Today one of my husband’s best high school friends, a man who was a groomsman in our wedding is going to a funeral. And it’s not just any funeral, it’s a funeral for his wife. That’s right, his lovely young wife, only 30 years old, died of heart failure a couple of weeks ago. Due to complications stemming from a childhood battle with cancer she needed a heart/lung transplant but her health wasn’t deemed good enough to get her on the list. So for the last several months a husband was forced to sit by and watch his wife die. It’s just not fair.
In my email inbox this morning there was an update email about the cancer battle of a young mom in my community, someone I’ve gone to Bible studies with, someone who I see at the pool in the summer and library storytime during the school year. She has two beautiful daughters, ages 9 and 2 and her doctor just gave her 2-3 months to live and hospice has been called in. It is so unfair.
3 1/2 years ago my very own precious sister, only 32 years old, wife of a man who loved her, mother of two beautiful girls ages 8 and 10, died in a car accident on a snowy December night. She had so much left to do. It was very, very unfair.
There is nothing to say in response to things like these. There is nothing that can take away the pain, nothing that will make the left behind husbands and children, friends and family feel better. There are no words and sometimes, believe me, silence is better than anything you could possibly say in a time like this.
But I also like to remember that Jesus knows about things like this. And not just in that “Oh, God knows everything you think” kind of airy way that we sometimes respond to people. No, Hebrews 4:15 assures us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.” The high priest that the author of Hebrews is talking about is Jesus. Jesus knows about things like this because he experienced things like this.
When I was thinking about Jesus’ experience of unfair things I thought about John the Baptist. Here was a man completely dedicated to following God’s will for his life. The Bible said that he lived in the wilderness and ate locusts and wild honey but we also know that his father was a priest and his mother was a descendant of the line of Aaron. So we can assume that John’s family had some status and probably some wealth. But John chose to leave all of that, even to leave the high expectations of the circumstances of his birth to live in the wilderness and eat bugs. This was following God all-out. Then he preaches to crowds and he preaches hard things, not just “God’s gonna bless you” sermons but “You brood of vipers” type sermons. But for all of this faithfulness and following God, what does John get? Beheaded. That’s right, a pretty girl asked for his head, literally. It was just not fair.
The Bible says that Jesus, when hearing about John’s death, retreated to a solitary place. Or, at least, he tried to. But the crowds followed him and the disciples needed him and the Pharisees challenged him. Jesus knew about the unfairness of life. And he knew, I’m sure, about the insensitive things people say in the face of a tragedy like that (because, surely, with all the people around Him after John’s death, someone said something stupid.)
I guess what matters to me about all of this is that life just isn’t fair. But Jesus knows all about that, He has experienced it and He is there to hold on to through all the unfairness.