A Miraculous Story
Days after my birth, I lay in the hospital dying. After countless tests it was determined that my blood vessels had begun to turn on me and were wrecking my body. Doctors prepared my parents for the news that the only thing they could try was a complete blood transfusion in a last-ditch effort to save my life. The night before the procedure, my parents and their pastor gathered to pray over my little body and committed my life to God. The situation was dire. I was short on time. I needed a miracle.
The following morning, the medical team ran some final tests on me before the procedure and were stunned by what they saw. Not only were my readings 100% normal, test results showed that I completely different blood type than I had just one day before. You read that correctly. I went to bed with one type of blood and I woke up with another blood type. My blood is now my motto: B+.
Was there some plausible explanation? Doctors and nurses were mystified. I was completely cured and my blood was completely changed! By the grace of God, the issue has never returned.
This is only the first of several miraculous stories I could tell where I should not be here right now. You may have a few stories of your own to share as well. Frankly, every day that we are alive we are here only by God’s miraculous care.
A Time for Mourning
Five years ago, this week, my family gathered around my brother Chris and his family to spend some time with him. That summer, a growing tumor under his arm had been determined to be terminal melanoma cancer. We knew that we wanted to spend as much time with him, supporting him as he fought for life. While we spent those days together talking, laughing, taking pictures, etc. we had no idea that only a few short days later, on October 15th of 2015, we would entrust my brother’s soul to the arms of Jesus His Savior. Our lives and our hearts were utterly crushed.
Before cancer, Chris had been eagerly anticipating the official offer of a lead pastoral position in his dream location near the mountains of eastern Idaho. As with all people, my brother was not perfect. Yet, he dearly loved his wife and their three children. He truly was an unsung hero of the faith who had no desire for prominence or fame but to merely preach and live out God’s Word. He was one of whom the world was not worthy.
So Many Questions
Why did it have to be him? Why not strike down the person who is thumbing their nose at God rather than a faithful servant? Why didn’t they find the cancer earlier? Why did it take so long to get it staged and get him into treatment? Why did the drugs not work? Why did everything have to work out providentially, not for his healing, but rather a near miraculously strong tailwind at his back all the way to the grave?
Why didn’t God take me and spare my brother? Between the two of us, I would certainly prefer it be me in the grave over my brother.
Am I the Only One Asking?
I don’t think I’m the only one who faces these feelings or thoughts. I’ve read miraculous stories of survival during 9/11 from people who wonder why they made it and why their friends and co-workers did not? I’ve also met many veterans who tell harrowing tales of survival who suffer from PTSD over their friends who were not so fortunate. More recently, how many have died from COVID who appeared healthy while others who are more seemingly susceptible recover?
Why one and not the other?
People mean well, but words like, “God just needed another angel with him in heaven” aren’t helpful to someone who is struggling with the loss of a loved one. Please, for all our sakes, stop trying to put Band-Aids on open wounds. It’s bad theology and only makes things worse. Easy answers to hard questions just make people cynical. So where do we turn for help?
The Death of James and the Rescue of Peter
In Acts 12, we are faced with this same issue when King Herod begins to persecute Christians to the point of death. The chapter briefly records that Herod, “killed James the brother of John with the sword.” That’s it. That’s all we hear of the devastating news of the murder of this faithful disciple of Jesus.
Herod wasn’t finished and arrested Peter. Awaiting execution, while he was sleeping between two armed guards, an angel woke Peter up from sleep. Without explanation, his chains dropped off his arms, the door swung open, and the angel miraculously led Peter from jail. So stunned were the Christians upon his return that when a young lady in the household answered the door and told the other disciples that it was Peter, they said that she was out of her mind!
Why Peter and not James? Did James do something wrong? God certainly could have mustered up two miraculous rescues, could He not? Why did Peter get this awesome story of liberation, but then James’ story comes to an abrupt and unceremonious end? You have to remember, this is James, one of three that included Peter, in the inner circle of Jesus! He and Peter had been present at the Mt. of Transfiguration and had been near Jesus when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane! So why did God not rescue James?
Did Peter ever ask that question? Did he ever feel guilty that he got to live because of God’s rescue while James was killed? I wonder if he thought back to his conversation with Christ when talking with James’ brother John and Peter asked about John’s fate. Jesus answered him in John 21,
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
Even more than Peter, James’ brother John was the only one of Jesus’ disciples not to be martyred and live to an old age. I wonder how often he thought back on his brothers’ death so early in the history of the church. I wonder if he also recounted Jesus’ words “what is that to you” that he wrote and wonder why Peter had been crucified upside down while he got to be the one to grow old. What must have it been like for John and for so many of us who continue to grow old while the young pass away before our eyes?
Scripture doesn’t fill in these gaps for us. Yet, as I read these accounts in the Bible, I can’t help but wonder, “Why does God save some and allow others to die?” Why am I miraculously alive and why is my brother dead?
Changing the Question
Many of you reading this have lost a loved one far too soon. It may have been a car accident, or maybe they died in infancy. Maybe your loved one was your spouse who you had lived happily with for decades, but you were far from ready to say goodbye. Perhaps you have lost someone to suicide, or you watched a friend die in war. Whatever the case, whether seemingly miraculous or not, you are alive. They are gone. Why you? Why me?
The reality is that Scripture never fully gives an answer to the question with a “Because ______” but rather God seeks to address our grief with a person. His name is Jesus. You see, as Job powerfully learned during his time of grief and struggle, until we have a complete understanding of both sides of heaven and earth, we will never be fully able to grasp God’s eternal plans and purposes. In this way, God assures me that the full scope of why my brother died are really none of my finite brain’s business until I meet Him face to face. This future meeting will only be made possible because of Jesus’ work on the cross.
In this way, if we are going to ask the question “why” we might more appropriately ask the question, “Why Jesus?” Regardless of why God would choose my life to endure long after my brother’s life was ended, I know that neither of us deserved God’s grace. Why would Christ trade His life for mine? Jesus truly is the only one who we can fully look upon and say, “There was nothing in Him that was deserving of death.” Yet He willingly gave up His life on the cross, suffered, died, and rose again so that even in the horror of the death of my brother, the miraculous could occur.
A Better Miracle
More magnificent than in my own story when my blood type changed in infancy, more awe inspiring than Peter being rescued from certain death in prison by an angel, and even more miraculous than if my brother had been supernaturally healed from melanoma cancer, is the wondrous Gospel of Jesus Christ. He not only rescued my undeserving brother’s soul from eternal death, He comforts me that I will spend eternity side by side with my brother, praising the name of Jesus forevermore. In the person and work of Christ, I can find rest for my struggles and my wondering.
How does that help me today? Jesus’ answer for Peter truly is my answer as well:
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
Those words are so hard for inquisitive and confused minds like mine that want immediate answers to the deepest and hardest of questions. But Jesus took ever “why” we have ever asked and answered them all with the cross. So it is not a “You can never know.” The answer is that, in love, Christ paid the eternal penalty of your sin so that we one day not only will we know the mind of God, we know God Himself, which is better. “You follow me.”
Grief is a long road to walk down and survival’s guilt is real. But you are not alone. These are questions that even the Apostle Peter asked of Jesus. Survivor’s guilt is something to process through and we are always here to walk alongside you. As surely as you miss your loved one, I miss my brother every single day. Yet I know that you and I will only truly find comfort if we start not by asking “why” but looking at the “Who” in the person of Jesus. While no answers can be found with stale and corny platitudes that grasp at straws to see God’s eternal perspective and design, the cross alone suffices to answer my grief, struggles, and guilt.
Why am I alive? Jesus paid it all. Why is my brother in the grave? Jesus still paid it all. How do I get through each day? Jesus paid it all. How can I have hope for tomorrow?
Jesus paid it all!
For Further Reading:
A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
When God Weeps – by Joni Eareckson Tada
Be Nice to Me, My Friend Just Died – by Kathi Bishop
When Jesus Wept – by Joe Leavell
Lessons from Loss – Sermon by Joe Leavell
Planting Seeds: Our Hope in the Resurrection – by Joe Leavell