For life’s two greatest tragedies, we need faith ‘just enough’

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It was a story that made national news. A prominent, beloved neurosurgeon in Detroit was shot and killed in his own home. His body was found in his attic after he failed to appear for a planned visit with his terminally ill mother. Family members called the authorities who, upon checking, made the awful discovery. A few days later, his mother lost her battle with cancer, leaving the family to plan, not one, but two funerals.

What made this story different was that the family is known to us. All at once, a report on the police blotter wasn’t a crime that had happened to a vague and nebulous “someone else.” It happened to someone we knew. For days now, the tragedy has prompted some quiet reflection.

When the unexpected interrupts the flow of our ordinary lives, it reminds us that there are things that transcend politics, parties, and the lesser things to which we devote so much time and effort. Often, we hurry through our days, numb, exhausted, just trying to survive. Then tragedy strikes. Like a fresh pair of corrective lenses on blurry eyes, we suddenly see with striking clarity. Our vision, for a time, becomes clear.

“We’re all terminal.” A teacher dropped these three profound words one day during a lesson, and with them came a clearing of my vision. It was a reminder that death is one of those transcending things that come for us all. As grim as it may sound, it is the lens through which we should see our time here on earth, the years but a dash that will be carved in granite someday between two dates. So much depends on the end of the telescope through which we are looking.

Viewed one way, the certainty of death is a horror, a thought that, at worst, generates terrible fear and, at the least, a soul-draining, underlying despair. With this mindset, we will spend our lives in countless distractions, endless pleasures, ceaseless activity, or a tired resignation. We want to drown out the still, small voice of truth. “It is coming.”

When we flip the scope around, however, we live much differently. We live with intention, choosing a higher good. We live with purpose, determining to invest our time and talents in that which will outlast us. Put simply, we live in the light of eternity.

There are two great tragedies in life. The first and greatest is to die without God. No horror on earth can compare to the prospect of a godless eternity. No fame or acclaim will matter a whit on that day. As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” What, indeed.

The second tragedy is to live without God. To be alive in body, but not fully alive in heart and spirit and soul. To watch the years flowing through our fingers like sand in an hourglass, never having tasted the divine presence and friendship of the Almighty.

As I review my own life scene by scene through the years, I see the presence of God in every picture, every frame. During the fires of trial and affliction, I was never alone. I was never truly hope-less, for God was with me and I was with Him.

At a young age, I made a decision. I decided to put my faith in a God I could not see, and I found that this God could sustain me. The fact that I cannot fully understand Him comforts me. I know I could not trust a god I could fully understand or control, for it would mean that he is no bigger than I, and I need a God who’s much bigger. My God is.

He has not spared me pain and hardship. Rather, He has been with me in all of it. Through the hard things, He has proven His remarkable redemptive power, using every trial to work good in my life and in our family. What an incredible way to live.

For the one who struggles with the concept of faith, I will tell you what I told a dear friend who struggled deeply with it. “Faith,” I told him, “is the plug that fits into the outlet. Until you plug in the cord, the appliances are useless and without power. When you plug it in, though, they come to life, and you can use them.”

I shall never forget his face as we spoke that day. He was leaning forward, listening intently, eyes boring into mine. “You don’t have to see the wiring in the wall. You don’t have to understand how electricity works. You only need just enough faith to plug the cord into the wall.”

As the sun shone down on us all, he said at last, “I think I’m ready to try it.”

We did not know that windy summer day that he would receive a terminal diagnosis three months later. My eyes always leak, thinking of him, but my heart is filled with joy unspeakable when I remember some of the last words he ever said to me before he died. “I’ll be waiting for you.” Three weeks later, he went to sleep down here and woke up on golden shores where the one he had trusted was waiting.

If you, like me, like Raymond, and like countless others, choose to trust God, your life may still be hard. Unjust, unfair, and painful things will still come, but you will have all the love, hope, peace, strength, comfort, and wisdom you’ll need to get through them. And always, there is this—you will never be alone.

Not again will you be lost in the dark, for when you carry the Light of the World within, it can never be dark where you are. No longer will you need to numb and escape life’s hard truths because your life will be suffused with meaning and joy. You will know (maybe for the very first time) complete, unconditional love.

It does not require a great and mighty faith. You need just enough to “plug it in.” That’s what Raymond found, and I think he would want you to find it, too.

As always, may God bless America with mercy and love and all the humble grace we need to cast our lot with Him.

Rhonda is known as “America’s small, caffeinated mom.” Every Saturday, she joins Bo Snerdley on 77 WABC for the Saturday Morning Extravaganza. They discuss the week’s essay and a multitude of other topics.

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