My brother Allan says that it is always a wonderful day when you walk into the mountains and walk out having learned something. Usually when you learn something in the mountains you did something stupid and if you walk out that means you survived.
Just over a week ago I went out riding my bicycle. I am still alive, no thanks to myself. I have no memory after leaving the house but it seems that I must have been going really fast down Pine Street without benefit of a helmet. That’s what the neighbors tell me, the ones who called 911 and made me sit down until the ambulance arrived.
I don’t remember much of the next two days. Sometime in there I learned I had a concussion and 6 broken ribs to say nothing of road rash. So a couple of basic lessons learned by going out bike riding and not riding home:
1. Wear that helmet! If I had had a helmet on I wouldn’t have had a concussion.
2. Slow down on hills! Wind and bugs in the teeth feel great but when you stop suddenly, (in my case by falling off, preferable to going head first into the telephone pole), it can be painful.
Now at this point I suppose I should state some basic reflections on human fallibility, (obviously I am), original sin and pain, some not so interesting theology and God and the problem of evil, but I have a few other observations about pain first.
Pain hurts! When younger, including a lot of people my age, you get up in the morning, go out and do your thing. Life just kind of goes on and you don’t even notice that you are up and walking. That’s life, right? But not only does pain hurt it also slows you down like nobody’s business! Getting out of bed is a tedious and painful process and just walking makes me dizzy. My knees hurt from the scabs when I walk.
We in the Western world, for the most part, just don’t even have a clue. We think of medicine not so much as a science than as a constant miracle. You get sick, you get pills, you get well. You have an accident like I did and even though you hurt for a while you know you’re going to get better. If you don’t get all better there are doctors and a hospital to sue because, after all, medical science is supposed to make everyone all better, isn’t it? We argue about who is going to pay the bill, not whether treatment can be done.
Most of the world has no such advantage. I’ve wondered if I was in rural India or parts of Africa or South America what would have happened to me. No scan, no x-ray, no epidural pain killers? With a concussion and all those broken ribs would I be up and walking around if I lived in rural Africa? Or would I have picked up an infection and died? And would I have vacation time, sick days etc.? We in the West complain a lot but life could be a lot worse. When I went bike riding I didn’t have to worry about catching malaria.
All of which is not to say that there aren’t theological issues involved. Why am I alive? It sure isn’t my fault! Thank the lady who called 911, thank the ambulance people, thank the great doctors, nurses, aides, etc., at the hospital and thank God! I don’t know why I’m alive but God surely has something to do with it even if you only consider the surface stuff like I live near a great trauma center.
Of course that doesn’t explain why a little girl died of cancer just a day earlier with all the medical help in the world at hand. When it comes to the whys and wherefores of who lives and who dies I wish God had chosen to heal Maggie and let me die. But I’m not in charge and make no claims to understand the will of God.
Yes, that means that I think God somehow participates in it all, doesn’t just sit on the sidelines and let things happen. No I can’t prove it. I think it’s a Biblical given, a theme. God is involved. You see God’s involvement from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. But when it comes to the whys and the wherefores we have to be content with God’s answer to Job: we just aren’t smart enough to understand.
So if you came here for profound insights into why I’m alive, I don’t have any. I certainly don’t think it’s because God loves me so much more than others. God has better taste than that. And it isn’t because I’m so much better, holier than others. God knows that’s not true!
I guess my best answer is Paul’s: to die would be better because I would be at home with Jesus. To live is to continue to serve Jesus.
And in the meantime even when it hurts to sit up I need to thank God because I can sit up and will continue in ministry.