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Why was the one next to you torn apart and you not? Were you so much better than he that you deserved to live? Humanity all by itself thinks up such mindless things as war, acting as if we are mere ants in anthills. This Lent I have grown certain that God is not involved in creating such miseries. My loving Father weeps over the mess we people of free will have made of his good creation. Even his own son could cry, “Why have you forsaken me?” The spiritual wonder is that human beings never give up trying.

If I manage to get to what our modern culture defines as success, existence may become a self-made hell. “Noth- ing gold can stay,” said the poet Robert Frost. Life teaches constantly the Lenten lesson that what we thought was success doesn’t help at all. Jesus defined our task as sons and daughters of God to be a life of constant sacrificial love for God and for neighbors—including our deadliest enemy. Our faith symbol is a hideous crucifixion, the ulti- mate example of giving one’s life for others. We need to discover that the human goals of safety, satis- faction, things and physical fulfillment aren’t necessarily God’s goals for us. Aside from a few saints, what man or woman can live a life of total giving? Human satisfaction comes from at least trying. Obvi- ously the disparity between what we want to do in loving and what we actually get around to doing must not be an excuse for doing less. Fortunate the elderly person who can look back without regret. Happy the one who can say, “I have not done it all, but I have done much. I have never and will never stop trying to love.”

In the face of death, all those physical possessions I thought would be heavenly to possess fall like a house of cards in a brisk wind. Appar- ently we must endure our self-constructed material hells of never-enough to learn this. Bible account after Bible account warns us that this is how things are: the prodigal son had to eat husks with the pigs, David had to suffer the loss of his son, the rich young man had to sell all that he possessed.

In our retirement center the highest tragedies are the loss of a spouse or a grown child. Irene, who is now gone herself, had a habit of embracing in silence those who were mourning. I now accept similar embraces from oth- ers. In this final stage of life the familiar struggle of bal- ancing the certainty of death with the faith that God loves us sharpens. We can choose to hope or to despair. I am amazed at the depth of hope around here. Trying to teach me to swim, my father once threw me

off the dock into the waters of Lake Michigan. I sank. Life is partially like that to a Christian. Too many people in our era have thought themselves drowning, forsaken by God. They feel they are in this world helter-skelter to do what they can alone—like poet Alfred Tennyson’s “infant cry- ing in the night.”

But my father jumped in after me. And so does God. I

haven’t been left alone despite the preponderance of evi- dence that seems to say otherwise. Something has always kept my head above water. With Jesus there is a loving God in spite of the cross.

In the face of death, all those physical possessions I thought would be heavenly

to possess fall like a house of cards in a brisk wind.

Why did I choose the paths I took? Some trailheads opened unexpectedly, such as meeting Irene. Some I deliberately entered like going to college at 25 after World War II. Life’s questions never stop coming. Whom should I marry? How should I help raise our sons? What should my vocation be? How should I seek for God? At this moment, the challenge is: how to face death? For the most part I have stayed on the right pathway of giving to others as much as I could: husband, father, teacher, writer. Perhaps that sentence is too prideful. I didn’t ask God to create me. But he did. It is at the root of my mature faith that he made me out of love so I could return that love to him by loving others. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son ...” (John 3:16). Stanley Hauerwas in his lovely little book

Cross-Shattered Christ (Brazos, 2005) said: “Without Christ there could be no hell—no abandonment by God—but the very hell cre- ated by Christ cannot overwhelm the love he has for us.”

If anything, life’s hells deepen our love. It is fascinating to be blessed with a long life, espe-

cially if it has turned out like Irene’s and mine together: a love that deepened daily, bringing the most profound of joys—even amid failing physical powers. Out of pain comes the blessing. Fifteen years of care- giving have taught me that. What else could the cross mean? Perhaps this isn’t the way we would have con- structed a universe, but then (although we often like to think so) we are not gods.

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain,” wrote the poet Emily Dickinson. As my days pass, now alone, I understand more and more that my whole- ness as the man God created me to become is something profoundly deeper and more joyful than I anticipated—a servant to others. For in the end, God loves us above all else and we were created to return that love. A hard Lenten lesson to learn. When one does, thanks be to God! 

March 2011 15

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