Sometimes there are no words. It is nearly 11:00 p.m. one night last week when I happen to encounter Joe (not his real name) at the care facility’s empty snack bar, both of us restlessly trying to work away some pain by wheeling our wheelchairs about the place. (If you can’t wheel your wheelchair, what in the world can you wheel?) Joe is in Stage 3 cancer at multiple locations. But that is not what troubles him most. His greatest grief arose nearly a dozen years ago, when a vehicle accident for which he blames himself claimed his young son’s life.
Joe’s wife, a devout Christian who Joe tells me loves and helps him so much, reacted by turning even more intently to God. Joe reacted by blaming and hating God. "Why doesn’t God protect the children?" he asks me? Joe is struggling–"going through hell," as he describes it. The one thing he does not have but most wants is peace with God. Has he ever had a relationship with God, I ask. He has not. He is conflicted. Maybe he does not want anything to do with God after all, not a God who lets the children die.
This is a broken world, I say, and try to explain. Created good. Broken by human sin. One day God will fix it, raise Joe’s son and all of us. God wants us to enjoy Forever together. Meanwhile, God weeps with us. For us. He also lost a son to death. Yes, Joe says, but God’s Son arose from the dead. Joe’s son did not. Not fair. Not yet, I say, but Joe’s son’s time will come. Meanwhile, God waits for us. Like a loving daddy standing in his yard peering into the distance, hoping to see the form of his missing child coming home. It is Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, but I mention no text, cite no verses, just tell the message Jesus intended. We move to Joe’s room and talk another hour. We cry together. I sit beside his bed and we say nothing. We say absurd things and chuckle. This is some wild conversation.
God loves us more than we can love our children, I say. He gave His Son so we would not perish but have eternal life. That is ours if we trust God for it. "Faith" is trusting. To "believe" is to trust. At this point, many Christians have a formula, I tell Joe, magic words to say that make it happen, do the job, seal the deal. I have no formula, no special prayer, no special words. God just wants authenticity, I say. Tell him the honest truth–how you feel, what you think. Lay it out . . . don’t hold back . . . God can handle it. I ask Joe if he would like to pray. He is not ready for that, he tells me. Would he mind if I pray for him? Not at all.
I will start talking to God aloud, but Joe is welcome to interrupt and jump into the conversation at any time he wishes. If he wishes. I begin with thanksgiving, for which much is appropriate. I beg on Joe’s behalf. Will God let Joe see that God is good, that he is love. Will he be present with Joe tonight, make himself known to Joe, let Joe experience his presence and feel his love. Joe joins in. He is open to God. He is willing to trust. He might even want to trust. God raised Jesus from the dead. Maybe he can help Joe, also. That’s what Joe honestly thinks and feels. He thinks he is ready to trust God. But God, why must the children die? Sometimes there are no words.