Hell Happens, Part II: No Right to Life
I met Katie one summer while I was home from college. She was witty and ironic, yet hard to understand at first because, you see, she did not have a tongue. She had lost it, several years earlier, after being hit by a car while riding her bike. She suffered brain trauma, massive injuries to her face, and never fully regained her physical ability.
But she had faith – an enormous, extraordinary, inexplicable faith. She believed with all her heart that one day God would restore her body in full. That one day she would be “normal” again. Walk normal. Talk normal. BE normal.
Every time Katie spoke of her dauntless beliefs, I would smile and nod, and internally shake my head with pity. Not possible. Just not possible.
Katie’s life wasn’t easy. Her parents weren’t Christians, but allowed her to participate in our college group because, I think, it kept her busy and happy at least. She dealt with painful physical therapy, struggled with speech therapy. She couldn’t drive a car, relying on friends to take her places, or she walked. She longed for relationships. For romance. For love.
My sophomore year was spent overseas and I still remember arriving home for Christmas. My parents picked me up at the airport. I sat in the front seat between them, just for the sake of being near. Starved, I was shoveling something my mom had made into my mouth as we drove home and it was then that they told me.
Katie is dead.
Katie is dead.
In a weird, catastrophic, ironic twist – Katie died from yet another car accident. This time, fatally struck as she was making her way, slowly, across a major intersection in a crosswalk.
Katie is dead.
I also remember my very first thought upon hearing the news. It was something like this:
Holy cow. Katie was right.
She was healed.
She was perfect, beautiful and loved. Fully restored. Fully rewarded.
Holy cow. Katie was right.
Despite what so many believe, death is no punishment – not for the dying at least. Death hurts only the living – cruelty brought by the destroyer, not by our loving God. If heaven is for real, and I believe that it is, then death is redemption, freedom and restoration. Death saved my mother from, potentially, another decade of suffering. Death saved Katie from a lifetime of disability and loneliness.
Ben Witherington, renowned Biblical scholar and father, lost his daughter Christy to a pulmonay embolism when she was just 32 years old. Her death was sudden, unexpected, and devastating. He writes extensively about his grieving process in a series of essays called Good Grief: Soundings. Here he speaks on the issue our culture has with entitlement…namely, our entitlement to life.
On the whole, I think part of the problem for 21st-century Christians is we have caught the disease of our culture — the disease of a strong, even overwhelming sense of entitlement, not to be confused with great expectations. The entitlement mentality says “I have a right to life…”
Here, I must focus on a simple Biblical fact: Life is a gift from God. It’s not a right. It never was a right, and never will be a right. It is a gift.
Once you let that really sink in and saturate your theo—logic, then what follows is that we are not OWED more of it. We are not OWED a certain quantity of time or of life in this world. It simply isn’t true. And that leads to a further truth: it is not an injustice when someone dies young. It’s not a justice issue at all, since life is a gift, not some sort of ironclad right. God does not owe us a certain quotient of life. Indeed, He does not owe us life or birth at all. It’s a gift!
So, when I think about my sweet-pea Christy dying way before me, I must resist the temptation to think somehow THIS IS UNFAIR. No. It’s tragic, to be sure. It’s sad, shocking and horrible in many ways. But it’s not an injustice. If all of life is grace, then we have to think differently about this issue.
A wise person once said that justice is when you get what you deserve, mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve (in a negative sense), and grace is when you get undeserved blessing. Life falls into that third category, not the first or second ones. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly, but it’s not because we DESERVE TO LIVE OR GO ON LIVING, it’s not because it’s owed to us. It’s a gracious blessing.
Hell happens, and it happens every day. Hell happened to my mother. But God has brought about that which is good, and she was healed and she’s waiting for me. And I will be with her again.
Hell happened when that sweet toddler was struck by a car in front of his own house…but God is bringing about that which is good through the thousands of whispered and tearful prayers of his parents, friends, and even strangers.
Hell happened when a car struck a bicycle and robbed a teenage girl of her physical beauty, her speech and her independence. But God brought about that which is good and restored that beautiful soul to perfect health, providing her with full and complete healing, just as she knew He would.
My time on this earth is a gift. So is that of my husband, my children, my family and my friends. All I can do with that gift is to live it – thrive in it – gratefully consuming it with all that I have. “May my steps be worship, may my thoughts be praise”…until such a time as my work and life here is done. And when hell makes one more feeble effort to destroy me, to take my life… hell will lose, and God will win, as I triumphantly join my mom, Katie and the many others hell tried, but failed, to destroy.
Free from pain. Free from fear. Free from sorrow. Free from loss. Free from suffering. Free from death.
Hell happens. But our God always wins.
Come back tomorrow for one last thought….