Jay Pound of First Free Minneapolis wrote a blog post last year reflecting on his brother’s death to cancer at the age of 22. Its a hard topic but this blog respects Jay Pound for writing about it. This post looks at the question of why and while I don’t go the path Jay Pound does its good that this difficult topic is being considered.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
Psalm 19:1-2 NIV
One of the hardest things that keep popping up in my life is the constant reminders that life did not go the way it was supposed to have gone. Mom died on April 1, 2017 unexpectedly in an illness. It happened before me, and then after that my Dad died on November 21, 2018. Shortly after my Mom’s death his brain tumor returned. In my case I have pushed back from evangelicalism and figuring out things still. One of the many things that was hard that leaves me with the question why comes about due to attempts at prayer. When my Mom was ill I dropped everything and flew back from Washington, D.C. to California to assist her in the hospital. I helped Mom sometimes around the clock. I am not going to link to it but you can see all the posts I did reflecting on my parent’s death in the archives. I never prayed for myself when I actually prayed in life. And when I did pray it was for other people. But when my Mom was dealing with her illness I spent time in the hospital chapel sometimes asking God for five more years. My Mom is too young to go, please can I have more time so we can have more holidays, a couple of more vacations, more phone conversations, and more hugs? That was my plea at times sometimes in a hospital chapel during an illness. That was probably the only time in years where I personally asked God for something. When my Mom died in front of me you can imagine my state of disbelief and shock. And amidst the grief I had to comprehend the news that my Dad’s brain tumor was back. Even today two years after my Dad’s burial I still want to ask the question why?
Evangelicals and Death
In my view what makes evangelicalism as a faith system cruel is how it can be during death. Evangelical culture all too often has this rah rah approach to faith. Suffering is not allowed and many evangelicals are uncomfortable about it. In contrast the Neo-Calvinist movement can glorify suffering and thus make the problem of evil worse. Unlike Roman Catholicism evangelical culture does not allow for lament. Its one of the reasons why it is so toxic. Then you consider the instability of evangelical churches and ask the question where will my funeral be one day? I wrote about this in, “In Dealing with My Mom’s Death, Amidst the Chaos of Modern Evangelicalism A Question: Where Will My Funeral Be One Day?” Can you expect a pastor in denial about his age and still acting like he is 20 and wearing tight leather clothing amidst light shows and fog shows to actually be serious about death and help you heal? Who are you kidding? The grieving process lasts for a long time and I have come to wonder if it will ever end. At this point I don’t know, and that is an honest answer. Against all this when a person in suffering asks the question why due to how many evangelicals are insecure that question makes it hard to answer; if there is such an answer for a complicated problem or painful question.
What I Respect About Jay Pound’s Blog Post at First Free Minneapolis About His Brother’s Death
This blog has written about Jay Pound before and I have done his biography already. You can read what I wrote about Jay in, “Jay Pound of First Free Church in Minneapolis on Faith Being Rooted in Fact.” At the First Free Blog a couple of years ago Jay did a post that this blog respects. Jay wrote about losing his 22 year old brother Jonathan Pound to stage 4 cancer. In the post what is to be respected is how Jay asked the question why and reveals doubts about God in the context of the loss of someone so young to cancer. From my experience in evangelicalism that in itself is quite rare. When something happens that is not right you just know that this can’t be right. For Jay it was his brother being diagnosed with cancer. In my case that thought crept into my mind when my Dad’s brain tumor returned so soon after Mom’s death.
In my experience the way evangelicals use the Bible also has limitations. The Bible is not the end all, all answers provided book. Many evangelicals I would suggest turn the Bible into an idol and worship that instead of God. And that is because the Bible is being used in a way that it was not intended. While it appears as if Jay acknowledges this it also appears he claims that scripture points to a God who knows the answers and who will rectify the pain. From my point of view that has issues. Honestly if you are a parent ask yourself the following question. If you knew your son or daughter was suffering would you be content to sit back and allow that to occur under the guise that one day it will be made right? If you would tell me that I would state in return that you don’t love or care for your child. Why do evangelicals let God off the hook in painful and difficult situations? That is something that I can’t comprehend. And while Jay points out that God identifies with us because he knows the cost of sin and evil, especially with his son being crucified and killed at Calvary I would also raise another question. If God has the power to wipe away pain and to right a wrong in the end how strong is God when he responds with silence? Or if God is as all sovereign as is taught why can’t he respond with crushing sin and evil for good? Is God a sadist if he could wipe away sin but chooses to have his son killed? What type of loving God acts that way?
While I don’t agree with what Jay says in toward the end I do respect that he has the courage to ask the question why? I wish more evangelicals can ask the question why? Not only would it show them to be human beings (which is rare in evangelicalism) it would also show that they have empathy and compassion. Now here is the other aspect that I respect from Jay Pound. It takes courage to write about a sensitive subject and talk about it openly. I get that because I write about my parents loss quote a bit at this blog. As of June of 2020 I have done 119 posts about that very issue. Its a double edge sword and very complicated. You can see Jay’s post at, “Something’s Not Right” but I also have it below.
In December of 2009, my youngest brother was diagnosed with cancer. Among the many thoughts careening through my mind, one that often floated to the surface was simply, “this isn’t right.” He was young, only 22. He was vibrant, active and good. He loved nature, and would frequently take inner city kids on camping trips out into the Georgia wilderness. He loved people, loved his family and loved God. And a little over a year later, after excruciating treatment, he died. I knew something was not right, knew something was in fact desperately wrong.
In the months and years as I have confronted this deep sense of wrongness, I found that scripture too rings with these same observations and questions. Prophets and psalmists alike decry the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering and oppression of the righteous. God’s own people cry out in anguish, wondering how it can be that the pagans rise in wealth and power while they – the faithful few – are trampled under foot. They are hard questions, and they always have been. They resisted neat and simple answers every bit as much then as my own do now.
It is therefore not surprising that scripture does not offer us simple answers either, and those who have come in search of them have often left disappointed. Perhaps that is in part because we cannot understand. What words could wash away the pain of a broken marriage or the loss of a loved one? What explanation was going to make me OK with my brother’s death? What scripture offers is not an answer or an explanation, but a person, an invitation to know and trust in God, who does understand and who will one day put all things right.
And this too might seem trite, like “mere words,” were it not for the fact that God has already acted decisively in Christ. At the center to every Christian response to the problem of evil is not a doctrine, but the cross. Here, now and always, is the proof that God sees and understands, far better than we ever could, the damage caused by sin and evil. Here was God, in the flesh, so grieved by that damage that he was willing to lay down his own life to put an end to it.
In Jesus, I found a grief over my brother’s tragic death that matched my own, and then surpassed it. A grief over all suffering and sin that drove him to drastic and decisive action. I still do not understand why my brother developed cancer, why he had to suffer through chemotherapy, why his life had to be cut so short. What I have found is trust in the wisdom of God. I don’t have answers, but because of the cross I have confidence that God will one day put all things, including this, right.