by César De León PhD LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference
Over the weekend, my wife and I had the privilege of attending an unusually inspiring funeral of an NPUC retired pastor. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that took his life in a matter of a few months. Though we both attended the same church as children, we never really got to know one another. This was likely because we were 10 years apart, which is a big gap when one is a child and the other a young adult.
Since he retired shortly after our arrival to the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t have the privilege of getting to know him. After listening to his family, friends, and colleagues describe their personal stories, interactions and memories, I was left wishing I would have had the chance to know him.
This pastor’s only daughter shared that she considered her father her best friend. He had also been a very loving, dotting grandfather who enjoyed spending time with his beloved grandchildren. Hearing this, I knew that this wise man had choreographed his life in such a way that he had served His God with passion and faithfulness, while not neglecting his relationship with his family. An additional side note is that this precious ministry couple had provided full-time care to their only son, disabled after a tragic accident.
The climax of this moving funeral was the moment when his sweet widow stood before us with an unusual degree of serenity. She calmly shared that she was recently diagnosed with stage four liver cancer and was currently undergoing chemo. She has been given six months to live. She peacefully shared that she knew God’s love and mercy were with her and with her family. Her faith in God was sustaining her until the day she would see her Savior face to face.
While my wife was sobbing softly beside me, this hope-infused widow glowed with a heavenly aura that testified how she truly knew God and that nothing happening to her, or around her, could shake her deep conviction that God IS GOOD. Her carefully chosen words did not even hint at a desire to gain pity. Rather, she was so at peace that she seemed to desire nothing, other than to offer bursting glory and honor to the God who had sustained her and her family thus far.
What makes the difference between people who can go through such cruel circumstances and respond in such different ways?
This past year has been a particularly difficult year for us as spiritual leaders. We have either personally experienced painful losses or have offered our presence to those who have. It would seem we were wired to repel any semblance of human distress, discomfort or suffering. Yet, in his description of the coming Messiah, Isaiah wrote, “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. . .”
We want to be like Jesus, but given a choice, we’d rather bypass any life circumstances that will result in any degree of personal distress. Some Christians have even wrongly believed that love and obedience to a Good God will result in a life devoid of deep pain and losses. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Paul emphatically reminds us that our troubles are not meant to crush our faith. Rather, they are recycled into growth enhancing “fertilizers” of our faith and hope in our Good God! “…And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope…” Romans 5:5 (NKJV).
I am sobered by the words: “It is coming in contact with difficulties that will give you spiritual muscle and sinew. You will become strong in Christ if you endure the testing process, and the proving of God.” (White, RH August 6, 1889, par 8). Some of us have gym memberships to ensure that our muscles won’t atrophy. Our Good God does not want our faith and hope to atrophy. Our Good God allows the natural consequences of a sin-bent planet to touch our lives in different ways, all with the purpose of helping us grow and develop our faith and our character.
Let us keep a clear perspective during our times of distress: “In seasons of temptations we seem to lose sight of the fact that God tests us that our faith may be tried and be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus. The Lord places us in different positions to develop us. If we have defects of character of which we are not aware, he gives us discipline that will bring those defects to our knowledge, that we may overcome them. . .” (White, RH August 6, 1889, par 3).
Our Good God loves us so deeply that He will not keep from us any trying circumstance that will mature and develop our faith and hope in Him!