When we stop and reflect on it, for most of us life on earth in this mortal body is incredibly good. How can we begin to measure the beauty of God’s creation, the joys of loving relationships, the satisfaction of accomplished dreams — all this in worshipful fellowship with the Creator himself every waking moment? For the Old Testament people of God, this was essentially enough. Until Jesus personally entered the realm of gravedom and came back with the keys in his hand, it was the best anyone knew for sure. We always knew that the number of our earthly years were finite, but this knowledge actually enhances the excitement of living out those limited years.
Having just turned 61 on July 13, mortality is frequently on my mind. Based on actuarial life tables, U.S. males my age should live to age 80. My parents’ and grandparents’ average lifetime was 77+ (mother is still going at 82). If I don’t count my father (who died at 57 of pneumonia) or his mother (who died unnaturally at age 57), that average increases to the mid-80’s. I am encouraged when I read the newspaper obituaries to see so many who live into their 80’s and even 90’s. But there are also those deaths in the 40’s and 50’s and oftentimes much younger than that. The gift of twenty-five more years seems wondrously desirable to me now, but 100 years from now it will make no difference at all. We have no guarantees beyond today. And, as the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, every “today” is the day to serve God in faithful obedience.
This week two Christian law students clerking in the firm for which I work raised the question over lunch why bad things happen to some people and not to others; why God sometimes heals dread diseases but not always; whether there is any point in praying when our requested results are not guaranteed. I told them that I do not know the answers to these questions and I do not trust anyone who glibly says they do. Faith, I said, does not mean understanding the ways of God but rather entrusting ourselves to his love and power even when life appears most stormy and dark. Life here and now does not reveal the final chapter to our stories, I reminded my younger friends. When that chapter finally plays out, our faith will be vindicated in full and so will the love and power of the God in whom it is placed. More than Creator, we remember, he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who raised him back from the dead.
All this comes to mind this morning as I read an email from our friend Sharon Josephson in New Zealand, who, with her pastor husband Carl, were hosts and guides to Sara Faye and me during our wonderful two-weeks of speaking and sightseeing in that paradise island in 2000. Sharon tells us that Carl — who the actuarial tables say should have decades of life left on earth — has just been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer that has also spread to his liver and his brain. Viewing the same big picture described above, Sharon writes: “We feel somewhat as though we are in the centre of a concrete mixer. Yet with all of that going on, we believe in God’s goodness and his unfailing love to us. We know our hope for the future is secure whatever happens. And we place our trust in him.”
For Carl and all others facing similar circumstances, let us beseech the Father for healing, for relief from pain, for the strength and peace of his Presence. And let us know that however extended our years here may be, they are finally not only finite but relatively brief. With Carl and Sharon (who may know that as this gracEmail goes out, prayers ascend for them in countries around the world), let us hold fast the hand of him who says: “I was dead and am alive again, and hold the keys of Death and Hades.” For after these finite years have ended for all earthlings, we anticipate a Resurrection in new bodies suited for infinite pleasure in new heavens and earth with God and all his people forever.