Points to Ponder: Touched by Bitterness?
Points to Ponder
Touched by Bitterness?
I recognized his name on the hospital's patient roster, having officiated his wife's funeral some years before. I recalled the story of their happy, forty-plus-year long marriage. I also remember the touch of bitterness in this otherwise dear man; he was mad at God for taking his wife from him.
This is not an uncommon emotion when we lose a loved one, particularly if things are going well or the person died at a young age. Anything under one hundred seems to be too young to most people, I think. We just don't like to see people die and some live their lives as if death only happens to a select unfortunate few. The reality we find hard to accept is that the mortality rate hovers around 100% and I only know of two who were spared the experience of dying: Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (II Kings 2:11-14).
While in the hospital that day to visit someone, I happened upon the man's name and decided to check and see how he was doing. He was getting ready to be released that day, his condition had checked out okay. Our conversation soon drifted back to the one event that had brought us together in the first place. He was still bewildered and somewhat bitter about his wife's death. It didn't make sense that since he had prayed fervently for her and that his request to heal his wife was within God's range of powers, why He allowed her to die. It didn't seem right or fair that such a wonderful person should die such a painful death. It makes it even harder to grasp when we see child molesters, murderers, and other "low-life" living long and healthy lives. Somehow their badness makes our goodness by comparison entitle us to live on.
I sometimes have these conversations with other widowers and widows; my mother being among them these past five years. The pain is understandable. Sooner or later we all go through it and probably more than a few times.
In the hospital that day, I sensed I was there for a higher purpose. I sensed God's incredible love for this grieving man was the message I was there to deliver. And with that, I shared with him a perspective on his loss which all of us would do well to have long before such a loss inevitably occurs.
In the 77th Psalm, the psalmist is suffering a time of anguish that keeps him up all night praying and crying until his words and the well of his tears were dried up. "Where is God in this?" he seems to be saying:
"I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. ...I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search. Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?" (Psalm77:3, 6-9)
My grieving friend had been angry with God for a long time. Upon reflection, that sentiment turned into wonder: was God angry with him? Is that why his dear wife and best friend was not spared?
The words and the reasoning came as if they were given to me for him. I reminded him that in their 40 years of marriage, they never darkened a church door. Was it not true that rarely if ever did they give thanks to God for meals or other blessings they enjoyed together? They had had healthy kids and grand kids, were financially well-off, and had enjoyed a good life; all along not giving thanks to God or acknowledging His authority or place in their lives. If God was angry, why didn't he take her in the 10th year? the 20th? the 25th? the 30th?
Doesn't God deserve so much more respect from us? Should He not have a higher place - the highest place - of priority in our lives? If God was a vengeful sort, are there not numerous occasions in all of our pasts that might have warranted some wrath from above? At least a warning shot across the bow?
But no. They'd had over forty wonderful years together. There was much, now in retrospect, for which he could be very thankful. (I think losses are more bearable to face if we are thankful for what we have while we have it.) The most miserable people I have known are the unthankful ones. Theirs is a hell on earth.
But that day as we talked, I helped him to see that indeed he and his family had not received anger from God, but in fact innumerable blessings for many years. If God had wanted to zap him and really make him feel it, there were multiple opportunities over the past decades.
So what was I there to say? How did I just happen to be there that day? How did I just happen to see his name and see him before he was due to leave? This, I believe, was a moment arranged by the God who has wanted to draw this man, and so many others, to Himself. The message was simple. I was there to tell him: "God understands your pain. God really does love you."
How many ways does He say that to us and for years we missed it? How about today? Did you notice your blessings? Did you acknowledge the Source?
Be thankful for what you have while you have it. Nothing, except God, is eternal.
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD. Points to Ponder articles can also be found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com