Blind and frail, her wiry, white hair stirred ever so slightly by a faint, hot breeze, the old German missionary came slowly toward me. She could not possibly have known I was there with two Africans, watching her tap her way slowly across the baked, grassless "lawn" of the guesthouse.
"Who is she?" I asked.
"Bible translator. Now she has river blindness."
"She will die?"
"Yes. She will die. She is going back to Germany. She will die there."
"What did she do here?" I asked.
"She put the Bible into two languages."
"All by herself?"
"All by herself."
"Now she goes home to die in Germany."
"All by herself."
The unfairness—the lonely, blind, painful unfairness of it—swamped me. I stood there, slowly sinking into a bottomless marsh of injustice.
She should have been on a dais at a head table, receiving honors and applause and the undying gratitude of thousands. A sightless Lufthansa flight and a few months unvisited in a ward where impoverished old ladies die seemed the wrong ending for a holy life full of great kingdom accomplishments.
Then, as though I could hear her thoughts—or were they God's?—I seemed to find relief, even joy, in Paul's words, "For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12, KJV).
God's Ways Are Not Our Ways
The Bible nowhere promises Christ's ambassadors some rose-petaled aisleway of safety through suffering. Indeed, Scriptures such as Psalm 34:19 say the exact opposite: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous."
Even the most righteous among us will "suffer these things," as Paul says. However we try to impose upon God our limited human fairness doctrines, He will not submit.
In our reasoning, the mother of three must have three identical candy bars or none at all. If she has only one, it must be divided equally, with a ruler, while all three kibitz. We cannot imagine that mother standing her youngest before the other two and, without apparent merit, awarding him alone candy.
"Watch," she admonishes the two candy-bar-less siblings. "Look how your brother relishes that gooey chocolate. See the obvious delight in his eyes, the salacious way he licks his lips. Rejoice with him and be glad."
Yet that is precisely what God does. He lifts one to prominence and public blessing, plants his feet in a broad place and anoints his ministry before the eyes of the world.
Another pours out his life in the jungle, and the Peruvian Air Force shoots down his plane, killing his wife and child. Ministry, hardship, suffering, blessing, miracles, signs, wonders and unspeakable agony seem all jumbled in the fruit basket of life, which defies our cozy explanations and tidy little formulas of faith.
Only one word—nevertheless—will make sense of it all and bring a victorious joyful meaning to it, for that word scatters the midnight of temporal confusion with the dawn of eternal significance. Satan has practiced his arguments, learned his lines well and never misses an opportunity to plunge the dagger deep into the soft, defenseless tissue of our pain.
"You see," he says, "there is your God for you. You see how He is. He lets you work like a slave, pour out your heart, preach till you drop, pray without ceasing, and He rewards you with a church split, angry elders and rabid sheep tearing your flesh to shreds. Do you deny these facts?"
"Are you or are you not suffering?" Satan asks.
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