There is a graphic example of this at the beginning of the book of Job. In a series of blows, Job loses everything: his flocks, his herds, his children. Yet his faith remains intact. Satan then proposes subjecting Job to an even greater trial, covering his body with sores (Job 1-2). The logic of this seems absurd. How can a skin disease be a greater trial of faith than losing your children? It isn’t. But what the book is saying is that when your body is afflicted, it can be hard, even impossible, to focus on spirituality. This has nothing to do with ultimate truth and everything to do with the human mind. As Maimonides said, you cannot give your mind to meditating on truth when you are hungry or thirsty, homeless or sick (Guide for the Perplexed 3:27).
-Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
“Eternity and Mortality”
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor (Leviticus 21-24)
Once I would have believed that but now I’m not so sure. I think that when you are sick, you can and in fact, you must consider, ponder, and meditate upon the Spirit and the ultimate truth, because in the process of dying, you are preparing to meet that truth.
Let me explain.
Last night, as you read this, I renewed my relationship with an old friend. I don’t have his permission to discuss the details here, so I must be deliberately vague. But he’s sick. He’s quite ill. We haven’t spoken in several years, even though he lives very close to me. When I heard that he was ill, I asked a mutual friend if he would like to visit this person with me. Our mutual friend lives in another state but was in town visiting relatives.
So for several hours on Sunday afternoon and going into Sunday night, our mutual friend, me, my friend who is ill and his wife sat in their living room and visited. We talked about many things including what we have been doing with our lives, where we’re living and working, and what else we’ve been doing, and movies we’ve seen, and trivia and science and families.
And we talked about doctors and illness and exams and families and trying to make plans when you know the future won’t be traveling as far ahead of you as you once thought it might.
Have you ever wondered about how God works? I don’t know either, but occasionally, God lets you see how He plays “connect the dots.”
My daughter “coincidentally” ran into the ill gentleman’s wife and one of his daughters in the same store in two separate events on the same day. That’s when my daughter found out that my friend was ill. Then my daughter told my wife. Then my wife and daughter told me. Then my wife said that maybe some other old friends and I should visit this friend. So I contacted a couple of old friends. Only one replied and he lives in another state. But the other state friend was coming into town to spend Thanksgiving with is family who lives locally, so I asked him to let me know when we could get together.
And so he called me on Sunday in the early afternoon and we made plans.
And we got together and drove over to our friend’s place.
And that’s when we got to talking about all kinds of things, especially the stuff no one likes to talk about but that will happen to each and every one of us.
I wonder if that’s why we don’t talk about getting sick and about dying?
Because it will happen to every one of us.
Whether we want it to or not.
Whether we’re rich or poor or black or white or any other color or where we live or anything else about us.
And whether or not we believe in God, we’re all still going to die.
And then we’ll know.
I can’t say this from personal experience (yet), but when you know you’re going to die, not in some distant, hypothetical future, but in a more or less predictable time frame, and you have a relationship with God, assuming the relationship with God survives the terminal news, you start thinking about Him a lot.
I wonder if He starts thinking about you more, too?
That’s probably a stupid question since God is infinite and so are His thoughts, but as I was sitting there talking and listening, I was thinking about God and I was wondering if He was thinking a lot more about my friend, too.
I hope so.
I know that I want and probably need a lot of attention from God. Just read my blog for a few days and you’ll figure out why. But I’m not so self-absorbed that I don’t realize there are a lot of other people who need God’s attention much more than I do. I know God’s resources are limitless, but if they weren’t and if each of us only got so much from God, then I’d ask God to take some of mine and give it to my friend. He needs more attention right now. So does his wife. So does the rest of his family.
I don’t have a lot to give that’s really valuable in a practical sense. I’m not a good handyman. I’m a lousy plumber and a worse carpenter. I barely know a car’s battery from its distributor cap, and electrical wiring is a complete mystery.
But I do have time. And I do have attention. And I can listen. I can talk, too. I can even read out loud.
And I can pray. I can visit. I can have a discussion with another person. So I have a few things to give.
I’ve been pondering about church and church attendance and community and having conversations with like-minded Christians.
Have you ever wondered about how God works? I don’t know either, but maybe He works just like He worked on Sunday afternoon, re-creating an old friendship and building a new one.
Good morning God. I gratefully thank you, living and existing King, for returning my soul to me with compassion. Abundant is your faithfulness. Thank you for making all things holy, including this past Sunday afternoon and past and future friendships.
The holy is the point at which heaven and earth meet, where, by intense focus and a complete absence of earthly concerns, we open up space and time to the sensed presence of God who is beyond space and time. It is an intimation of eternity in the midst of life, allowing us at our holiest moments to feel part of something that does not die. The holy is the space within which we redeem our existence from mere contingency and know that we are held within the “everlasting arms” (Deut. 33: 27) of God.