TRUST GOD WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS
10th April 2005
Pope John Paul II’s death was fitting. That is, in dying, he embodied what his life stood for. We remember those vivid images of the Pope being wheeled to the window of his Papal bed-chamber on Easter morning, hands shaking from the tremors of Parkinson’s’ disease, his mind clear by his refusal to take drugs so he could clearly give the Easter blessing, but his voice refusing to speak and the Pope striking his forehead in frustration. Knowing the truth but unable to say, “He is risen”.
It seems unfair to remember a towering figure like Pope John Paul II mostly in terms of the last few weeks of his life. After all, this was the man who, along with Reagan and Thatcher, brought down the Iron Curtain. Under his care, the Church opposed, both in word and deed, the false idols at whose altar so many of our contemporaries worship. Articulating a thoroughly Christian alternative to ideologies like the sexual revolution earned John Paul II the barely disguised hatred of many. But in the last weeks and months of his life, the Pope sent a message, even when he couldn’t speak, about his greatest contribution: that is, advancing the “Gospel of Life.” This “culture of death,” as he called it, wages war against those among us who “require greater acceptance, love and care.” It regards their existence as “useless, a terrible burden,” or an unacceptable “lifestyle compromise” to those who are “more favored.” In time, the “culture of death” persuades people that taking the lives of the defenseless is morally justifiable. So in USA the same week, Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed as an “act of mercy”, just what John Paul spoke against.
The Pope wrote “when the person is almost incapable of living and acting, this suffering constitutes a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.” In his death as in life, John Paul has gotten our attention and passed on to all Christians a charge to keep: to defend the culture of life against the counterfeit and seductively dangerous ideas now so fashionable in modern life. His death was a vivid picture of how a believer should trust God even if all else fails.
Despairing people who come to the end of their tether sometimes turn to dreadful alternatives. What do you do when you come to the end of your tether? On one hand many just give up. A medical doctor, known to me, active in every aspect of his local community, highly respected and valued by all, found his wife had been committing adultery and had moved out of the family home. Unable to bear the pressure, he overdosed, leaving his family totally bereft of father and other.
On the other hand I think of a single woman, Miss Jean Perry, very dear to me from the time of my birth, without the support of close family who suffered from the most painful of hideous cancers. She had had a score of operations to save her life from cancer involving the lost of many internal organs, both breasts, her larynx, side of her face, jaw bone, and tongue. Horribly disfigured this woman was happy right to death seeking to bless others and living to the praise of God. She trusted God even when all else failed. Why is it that people can respond so differently when they come to the end of their tether. One takes his life, the other offers it as a sacrifice?
An example of people who respond to overwhelming tragedy with unbelievable courage and trust is Job. Who is Job? He is a man central to Jewish folk lore. He was the supreme example of a good man who trusted in God, but who found everything going wrong. The Book of Job in the Old Testament records the arguments that various friends have with Job as they advance all of their reasons as to why this should happen to him. You may ask when was this written? It certainly was in existence in the form we have it in the 7th century B.C., but the origins of this book go back to about 1,700 B.C., so it is one of the old dramas in existence. It is also one of the deepest, for its logical arguments could be presented by philosophers today.
You may ask what this book is about? Its basic dispute is about the reality or other wise of religious faith in a world of crisis. The key point in Job’s downward spiral of despair comes in Chapter 19 when he realizes his utter loneliness and alienation. He is utterly deserted by his friends, by God and even His family. His business has failed, his farm animals have died, drought has ruined his crops, his health as broken down, his beloved children were killed in an accident, and stress has made his body break out in painful boils. In the midst of that his closest friends say it is all his fault.
1. JOB FEELS FORSAKEN BY HIS FRIENDS. Job 19:1-5.
Most of us can cope with tragedy and crisis with help from our friends. As the Beatles used to sing, “I can get by with a little help from my friends.” But Job’s friends, argue with him, trying to make him confess to his faults.
After a long criticism of him from his four best friends, Job says: Job 19:1-5. “How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times now you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me. If it is true that I have gone astray, my error remains my concern alone.” Jesus also knew what it was to be forsaken by His friends. He heard Peter say: “I know not the man.” He asked His friends to watch with Him during his agony in Gethsemane, but they fell asleep: “Could you not watch with me one hour?” He asks with disappointment. Paul was forsaken by His friends. He wrote: “Demas has forsaken me and departed.” At the time of his trial for his life, he wrote, “At my first defence no one stood by me, but all have forsaken me.” You may have been forsaken by your friends. If so, you can understand what Job would have felt like utterly devastated and undercut by the very people from whom you had expected support. How can you trust God when you have been forsaken by your friends? Job answer is surprising. He blames God.
2. JOB FEELS BATTERED BY GOD. Job 19:6-12.
Job 19:6-12. “If indeed you would exalt yourselves above me and use my humiliation against me, then know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me. “Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness. He has stripped me of my honour and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree. His anger burns against me; he counts me among his enemies.” Job was absolutely honest with his feelings about God.
Even Jesus felt battered and forsaken by God. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” We in our turn can know devastating troubles and want to blame God shaking our fist in His face and shouting “Why God, why?” The Bible never hides this basic feeling of human battering being the result of God forsaking us and failing to protect us. What then is the point of religion if we are not protected from calamity and trouble?
3. JOB FEELS REJECTED BY HIS FAMILY. Job 19:13; 22.
Job’s experience went even deeper. In his troubles, he found even his family deserted him and turned against him: Job 19:13 22. “He has alienated my brothers from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My kinsmen have gone away; my friends have forgotten me. My guests and my maidservants count me a stranger; they look upon me as an alien. I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth. My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own brothers. Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me. I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth. “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me.”
Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected by his family. His brothers and sisters laughed at him and refused to acknowledge Him as the Messiah. We too can know the rejection of family. At a time like this, when we reach the end of our tether, what can we do? What hope is there when even your family rejects you?
Everything has failed. Friends. God. Family. He had come to the end of his tether. Everything had failed. Here is no moment for a cosy optimism. Here possibility thinking is exposed as too shallow. At the end of His tether, he just ties a knot and holds on in trust! He wants his words remembered after he has gone: Job 19:23-24. “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes I and not another. And he will not be a stranger.”
At the end of His tether, he just ties a knot and holds on in trust, and finds peace! In his determination he makes his tough faith a commitment. Job’s answer was that no matter how tough the scene, how disastrous the prognosis, how hopeless the future, he was determined to still trust God even when he felt the injustice; still be confident that he would still see God despite the darkness, still trusting in God’s justice even when there is no evidence to be seen, knowing that God would be His friend! That’s what you do when you reach the end of your tether! Tie a knot, hold on. Stay in there trusting God when all else fails! That is what makes the Book of Job so great. It is Job’s great trust in God when all else fails. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes I and not another. And he will not be a stranger.”
Jan 17th 1912, Captain Robert Scott was leading the British party in the race to be the first people to reach the South Pole. They were just beaten there by Armundsen. Now in despair they turned around and faced the weary trek back. They had 800 miles to walk against the blizzard winds. One man, Lieutenant Evan died of the cold and they left his body. Captain Laurence Oates had badly frost bitten feet and was holding the progress up until in an act of a brave and courageous gentleman, he walked out into a blizzard never to return in an attempt the free the others from the burden of himself; and with 790 miles to go, Captain Scott, Lieutenant Henry bowers and Dr Edward Wilson fought their way on. They died just 11 miles from base camp. Dr Wilson, in the tent, wrote his last message in his diary, “So I live, knowing that I am in God’s hands, to be used to bring others to Him, if he will by a long life of work, or to die tomorrow if He so wills having done nothing worth mentioning. We must do what we can and leave the rest to God. My trust is in God, so it matters not what I do or where I go.”
He had reached the end of his tether. So he tied the knot. He hung on in trust. Now like Pope John Paul 11, he would die in peace, know that He would see God with his own eyes, and God will not be a stranger. Can you do less? God will not allow you to be tested beyond your endurance. Why we should have to endure I do not know, but I am confident of Him, and of my ability to hang on. And so can you, my friend!
A Fitting Death True Death with Dignity Breakhrough C. Colson. April 8, 2005