My mind skipped back to that summer afternoon Stateside just a few weeks ago. Great Aunt Beth’s funeral had taken place in the Chapel of the Roses. I remembered her casket, ablaze with bunches of peach roses, beneath a round, stained glass window of a ship setting sail. Lining the sides of the chapel, running parallel to the wooden pews, were carefully tended rose plants. Their flamboyant fuscia, violet and vermilion blooms contrasted starkly with the ashen color of Aunt Beth’s face. After the service, the plush casket was escorted a short distance away to a gentle green slope and left to rest at its final destination.
A sick, hollow noise jarred my thoughts back to the present and Indonesia. It was the sound that made Julia’s death so final—her family throwing dirt down onto the coffin. It was a sound that echoed inside of me like a ricocheting bullet. My beautiful friend Julia had died from an undiagnosed illness while I was on the plane travelling back to Indonesia. She’d missed seeing her 17th birthday by a week. All her family thought the recurring headaches and weakness were treatable, but I had left for America with the sick feeling that I might never see her alive again.
Why is it that death seems so raw here? It’s not glossed over by peach roses and stained glass windows. It is the sound of shrieking family members wailing over Julia’s body, and a stench that taints the stifling air. It is the sight of a white, powdered face, lifeless, inside a homemade coffin, and the long, stumbling trek over trash and toppled headstones to the gravesite.
But worst of all, it’s the nagging, frustrating doubts that needle my mind. Would Julia still be alive if she had access to proper medical care? What else could we have done as Westerners? Why didn’t God heal her? Could He really heal her or the three other wonderful Christian servants that I knew who had also died recently? Each doubt clunked onto my spirit like a clod of dirt onto Julia’s casket.
In our global work team’s weekly Bible study, they’d begun a video series by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson entitled “The Testing of Your Faith.” In his first message, Dr. Wilkinson outlines seven things that we must believe about God if we as Christians are going to successfully pass the tests of our faith. Beliefs number four and five struck at my core: “We must believe that God has ultimate control over our trial” and “we must believe that God has unlimited power.”
Deep down, when I asked myself if I believed those two things, I squirmed. Sure, it’s easy to know that God has ultimate control and unlimited power over our lives as believers, but to really believe it in the depths of my being? After I cast into my soul, the hook and line came up empty.
So I focused on the Scriptures that Dr. Wilkinson quoted—first from chapter one of Job. Satan had to get God’s permission to afflict Job. And afflict Job, He did—all the way from killing his children, to causing the loss of his flocks and herds, and finally the destruction of Job’s health.
Yet, God was still in control. God had allowed that to happen, even though He didn’t directly cause it. Why? To test Job’s faith and belief in God. Even in tragic circumstances like Julia’s death, I began to feel a small warmth kindling in my soul with the realization that God is still in control.
Do you know that even Moses doubted God’s power? In Numbers 11, the children of Israel are in the wilderness whining for meat. They had already whined for water and bread, but now they were crying for meat, too. So God told them that He would give them meat, all right, even until it came spilling out of their nostrils.
Yet even Moses questioned God’s ability to provide: “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and You say, ‘I will give them meat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” Now, pay attention to God’s answer: “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” And we read in verses 31 and 32 that God was able to do what He had promised.
We as global workers oftentimes come face to face with the grimmer realities of life. Our experiences with trials such as death are not always masked by beauty like in the Chapel of the Roses. But we can still learn, as I am doing, to rest in the fact that God is in ultimate control, and we can be encouraged by the knowledge that He has unlimited power.
Together let’s examine ourselves to see if we truly believe Paul’s words in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Then we can begin to seek out vibrant roses among the thorns.