Another good friend has died a stinking, low, miserable death. I believe in God and that another world exists, only sometimes glimpsed. But I have difficulty understand suffering. Even a man as steeped in faith as the Reverend Billy Graham found himself unable to explain it after 9/11. At a sermon at the National Cathedral a week after that day, he said this:
“I have been asked hundreds of times why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I do not know the answer. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and that He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering.”
A Presbyterian minister I once knew explained suffering this way, and I can only poorly put his remarks. Accepting this requires a Christian view, closely adhered. I know many can’t follow. But this is it in brief.
We live in a broken world. It has been that way since The Fall, when Man rejected God at the Garden of Eden. We have been cast out and are now living in a fallen world. Brother turns against brother, children get terrible diseases, drug addicts die alone in filthy alleys. Even the physical world is broken. Hurricanes rage, earthquakes kill thousands, fires burn the land. We live in a world emotionally, spiritually, and physically broken and we all suffer as it falls apart on us.
That minister also told me something hopeful. It addresses the Christian assertion that no one can get to Heaven except by way of the Cross. That an acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior is the only path to God and salvation. Billy Graham maintained this necessity throughout his ministry. And yet my minister, perhaps more conservative than Graham, presented another possibility.
He was often asked why good people who did not believe in Christ should be denied the afterlife. I asked what he told them. He smiled warmly and said that just as God’s love is immeasurable, so, too, is His grace. I’ll never forget that, as he failed to recite the principal tenet of Christianity. This despite all the formal education and training he had received on his path to becoming ordained.
We suffer. But eventually grace relieves and redeems. As the old spiritual puts it,
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home
It’s all a damned mystery. But death has always been the ultimate and final mystery.
I am thinking of my friend.
Ken and Bandit. I pray they are together again. With His Grace, they are.