Nearly fourteen months ago a friend of mine, Dennis Dykstra, suddenly died of heart failure. He seemed to be hitting his stride in life with a newfound passion for orphans and issues of justice in Africa.
One person who saw this picture commented, "What a great picture...you can HEAR them laughing!" Indeed, if you have ever been to Africa or have a great imagination for just a few seconds, you can hear the kids. It's likely many of these kids had never touched a white man before this moment; so even the idea of white skin is a silly thought to a ten year old in East Africa.
Dennis had found his midlife calling to his wife, his family, and pursuing justice. Then life abruptly ended...
I remember receiving the phone call, and even as I recall it now, I get chills through my entire body. Life is not meant to end this way. Life is not.
As followers of Jesus, we so often say or hear others say, "It was in God's time." "It is according to his plan." At that moment, it seems like consolation, and pushing back against that thought while at a funeral or while giving empathy would be inappropriate. Yet.
This idea that God is fine with death, that God plans for erratic endings to life is wacked.. The ways of Jesus are always about life. Always. While death is a reality of every life, death is never part of the goodness of God.
While I do believe the God of Israel reigns as Lord of all things, it is impossible to fully understand this idea in a world where suffering and brokenness continue to be the reality in which we live. To prove that death can be overcome, Jesus along with others in the biblical text, rise from the dead. Yet, this isn't the current reality in which we live.
I believe we use phrases like "It was in God's plan" to deal with the complex reality of a God who reigns but not yet fully reigns. If God were to have his way with the world at this moment, Dennis would not have died. He would still be loving his wife and children and chasing after justice around the globe.
The tragedy of a life cut short is just that - tragedy. There is no great moment that heals all pains. The story never ends as a beautiful romance that keeps the heart warm forever.
Here is my hope as we stop using the sort of terms 'Christian' community has created to solve deep issues of tension -- that we continue to believe that God is FOR life, for hope, for love, for goodness, for kindness, for justice, and for mercy.
As we pursue these things, the ways of Jesus will make themselves more known over the landscape of the earth. When children stop dying of AIDS, when kids have moms & dads, and when bellies are full and water is abundant, THEN we will experience the reign of God.
When justice flows through the streets of every city and countryside around this mighty planet, then we will know that there is a God who reigns. Until then, we live in part of the hope of God's reign, but human tragedy is never part of that hope.
So, let's pursue the things that set the heart of Dennis on fire. Let's hope that we can walk alongside the Creator of the universe to do great things. Let us urgently fight AIDS, put an end to poverty, and drill wells for every community in on every continent. In pursing the these things, we find hope in the life of Dennis and so many others.
God always reigns in healing, in hope, and in resurrection - never in death. Always in life.