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When God Doesn't Make Sense
By James C. Dobson
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChuck Frye was a bright young man of 17, academically gifted and highly motivated. After graduating near the top of his class in high school, he went on to college, where he continued to excel in his studies. Upon completion of his B.S. degree, he applied for admittance to several medical schools. The competition for acceptance was, and is, fierce. At the time, I was a professor at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, where only 106 students were admitted each year out of 6,000 applicants. That was typical of accredited medical programs in that era. Despite these long odds, Chuck was accepted at the University of Arizona School of Medicine and began his formal training in September.
During that first term, Chuck was thinking about the call of God on his life. He began to feel that he should forgo high-tech medicine in some lucrative setting in favor of service on a foreign field. This eventually became his definite plan for the future. Toward the end of that first year of training, however, Chuck was not feeling well. He began experiencing a strange and persistent fatigue. He made an appointment for an examination in May and was soon diagnosed with acute leukemia. Chuck Frye was dead by November.
How could Chuck's heartsick parents then, and how can we now, make sense of this incomprehensible act of God? This young man loved Jesus Christ with all his heart and sought only to do His will. Why was he taken in his prime despite many agonized prayers for his healing by godly family members and faithful friends? The Lord clearly said no to them all. But why?
Thousands of young doctors complete their education every year and enter the medical profession, some for less than admirable reasons. A tiny minority plan to spend their professional lives with the down and outers of the world. But here was a marvelous exception. If permitted to live, Chuck could have treated thousands of poor and needy people who would otherwise suffer and die in utter hopelessness. Not only could he have ministered to their physical needs, but his ultimate desire was to share the gospel with those who had never heard this greatest of stories. Thus, his death simply made no sense. Visualize with me the many desperately ill people Dr. Chuck Frye might have touched in his lifetime, some with cancer, some with tuberculosis, some with congenital disorders, and some too young to even understand their pain. Why would Divine Providence deny them his dedicated service?
There is another dimension to the Frye story that completes the picture. Chuck became engaged to be married in March of that first year in medical school. His fiancée was named Karen Ernst, and she was also a committed believer in Jesus Christ. She learned of Chuck's terminal illness six weeks after their engagement, but she chose to go through with their wedding plans. They became husband and wife in July, less than four months before his tragic death. Karen then enrolled in medical school at the University of Arizona, and after graduation she became a medical missionary in Swaziland in southern Africa. Dr. Frye served there in a church-sponsored hospital until 1992. I'm sure she wonders-amidst so much suffering-why her brilliant young husband was not allowed to fulfill his mission as her medical colleague. And, yes, I wonder too.
The great theologians of the world can contemplate the dilemma posed by Chuck Frye's death for the next 50 years, but they are not likely to produce a satisfying explanation. God's purpose in this young man's demise is a mystery, and there it must remain. Why, after much prayer, was Chuck granted admittance to medical school if he could not live to complete his training? From whence came the missions call to which he responded? Why was so much talent invested in a young man who would not be able to use it? And why was life abbreviated in such a mature and promising student, whereas many drug addicts, winos, and evil-doers survive into old age as burdens on society? These troubling questions are much easier to pose than to answer. And there are many others.
The Lord has not yet revealed His reasons for permitting the plane crash that took the lives of my four friends back in 1987. They were among the finest Christian gentlemen I have ever known. Hugo Schoellkopf was an entrepreneur and an extremely able member of the board of directors for Focus on the Family. George Clark was a bank president and a giant of a man. Dr. Trevor Mabrey was a gifted surgeon who performed nearly half of his operations at no charge to his patients. He was a soft touch for anyone with a financial need. And Creath Davis was a minister and author who was loved by thousands. They were close friends who met regularly to study the Word and assure mutual accountability for what they were learning. I loved these four men. I had been with them the night before that last flight, when their twin-engine plane went down in the Absaroka mountain range in Wyoming. There were no survivors. Now their precious wives and children are left to struggle on alone. Why? What purpose was served by their tragic loss? Why are Hugo and Gail's two sons, who are the youngest among the four families, deprived of the influence of their wise and compassionate father during their formative years? I don't know, although the Lord has given Gail sufficient wisdom and strength to carry on alone.
At the first mention of the "awesome why," I think also of our respected friends, Jerry and Mary White. Dr. White is president of the Navigators, a worldwide organization dedicated to knowing Christ and making Him known. The Whites are wonderful people who love the Lord and live by the dictates of Scripture. But they have already had their share of suffering. Their son, Steve, drove a taxi for several months while seeking a career in broadcasting. But he would never achieve his dream. Steve was murdered late one night by a deranged passenger in the usually quiet city of Colorado Springs. The killer was a known felon and drug abuser who had a long history of criminal activity. When he was apprehended, the police learned that he had called for the cab with the intent of shooting whoever arrived to pick him up. Any number of drivers might have responded. Steve White took the call. It was random brutality, beyond any rhyme or reason. And it occurred within a family that had honored and served God for years in full-time Christian service.
I'm reminded of a church in Dallas, Texas, which was destroyed by a tornado some years ago. The twister suddenly dropped from the boiling sky and "selected" this one structure for demolition. Then it lifted again, damaging almost none of the surrounding territory. How would you interpret this "act of God" if you were a member of that congregation? Perhaps the Lord was displeased by something going on in the church, but I doubt if this was His way of showing it. If that is how God deals with disobedience, then sooner or later every sanctuary will be in jeopardy. So how do we explain the selective destruction of the twister? I wouldn't try. There are simply times when things go awry for reasons that may never be understood!
Further examples of inexplicable sorrows and difficulties could fill the shelves of the world's largest library, and every person on earth could contribute illustrations of his or her own. Wars, famines, diseases, natural disasters, and untimely deaths are never easy to rationalize. But large-scale miseries of this nature are sometimes less troubling to the individual than the circumstances that confront each of us personally. Cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, divorce, rape, loneliness, rejection, failure, infertility, widowhood! These and a million other sources of human suffering produce inevitable questions that trouble the soul. "Why would God permit this to happen to me?" It is a question all believers-and many pagans-have struggled to answer. And contrary to Christian teachings in some circles, the Lord typically does not rush in to explain what He is doing.
If you believe God is obligated to explain Himself to us, you ought to examine the following Scriptures. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 25:2, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter." Isaiah 45:15 states, "Truly you are a God who hides himself." Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God." Ecclesiastes 11:5 proclaims, "As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things." Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches, "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"
Clearly, the Scripture tells us that we lack the capacity to grasp God's infinite mind or the way He intervenes in our lives. How arrogant of us to think otherwise! Trying to analyze His omnipotence is like an amoeba attempting to comprehend the behavior of man. Romans 11:33 (KJV) indicates that God's judgments are "unsearchable" and his ways "past finding out." Similar language is found in 1 Corinthians 2:16: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" Clearly, unless the Lord chooses to explain Himself to us, which often He does not, His motivation and purposes are beyond the reach of mortal man. What this means in practical terms is that many of our questions-especially those that begin with the word why-will have to remain unanswered for the time being.
The Apostle Paul referred to the problem of unanswered questions when he wrote, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Paul was explaining that we will not have the total picture until we meet in eternity. By implication, we must learn to accept that partial understanding.
Unfortunately, many young believers-and some older ones too-do not know that there will be times in every person's life when circumstances don't add up-when God doesn't appear to make sense. This aspect of the Christian faith is not well advertised. We tend to teach new Christians the portions of our theology that are attractive to a secular mind. For example, Campus Crusade for Christ (an evangelistic ministry I respect highly) has distributed millions of booklets called "The Four Spiritual Laws." The first of those scriptural principles states, "God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life." That statement is certainly true. However, it implies that a believer will always comprehend the "wonderful plan" and that he will approve of it. That may not be true.
For some people, such as Joni Eareckson Tada, the "wonderful plan" means life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. For others it means early death, poverty, or the scorn of society. For the prophet Jeremiah, it meant being cast into a dark dungeon. For other Bible characters it meant execution. Even in the most terrible of circumstances, however, God's plan is wonderful because anything in harmony with His will ultimately "works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Still, it is not difficult to understand how confusion can develop at this point, especially for the young. During the springtime of their years, when health is good and the hardships, failures, and sorrows have not yet blown through their tranquil little world, it is relatively easy to fit the pieces in place. One can honestly believe, with good evidence, that it will always be so. Such a person is extremely vulnerable to spiritual confusion if trouble strikes at that point.
Dr. Richard Selzer is a surgeon and a favorite author of mine. He writes the most beautiful and compassionate descriptions of his patients and the human dramas they confront. In his book Letters to a Young Doctor, he said that most of us seem to be protected for a time by an imaginary membrane that shields us from horror. We walk in and through it every day but are hardly aware of its presence. As the immune system protects the human body from the unseen threat of harmful bacteria, so this mythical membrane guards us from life-threatening situations. Not every young person has this protection, of course, because children do die of cancer, congenital heart problems, and other disorders. But most of them are shielded-and don't realize it. Then, as the years roll by, one day it happens. Without warning, the membrane tears and horror seeps into a person's life or into that of a loved one. It is at this moment that an unexpected theological crisis presents itself.
So what am I suggesting-that our heavenly Father is uncaring or unconcerned about His vulnerable sons and daughters, that He taunts us mere mortals as some sort of cruel, cosmic joke? It is almost blasphemous to write such nonsense. Every description given to us in Scripture depicts God as infinitely loving and kind, tenderly watching over His earthly children and guiding the steps of the faithful. He speaks of us as "the people of his pasture, the flock under his care" (Psalm 95:7). This great love led Him to send His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sin, that we might escape the punishment we deserve. He did this because He "so loved" the world (John 3:16).
The Apostle Paul expressed it this way: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Isaiah conveyed this message to us directly from the heart of the Father: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). No, the problem here is not with the love and mercy of God. Nevertheless, the questions persist.
My chief concern at this point, and the reason I have chosen to write this book, is for my fellow believers who are struggling with circumstances that don't make sense. In my work with families who are going through various hardships, from sickness and death to marital conflict and adolescent rebellion, I have found it common for those in crisis to feel great frustration with God. This is particularly true when things happen that seem illogical and inconsistent with what had been taught or understood. Then if the Lord does not rescue them from the circumstances in which they are embroiled, their frustration quickly deteriorates into anger and a sense of abandonment. Finally, disillusionment sets in and the spirit begins to wither.
Excerpted from When God Doesn't Make Sense by James C. Dobson Copyright ©1993 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. . Excerpted by permission.
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