There Are No Answers to Life’s Pain. Or Are There?
When friends compassionately inquire, “How are you?”, do you ever find yourself at a loss for a response?
When you have prayed fervently, pacing your darkened room at night, pounding intercession into the very floorboards but the outcome you so feared happened anyway, do you stop praying for anything at all?
When you awake, and the very first thought that comes is the awful realization that you weren’t dreaming that terrible thing, do you despair?
I’m asking these questions with you, friends, because I know many of your stories. You are no strangers to sorrow; you are well acquainted with grief.
And you are also intimate companions with faith.
I wrote you last week from Connecticut (link) where my closest lifetime friend had suddenly entered hospice care. She died on Saturday night. The very next morning Cindy was to have delivered the morning messages at her home church. Leaving this life at 69 with unfulfilled commitments and family members who depended upon her was not her wish. We needed her with us still.
“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables—of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair.” Madame Jeanne Guyon
Lucinda Secrest McDowell passed into the presence of God in her New England cottage, Sunnyside, surrounded by her family. Sunnyside was not only Cindy’s home but her perspective on life. When Pratt and Sarah Secrest brought their middle daughter into the world, they named her rightly: Lucinda ~ “Bringer of Light.”
Why doesn’t God take the dark forces of evil from our midst instead? The mass shooters. The drug cartels. The fiends who prey on children.
Job asked these questions before us: “Why do the wicked prosper, growing old and powerful?...The light of the wicked never seems to be extinguished. Do they ever have trouble?”
Even Jesus, in excruciating pain on the cross, expressed his own anguish when he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”
If Job and Jesus had questions, it’s not strange that we will as well. Yet as the French mystic Madame Guyon noted, if knowing answers to life’s questions is necessary to you, then forget the journey.
Because it is a journey, friends – at times a faithless and fearsome trip into the darkest corners our human souls can travel.
But it’s also a journey with a purpose because our hearts, like a compass, are pointed towards Home.
“He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
The world claims to have answers to just about everything, but can they explain how my best friend could face her untimely death in strength and serenity?
Can they explain how someone like Cindy will continue to influence lives long after leaving this earth because of the choices she made while inhabiting it?
Can they explain why Christ-followers can bear separation from loved ones because we’ve been assured from a very trustworthy Source that it’s only temporary?
“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” John 5:24
Yes, we have questions. Lots of them. And many will lie moored in mystery the rest of our lives.
But the Word of God also has answers. Lots of them. And they are enough to see us through to the end of our days.
"That even as I rightly lament all I stand to lose by dying –the longed for days I will not live to share with those I love, the dreams I will at last release unrealized —that even so, O Lord, you in your wisdom and mercy did gift me more hours than were necessary for my heart to warm to your love, for my pride to crumble beneath the weight of your mercies, for my mind to be convinced that I am your dearly-loved child, and for my hopes to grow firm –anchored in the promise of a new creation and of my own coming resurrection." (from “A Liturgy for Dying Well,” Douglas McKelvey, Every Moment Holy, vol. I.)
As my friend lay dying, I had a sudden image of her at university.
With tears in my eyes, I told her husband, “Cindy is like one of those really smart students who finished their exam before the rest of us,” I said haltingly. “We’re still here struggling to complete the test, but she turned hers in early. I wish she could help us with the answers, but she can’t. We must finish on our own without her.”
Lucinda Secrest McDowell has run her race. She’s finished the test.
But the Teacher is still with us.
You’re Home now, dear Cindy. I can’t wait to hear all about it.
Hug Him for me, won’t you please?
Maggie Wallem Rowe writes from Peace Ridge, her home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. The author of two books, Maggie is grateful for her friends, some of whom now live in Heaven.