often did people get the miracle they wanted when you were “a prayer warrior, fervently storming heaven with a strong faith in the Scriptures.” I used to live there too until I saw what happened to those I prayed for who didn’t get the miracle they hoped for? I know many went away doubting God, or themselves, or the truth of Scripture. Things really come into focus when you have a stake in the outcome. This can all be an amazing place of growth for you. God doesn’t become less real when we don’t get all we want, but even more real and we become part of his purpose in the world as partners in the process. This world isn’t about our comfort or even external happiness, but the deeper joy of being connected to him regardless of what this broken world hurls our way.
I never assume I know what God wants with any degree of certainty. I’ve been wrong too many times. I listen and follow as best I can each day and learn what I can of the ways in which God works so that I can flow with him. Prayer is that process of discerning, and the outcome of our circumstances is part of that as well. It’s not about God “may or may not answer” the way Scripture seems to say. He always answers true to his nature and purpose. All his promises are real but in ways far grander than we can see as limited as we are in space, time, and wisdom.
This world is a war zone. Not everything happens the way God would want it to. Free will, evil, the enemy are also all in play, and though God eventually wins over them all, those enemies are still being subdued under his feet. You know I don’t believe that God “allowed” Lynn to die. I don’t think God makes choices like that the way we see it from our limited perspective. If we could see it through his eyes, the landscape would be entirely different. I know what it looks like to you, I just don’t think it’s true. I can’t draw all the logical lines here; I simply trust the one who has captured my heart, who loves me more than anyone else ever has, and will bring everything together under the authority of his Son.
Hang in there, my friend. All of this is doing good work in you, but like the seed shooting roots into the soil, not much of it is visible right now. Don’t assume you know the outcome and try to protect yourself with conclusions you’re not ready to reach yet. He is having his work in you, and though it is through great pain, it will set you free in ways you can’t imagine yet.
When people ask me, “How did you get where you are today in your walk with Christ?” my answer is always, “Kicking and screaming!” In my younger days, I wanted God to be different than he turned out to be, but I discovered that he is way better than the one I wanted him to be. I think Paul described it as “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” That’s what you’re discovering now. The side you’re on now is painful because it’s not what you were taught or what you want. But the other side of it will become truly wondrous. Things will begin to make more sense as God transits your life through the brokenness of this world and into the glorious freedom he always wanted for you.
Then you’ll see all those promises you quote in a very different light. They are not untrue; they are more accurate than you can imagine at this point.
To be continued…
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