Bob was 58 years old when learned that he had ALS. Over the next five years the disease took his ability to walk, talk, and breathe on his own; and then it took his life. After I heard that Bob died, I was thinking about that image of Jesus coming back to get us and take us to be with him in his heavenly home. I have no idea how that will work or what that will look like, but the meeting Jesus part of it made me think about something. If I were Bob meeting Jesus in person after all that time of suffering, I would want to ask, “Lord, why did I have to go through all that?”
I thought of that because I was Bob’s pastor, and in my one of my last visits with Bob, I told him a story about Mother Teresa. Suffering anywhere raises questions about the existence of a loving God, and few people saw as much of suffering humanity as Mother Teresa did in her long life. A reporter once asked her about that, thinking he might put her on the spot; perhaps expecting some naive and simplistic answer that he could sneer at. The reporter said, “Mother Teresa, with such illness, misery, suffering, and death all around you, how can you still believe in a God of love?” Mother Teresa replied in her kind and calm way, “Yes, yes,” she said, “that is a very good question, and when I get to heaven, God is going to have some explaining to do.”
That is a profound and wonderful answer. Mother Teresa does three things in that brief and simple reply. First of all, she affirms her belief in God, and secondly, she affirms her belief in heaven, that place where there will be no suffering. And then, at the same time, she affirms the question. She admits to wondering about the same thing, and then says she will be expecting an explanation from God. Those few words bear witness to a solid faith; a faith that does not shrink from all the difficult questions, but a faith that is willing to bring those questions to God. Mother Teresa would not turn away from God in unbelief or despair.
But is it appropriate to speak to God like that, demanding an explanation? It seems a bit arrogant and presumptuous for a sweet little old lady like Mother Teresa to be taking on the Almighty God of the universe. But her challenge puts her in good company. In the Old Testament, Job was a man well acquainted with suffering and grief, and he too challenged God for an explanation, saying things like “God, you have wronged me, why will you not respond to me? Why have you made me your target, God? Am I a burden to you? Why don’t you leave me alone, even for an instant?” But Job kept talking to God. He wanted to die, but he did not turn away from God. For 38 chapters he kept talking to God, and in the end, he was blessed for his faithfulness (although Job did receive a rather sharp reply from the Lord who had a few questions and comments of His own).
Parents want their children to speak to them with love and respect, but most of all they want them to feel free to keep the lines of communication open. Questions and challenges to a parent’s authority may receive direct answers and perhaps even discipline. But even the angry challenges are preferable to a child’s withdrawl into an angry, sullen silence.
God wants to keep hearing from you, no matter what you have to say. Keep the lines of communication open.
Job 7:20 — (Job said to God), “Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?”
Job 38:1-4a — Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you know so much.”
Job 42:12a — The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
–Psalm 22:1 and Mark 15:34