Many things that happen in our life are just beyond our finite human minds. This happens so often that quotes like “you win some, you lose some” and “life’s like that” become mere excuses for being blatantly obtuse.
Death is just one of the many topics that receive such “preferential” treatment. People would make every effort to avoid talking about death even if it happens.
I’m no exception.
I met Jaclyn in 2005 through a mutual friend. She was a Roman Catholic who believed in faithfully serving God to the fullest of her ability. I was certainly amazed at her zeal.
We debated over the phone for hours defending our faith until we just gave up, declaring each other ignorant. We remained acquaintances and chose to not allow religion to break the friendship God gave us.
Over time, communication between us grew thin. In 2007, I received news that Jaclyn was found to have a malignant tumour in her spine. That shocked me. She had to stop her studies and go on intensive chemotherapy to suppress the cancer cells. Even then, the chances of survival were slim.
I prayed continuously for her for a really short time but soon enough I forgot her.
One Sunday morning, as I was preparing for worship, I got a message from our mutual friend. It read, “Jaclyn passed away last night at 12.10 a.m. . . . ” That was enough to stop me in my tracks.
How could she have passed away? Why did God not spare her?
Questions flooded my head and my heart grew heavy.
Just a day before her death, I finished reading Matt and Beth Redman’s book Blessed Be Your Name. The book had spoken about how to cope through the most difficult times. It left me convicted that I would be ready to tide over any tough situations. The account in Job 1 became a motto.
21And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Job 1: 21 – 22 (ESV)
Why did God have to test my conviction?
Days after her death, I suffered silently. Bitter against reading the book. I rationalized that maybe if I hadn’t read the book, God would have spared her.
Somehow, theoretically, it seemed so possible to proclaim, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” in times of strife. But, in reality, that wasn’t the case. My faith was put to the test.
God reminded me through my quiet time of the account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba. Due to his sin, God punished David by taking the life of his son that was to be born. David fasted and prayed for his dying child (2 Samuel 12:15 – 23).
I felt glimpses of the pain David had and sympathized. But as I read on, David’s response
21Then his servants said to him (David), “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”
22He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
2 Samuel 12: 21 – 23 (ESV)
to the servants after the death of the child was remarkable.
David fasted in the knowledge that God has the ability to both heal the son and even bring him back to life. That understanding was enough for David. God can.
Somehow, as much as the thought stuck with me through the day, it did not make that big an impact. I was still severely bitter and filled with grief.
I went home and sat down thinking hard about how much I missed Jaclyn. I looked in to God’s Word again to seek comfort and I stumbled upon the book of Daniel. I read through Daniel like I would a storybook. However, this time it was different. God’s Word in Daniel 3:8–29 struck me.
King Nebuchadnezzar had threatened Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego with their lives if they did not worship him. Yet they stood firm against the king and it was their response that was a real eye-opener for me.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Daniel 2: 16 -18 (ESV)
Once again, the message was spelt out to me clearly: God can and that is good enough.
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego as well as David understood that God was able to do anything and everything but if He did not bring things to pass, as they would have liked, they would still remain faithful to God.
I realized that like David, it wasn’t wrong to mourn or grief in sadness when people pass away. But the greatest thing to remember is the everlasting character of God. The God that I serve was the same God in Genesis, is the same God today, and will be the same God forever. God’s never-changing character was what helped all these people in their times of need. They knew that God could save them and His person was enough to put them at ease in knowing that He works all things good for His namesake.
Tears streamed down my face. I realized my sin. I was simply bitter and telling God that He didn’t know how to do His job. I prayed and asked God for forgiveness and a renewal of my heart to realize the bigger picture He paints.
Indeed, all that He taught me through this episode has greatly strengthened me to know that He is in control over all things.
As Christians, we need to come to the understanding that our finite minds will never understand the infinite God for all His beauty but we must trust that He always is good. When things don’t go well, praise the Lord. When things go well, praise the Lord. In all things, praise the Lord for He is good all the time.
I thank God for a friend like Jaclyn whose life has indeed left me with an experience that I would never forget. Thanks be to God for all He has done, His love endures forever.
Written By Isaac Tan for YMI