Webmaster's note: This is part 2 of Joe's message which started on Feb 11th.
Good Morning, and welcome to my Sunday morning message which I am calling,
The last time I spoke to you, I talked about the road to happiness and said that it is a road we all walk on. It is a dream we all chase. I mentioned that we as humans chase two kinds of happiness. The happy-ness with a ‘y’ which is the happiness that is temporary, the physical happiness of a gift or an experience, the happiness that comes and goes, day in and day out, and that we often have little or no control over. Examples might range from a small snack to a great banquet, from a Sunday drive to a world cruise, from a modest apartment to a 100-acre ranch. All wonderful experiences, but also all tinged with a certain sadness. Why? Because none outlast a physical timeframe. None give us eternal satisfaction. All are a part of this material world in which we are born and in which we die. We are left wondering…Can we expect anything more?
We are asked by our bible teachers to believe, but we again ask why. And no matter how many ways or how many times we ask the question, we still wonder what it’s all about. We are told God is the way to ultimate happiness In the Gospel of John it is written…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…… This ‘Word’ we acknowledge to be the Second Person, the Son of God.
The Gospel carries on to say that nothing has been made except it was made through God, and that if we believe in Him, we all become children of God. Which is all beautiful. It is a glorious idea. But still it leaves us with questions.
Anne Graham Lotz in her article, “Why God Why?” puts her questions this way,
My mother's pale, gaunt face was transformed into wreathes of joy when I walked through the door of her hospital room. Although her eyes seemed sunken, they sparkled with the zest for life that is her own special trademark. With IVs dangling from her arms, she lifted her trembling hands to welcome me. I embraced her frail body, feeling the heat of her temperature and the protrusion of her bones through the thin hospital gown. She was unable to speak clearly, so I just patted her and sat down nearby. Within moments, she was asleep. And I was left to wonder, Why? Why does my mother's life seem to be ending in suffering and, at times, confusion? Why, after a life lived selflessly for others, must her old age be, in some ways, a curse?
Yet I was reminded that unanswerable questions are not restricted to any particular age group when my son recently went through a series of tests to determine his physical condition five years after cancer surgery. The whys buzz through my head like irritating mental insects: Why? Why is my handsome, six-foot-nine-inch, 32-year-old son still stalked by the shadow of this horrific disease?
During the times when you and I can't trace God's hand of purpose, we must trust His heart of love. While wrestling with the illnesses of my mother and son, a beloved young friend was entering into the living death that is divorce. Why? Why doesn't God melt the heart of the offending spouse and bring that person to genuine repentance so the marriage can be saved?
And once again, the angel of death has struck, this time taking the life of the beloved pastor who ministered to my family and shepherded me through my formative years. Why?
And before that personal loss, I had other "whys."
Why would God let 110 fathers of unborn children perish in the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001?
Why would God withhold children from godly parents and give them to a mother who would bash in their heads with a rock or drown them in a bathtub?
Why would God allow thousands of people to lose their pensions because of greedy corporate executives who are padding their own retirement fortunes?
Why would God allow the kidnapping of babies and children for the perverted pleasure of some pedophile?
Why do the young die? Why do the wicked prosper?
In meditating on these themes, let me begin to answer them by saying that we are not alone with these thoughts. In fact, from the beginning of time, when people have first begun to gaze at the stars, such questions have been asked, and clear answers have been hidden behind a screen in some other dimension. Nevertheless, in every primitive human society, every remote tribe, no matter how isolated, no matter how different, no matter what strange ritual they might follow, has believed in God. Oh, they might not call it God. It might be Yahwheh, or Baal, or the Great Spirit, or a hundred thousand other names. But every one has acknowledged the presence of such a Creator, whatever form it might take.
If you allow me, I will tell you of a true personal experience that took place many years ago and that nudged me over the line and convinced me to believe. I always speculated on such matters from a very young age. In my teens I thought about becoming a Catholic priest but my three sons are happy I didn’t go that way. And so am I. Well, one night after reading from one of my favourite books, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis, I went to sleep with thoughts of belief and non-belief swirling through my head.
Some time in the very early morning, between the hours of midnight and dusk, I awoke from a dream state, or maybe I should say I awoke into a dream state. In this state, not fully realizing where I was, I felt myself being drawn over, over into what I can only call, the other side. And when I was partially in that place, sort of half here and half there, I felt a heavenly calm come over me. I can truly attest that never before, or since, have I ever felt that way. Suddenly, the realization hit me that if I kept floating along like this, I just might pass all the way over to wherever I was drifting.
And I got suddenly very scared. And that fear sucked me back like a mighty surge, and I was all here again, fully awake. And sweating. So, I jumped out of bed because I wanted to capture as completely as I could this unique but glorious experience. So, I started to write. And I wrote it all out in words that became a poem, a poem that had a form I had never used before. I have never recited it before to anyone, so please bear with me and see if you can share in some small way with my experience.
I call this ‘Assurance’……
I woke within the framework of the night
And felt the silent presence of the dead
As if they lingered floating in my head
In chambers lacking roof or walls or bed.
I stepped inside expecting to be led
Past alabaster angels but instead
A hollow toneless madrigal was read
By figments, of implicit pending dread.
I strained to see some path that I might light
To free my presence from that empty drone
And read or heard or felt a different tome
Timeless - yet insistent and alone.
“Come,” it shivered, piercing to the bone
“Come,” in sounds that suddenly had grown
To make me wonder how I must atone
For sins like seeds a prouder man had sown.
Straining still with eyes that spent their sight
The call beguiled me to an open door
Frameless hung, as if a fabric tore
Rent long and yawning open to the floor.
“Come,” it rang, more vibrant than before
As wispy fingers off some distant shore
Tugged gently at my soul, my unlocked core
Till I was carried drifting through the door.
At once my every fibre lost its might
And nerve and sinew stayed behind the shade
And I emerged more placid and restrained
As peace like snow descended in the glade
To which I’d come imperfect and unmade.
Then I knew the longer that I stayed
That time would stop, and I would merge and fade
Into eternity...I felt, afraid.
And in that fear new vision lost its sight
And I awakened wholly mine once more
The sweat of ages clung to every pore
Of this thin shell, this mortal husk I wore,
And wear still better than I did before
Until the day that legends, tales and lore
Fill up the book whose page this passage bore
And promises to kin and kith shall ring like truth,
once more. ——-— Joe Hevesy, June 1, 1997.
So, what does this prove? Well, obviously, it may not convince anyone else of God, or an afterlife, or any description that may be the same for everyone. But what it does prove is that somehow a single person on this earth believes wholeheartedly that he received a glimpse into Paradise. And I also think that if one person can be led to that state of belief, so can every other person, someday, somehow, even if only at the moment of truth, the moment of death.
But what about these hanging questions about why God allows suffering?
Well, once again, no single answer will suffice equally for all of us. I can only pass on to you my personal belief. God allows suffering for a couple of reasons at least. One, it proves definitively that this life, no matter how blessed it may be, is not without serious downsides. There is pain and, in many cases, there is pain that is so abundant, so excruciating that many of us at the end cry for release. And two, even in the midst of all this pain, god is with us.
There is a rabbi - I can’t recall his name now - who was in the Holocaust with his Jewish people. This question of God’s presence in all his people’s suffering kept nagging at him. “Where is this God who is all-caring?” “Why does He allow His own ‘chosen’ people to suffer such extremes?” “How can He justify all this pain?”
But this rabbi soldiered on. He stayed faithful to God, he showed a persevering faith to God visibly to all his people. He prayed every day and every night for an answer. And one day, he said, the answer was revealed to him. When he asked where God was, God whispered, “I am here. I am with you in all of this extreme terror. You are the ones who have been chosen to carry this burden for all mankind as my representatives. You are my Chosen people.”
Furthermore, as we Christians believe, God sent us His son, God-made-flesh, to suffer such terrible extremes with us, to show us that physical happyness-with-a-y is not the final answer. Our sufferings of one extreme or another is meant to coax us to let go of our grasp on earthly things. Without it, without suffering, we would want to stay here forever and not make it home to an ultimate reward.
But why do it at all? Why have Creation? Why not just stay in Paradise without the intervention of a physical world. Well, I will let you figure that one out through your own conversations with God. Hopefully, this message gave you some food for thought, maybe enough to spend a little bit of every Sunday in peaceful contemplation, reflection and prayer in the presence of God.
Now, let me leave you with yet another poem - don’t worry, not another one of mine. This poem is called Trees, not the one by Joyce Kilmer, but by Canadian Bliss Carman. I first learned it in grade 3 and it has reverberated with me ever since.