I have mentioned before that I pass St. Paul’s Catholic Church on my ride in every morning. I have also mentioned they have a sign out front that often has meaningful quotes, sayings from Scripture, or a quote from the liturgy on it. The past two weeks the sign has read, “Both in life and in death, we are the Lord’s.”
At first I thought about how much the statement reminded me of the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, a 16th century document that is one of the statements of faith of the denomination to which I belong. Then I thought about how it briefly reflects the sentiment of the last verses of Romans 8. And then I thought about my Dad.
You see, last week my Dad fell while he was on a walk and broke several bones and was pretty beat up. He was in the hospital for the better part of a week and then discharged to a rehab unit. The complicating factor in all of this is that my Dad also has dementia. The result of his dementia is that he does not remember falling, does not know why he must wear a collar on his neck and a cast on his hand, and does not know why we leave him behind every night. On more than one night, he has felt abandoned. It has broken my heart.
But that sign reminded me, in life and in death, Dad is the Lord’s. Or, to be more specific, when Dad was lying on the sidewalk, he was the Lord’s. At the hospital, he was the Lord’s. At the rehab facility, he is the Lord’s.
I can’t be with my Dad all the time. In fact, I can’t be with him most of the time. But God is with him all the time, even when he feels abandoned.
I was talking to my Dad the other night about ministry (he is a retired pastor). We were talking about telling people hard truths, truths like they are dying of cancer, a loved one has passed away, a child has a debilitating disorder. But most of all we were talking about the theological truth that in all of those events – disease, death, natural disasters – God is in control. God’s permission is an active permission, not a passive allowing.
That can be a hard pill to swallow. We like to think of God giving us good things. But we aren’t real keen on thinking about God giving us the bad stuff of life.
Dad told me that when he did ministry, he would never tell people that God “allowed” the bad stuff. But what he would say is that God permitted it and that the person/people involved were “in God’s hands.”
When my sister died and no one was with her, nevertheless, she was in God’s hands. When my friend’s twin sons died just days before their expected birth, they were in God’s hands. God was right there in that moment. And he is right there, in that moment of confusion and disorientation and feeling of abandonment with my Dad. What comfort!
And the best part is, even in his confusion and disorientation, my Dad knows that truth with all of his heart.