Today turned out to be a sad day for me! As I left home early this morning for Saskatoon, Carolyn and I were optimistic about the prospect of answered prayer, for our friend Dave. Several days ago, he had the opportunity to receive a much-needed liver donation transplant. We were elated. Though it was, understandably, a serious surgery, initially it was evident that the operation had been successful. But after two days, disturbing complications began to emerge with some of his other organs — specifically his lung, kidney, and heart. His status became critical, but we prayed earnestly — trusting, along with many others that he would come through, yet knowing God was sovereign in the outcome. This afternoon, we got the sad news, that he passed away this morning, his family by his side.
The news took awhile to sink in — partly because we had been praying for his recovery, partly because Dave was one of those guys who had become especially dear to me. One part was theological; the other more emotional.
One of the mysteries of the Christian faith has to do with unanswered prayer — or at least answered differently than we ask or expect. I know as a child, I was taught that God answers all prayers — sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. But as life has moved on, I have found myself looking for better answers. My question now has more to do with the factors that might cause God to act, in any particular instance, more in line with the request. After all, we are encouraged to come with all of our requests, and are assured that He will hear and answer (Psalm 50:15, Matthew 21:22, John 15:7, etc.).
I know there are conditions, such as abiding in Christ and His words abiding in us, and the whole matter of faith. But the promise implies that we should take God’s word on this matter at face-value. Yet, there are many instances in Scripture too, of unanswered prayer, one being Paul’s request to have his “thorn” removed (2 Corinthians 12:7, 8). God did answer, but not in the way that Paul asked. In fact, God’s answer becomes a lesson for all of us in instances of un-removed trial despite prayer. Perhaps that answer is where the bigger question must be left — sometimes God provides grace in other ways. Sometimes, God’s ways and will are different and “higher” than our understandings. In the end, it’s evident that He really does answer, but in ways somewhat different than our request imagines. And that is probably where I have to leave the matter of God’s answer in this particular instance. I have to conclude that God had better plans for Dave.
I was also encouraged, in this regard, with something I read in Hebrews 11 just yesterday. There we find a list of many who did great exploits for God through faith. But then in Vs 35 it suddenly mentions “others” who suffered much without accomplishing what they had envisioned. In fact many suffered terrible persecution and even martyrdom. But what characterized both was the quality and intensity of their faith. They all died, one way or another, without having received what was promised — something to be fully realized at the end of time.
The emotional sense of loss is the other thing that I struggle with in this instance. Dave was a most unusual guy. When I first met him, he seemed somewhat distant spiritually. But it wasn’t long before I saw a deep spiritual passion in Dave. I’m not sure if something changed in him, or in my own perspective. One of the things I began to appreciate about Dave was his candid, very honest questions and comments about life as a believer. Dave loved people dearly and deeply. Maybe one of the reasons I liked him so much was that he wasn’t trite about his faith or his questions. Another reason was that he seemed to have an eye for marginalized people and found ways to look out for them. Dave was not only a skilled craftsman in many fields, but he was also very generous in providing time and expertise to the many of us who needed it or asked for help.
One of our last visits, which I’ll always appreciate, came about quite providentially. I ran into Dave and his wife at a University graduation event. Though Dave was not well, they had driven up to Prince George from the Lower Mainland, where they now lived, to attend the graduation of a young immigrant student, whom Dave and Bethany had befriended through a car purchase. The relationship had grown because they cared deeply for this young man and his wife. Characteristically, Dave, with his hat, neat suit and tie, was looking rather dapper that day. The chance connection at the University event turned into an afternoon visit for tea at our house the following day. As usual, Dave talked candidly about life — their move and life in the Lower Mainland, their kids and grand-kids, their ocean boat, his physical condition. Dave and Bethany’s candour about life and their situation was refreshing for us. Little did we know, that would be our last visit with Dave.
We never really know when some event will happen in our lives to change their direction, but even more specifically, when or how God will call us home to be with Him. In this most unusual way, much to our surprise, this was God’s time for Dave. By God’s grace, we adjust and continue on, but hopefully with new appreciation for God’s higher plan and the opportunities He gives for us to make the most out of our lives, based in part, on the example of those who have gone on before us. I thank God for the privilege of knowing Dave, and for the difference his life and friendship have made in my life.