A Reflection on Deaths and a Resurrection
Life is a blur right now, as it is for all of us; a morbid truth that unites our nation and our Earth. I’ve somehow managed to hold onto the days of the week somewhat (Alexa, for the assist), but the dates, and the milestones are lost on me. I barely recalled until Thursday that Easter was upon us; and that was only due to social media posts reminding me.
April is a month full of death anniversaries. I am embarrassed that in the fog, I had to google my sister’s obituary, only because sometimes I get her date of death mixed up with my dad’s. It seemed heartless to ask my mom. Who forgets the day they watch their only sister pass into eternity?! And yet, it aches that death has been so prevalent in my relatively young life, that getting dates of death rather than birthdays mixed up is even a thing for me. To be clear, Stephen Ralph Zuendel died April 15, 2003, and Laura Beth Zuendel on April 25, 2010. The words, even typed and not spoken burn my sinuses and churn my stomach as heaping tears burst from my eyes.
For this past year, through a series of awards and media appearances that my dog, Sergeant Yeager received and was invited to, we remembered the life and death of his handler, Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, KIA April 12, 2012. Tarwoe and Yeager were blown up by a device in the Helmand Provence of Afghanistan; crafted with hate and a disregard for the value of life. It has been a humbling honor to remember this man’s life, whose death coincides this year with the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Why does God allow murders, premature deaths, war, pandemics? If God is a good Father as the Bible professes, why does he allow tragedy to occur? Why does he allow good people to be stripped of everything while wicked people thrive?
These are just some of the questions I have heard over the course of my 30 plus years, in question to the existence of God, and if God is real then surely he is a god of wrath and judgment rather than of mercy and grace. How can I believe that God is not only real, but also good when I watched my baby sister bleed out in a grotesque manner, when moments before I walked into the operating room, certain that God would perform a miracle? Instead he allowed the warmth to drain from her hand while I held it and begged for that miracle.
How can we believe that God is good and just and tender and faithful, when thousands of people are dying alone in hospitals without a loved one holding their hand as they step from our world into the eternal unknown?
The answer is simple and hard. God can be full of grace and mercy, and allow these things to happen, because we each have free will and do not live in a vacuum from those who will exercise their free will in hateful and negligent ways. Even if an individual could manage to live a flawless life, which I am certain only Jesus had accomplished, they will undoubtedly be impacted by the actions of others; and it is not realistic to compel every human to live an upright life; that would remove free will. Even Jesus, whether you believe he was God or not, by all accounts lived a flawless life; and what did people with free will do to him? We could have freed him. Pontius Pilot stood on a throne of influence and gave the people a choice, free Barabbas the criminal or Jesus the saint. We chose the criminal to be freed. And this is a truth that carries on into our present day. While the followers of Jesus did not choose Barabbas to be freed, they did not live in a vacuum from the choice of the unbelievers. It wasn’t God, but mankind and their free will that nailed Jesus to the cross.
We are finite beings, capable of a fraction of understanding that it would take to understand the total complexities of our world, let alone the universe. And yet, recognizing these limitations open us up to comprehend so much more than we could otherwise. We can curse God for our lost job, our lost loved ones, our lost freedoms; but that absolves us of responsibility and the experience of mercy, and that ultimately benefits no one.
God did not take my sister from me, her reckless actions and choice to drink and drive took her from my family. God did not take my dad from me, his unwillingness to let go of his pride and seek help took him from me. God did not take Tarwoe from his family, the wickedness of man did.
What God did do, is he met me in the darkest places of my life and he grieved with me. When anger and sorrow were indistinguishable, he forgave my profanities and my heaping insults towards him and towards others who dared to shake my perceived vacuum. I was vicious, a wounded animal ready to lash out and tear to pieces any threat to what goodness remained in my life.
We can remove God from the equation of our present circumstances and we still have the same present circumstances and the same resources with which to handle them with. Or we can add God into the mix and we find a friend, a father, a comforter, a redeemer, an encourager; someone who knows what it is like to watch his most beloved suffer and die alone. He is a relatable God. He knows grief and abandonment. He knows sorrow and disappointment. He never promised a life without trial, because that would be a life without free will, but he did promise to be a faithful friend through the hills and the valleys.
I am lost in the days. I am a worrier by nature. I play out every possible scenario and how I can take care of my household, whatever the outcome might be. Will I lose my mom, a nurse in New York next? If this continues for long will the economy collapse, my job become obsolete, my emergency fund dwindle, my children go hungry? The anxiety grips my shoulders and neck.
And yet the voice of faith that I have silenced as I leaned on my own understanding, for far too long, whispers to me. It reminds me of the trials I have already walked through. The valleys that were agonizing, and yet I recall a peace that surpassed my finite understanding; a peace that while my world was shaking, I was on solid ground. The peace that I imagine Jesus Christ felt as he called out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
I need to return to that faith once again; the faith that does not demand certainty. Like a wayward child, in my arrogance I continually think that I can muscle through trials on my own. But the reality is that, at my core, I am a child, scared and seeking comfort. Perhaps I am not alone in this. Perhaps we are not alone in this, as our fears would lead us to believe.
While mortal flesh dies once, God incarnate rose again, conquered the grave, that we might be ransomed from eternal death and have life everlasting. That is the rock I will stand on in these uncertain days.