"Jonathan Only Lived About Fifteen Minutes"
An open letter to my good friends, David and Tania Delgado
One of the hardest tasks we have is to prepare our students for the valley. That valley when answers don't satisfy, when prayers go unanswered, when life doesn't make any sense at all. In the valley, we grapple with the age-old philosophical issue of the problem of pain in the world. If God is 100% loving and 100% powerful, why is there pain in the world? It doesn't make any sense. It seems like a contraction. If He is really powerful, it seems He could do something. If He is really loving, it seems He would do something.
In the valley, though, it is no longer a cerebral, philosophical issue. It is a gut-wrenching reality. Sooner or later, most of us go through the valley. Somehow, awareness of the holocaust and 5.6 - 5.9 million Jews exterminated does not cause us to grapple with this issue like we do when we go through our own personal valley. There may be a lesson there too, but that is not the thought of the day.
Jesus told a parable about the valley. The gist of the parable is that the key is preparation- building our house on the right foundation. Once we arrive in the valley, we find out what the house is built on. It is too late at that point to start pouring a slab.
Your job, as a teacher, is to prepare people for the real world, the world that includes the valley. Rest assured, the valley is coming. A house built on the rock is built on a clear understanding of how life works, especially as it relates to life in the valley.
Last Wednesday I was packing for a three-city tour when the phone rang. David and Tania were at the hospital. She was in labor. I went to the hospital to see them for a while before my trip. I was in the room when the OB-GYN came in to assure them that in spite of the fact that the baby was about a month early, everything seemed fine. The following day, while I was settling into my hotel room in Salt Lake City, I got the call that little Jonathan had lived about 15 minutes. What a heartbreak. This is life in the valley.
How do we think about such things? What does the Bible have to say about such things? A clear understanding of these issues is the best preparation for the valley.
At the end of eleven chapters of some of the most heady theology ever written, Paul records:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Romans 11:33 (NIV)
Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse in a lively way:
Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It's way over our heads. We'll never figure it out. Romans 11:33 (Msg)
"It is way over our heads. We will never figure it out." At first glance, this passage does not seem to be talking about pain or life in the valley. I would argue that it is precisely this point that makes the valley almost unbearable.
People can endure almost anything when they understand why. Soldiers throw their bodies on live hand grenades when they know why. Athletes train tirelessly when they understand why. Moms stay up nights for months on end when they know why. Entrepreneurs deny themselves every manner of comfort if the why is strong enough. We can do anything, endure anything, put up with anything, and take anything if we just know why.
On the other hand, the slightest inconvenience will throw us off our rockers if we don't know why. We don't mind so much when the plane is late. We just want to know why. Kids want to know why. Everyone wants to know why.
This is precisely what makes the valley the valley. We don't know why. We don't get any explanations. It's way over our heads. We'll never figure it out.
This is not to say that answers don't exist. It is just that we don't have access to them. I am sure this is true in part simply because we are not smart enough to understand. We can no more understand God's ways than an amoeba could explain calculus. It is way over our heads. We will never figure it out. Yet, our soul longs to know why.
"Why" is what Jesus wanted to know on the cross. Hanging there between heaven and earth in excruciating pain, Jesus called out, "Why?" This is especially poignant because this is, after all, Jesus. Jesus is God. God knows all things. What is the Omniscient One doing calling out, "Why?" I thought there were no questions the Omniscient One did not know the answer to.
This is part of the mystery of the incarnation, another great mystery of Christian theology. Philippians 2 says that Jesus, "emptied himself." Exactly how much of God did he empty Himself of? Clearly not all. He didn't cease to be God. But, He did take off some God-qualities. He was not, for example, omni-present while on earth. He was, for the first time, limited by time and space. And, he wasn't omniscient anymore either. In another place Jesus said He did not know the day or the hour of His return. There are things He didn't know. One of them was why it appeared that the Father had turned His back on Him. Why had the Father seemingly abandoned Him in His hour of need? Why had the Father forsaken Him? He didn't know why. And while He was agonizing, the answer to this question was more important than an anesthetic to His pain.
And so it is with us. We don't want to be relieved of pain, so much as we want to understand pain. And that is precisely what makes the valley so difficult. We don't know why. God gives no explanation. He didn't give it to Jesus. He hasn't given it to David and Tania, and He may not give it to you, either.
James Dobson tells the story of his little son Ryan. He had and excruciating ear ache and Dr. Dobson was called upon to hold him down on the table while the doctor stuck a long metal object into the boy's already pained ear. In the room was a large mirror where Ryan could look into his Daddy's eyes. As he screamed in pain, Dr. Dobson could read it all over his face: "Why are you doing this to me, Dad? I thought you loved me? Why?" There were answers; very good answers. But, there is no way little Ryan could understand.
Pain has a way of tenderizing our hearts. The Bible admonishes us to be tenderhearted. Pain has a way of doing that for us.
Pain helps us understand God. The really amazing thing is not that we experience pain, it is that God does. Jesus is called the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. God has experienced the pain of divorce. The scripture says God wrote Israel a certificate of divorce. He is pictured in the Bible as a jilted, broken-hearted lover, seeking to reconcile with His bride. Like my friends David and Tania, God has experienced the pain of the death of his Son. And as surely as Jesus was resurrected, so will Jonathan be.
Years before Lisa Beamer became a household name, her father died. She was comforted by the verse we looked at already. "How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" Romans 11:33 (NIV)
After her husband, Todd, said those now emphasis words, "Let's Roll!" he protected our nations capital and those in it from almost certain disaster. He died in the process. His car was impounded, along with all of those on all the flights that went down on September 11. When his car was returned a couple of months later, a scripture memory pack was found. Apparently, Todd had been memorizing and meditating on this verse as he drove to the airport to catch United flight 93 that ended up crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. What verse was he meditating on that fateful morning? Romans 11:33 "How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!"
When we cannot trace God's hand, trust his heart. David and Tania have told me that in dozens of little ways they have seen the heart of God at work in this painful time. God has been preparing them for the valley. That is the key to the valley: preparation.
Sooner or later, the valley comes for all of us. Prepare your class for life in the valley. Prepare them for life in the real world.
NOTE: David is an accomplished musician, worship leader, and song writer. If you are interested in hearing a song he wrote for Jonathan, reading some of his reflections on Jonathan's life, or receiving a free CD, please visit his site at www.daviddelgado.com