Tyla and I had a wonderful getaway to Mendocino for three nights at a bed and breakfast to celebrate our 27th anniversary. We took along a CD set of the book, "Into the Wild" which is a true story about a young man who graduates from college and then takes off for more than two years without telling his family where he has gone and ends up walking into the Alaskan wilderness by himself and is found dead four months later. "What a cheery story to listen to on your trip!" you might say. However, the book is very interesting and it brings up a lot of important issues, many of them spiritual.
One of the parts of the book that affected us deeply was the account of an elderly man who took in the young man, Chris McCandless, and after a couple of months wanted to adopt him. The old man, Ron Franz, had become an alcoholic many years before after losing his wife and a child in an auto accident but had eventually started going to church where he made a profession of faith. He lived alone and so when Chris came along he won the old man's heart. But Chris's goal was to keep moving and when he did, Ron asked God take care of the boy. Before leaving, Chris had admonished him to get out on the road and have some adventures - at 80 years of age! Instead, Ron moved into Chris's former campsite in the desert and waited for him to return. When he learned, about eight month's later, that Chris had died in Alaska, Ron renounced God, resigned from the church and returned to drink. Tyla and I were deeply saddened to hear this.
The book reveals Ron's disappointment that God had not answered his prayer to protect Chris. As parents, Tyla and I could identify with the desire to seek the welfare and safety of our children through prayer. Why had God not answered Ron's prayer? Is it because He doesn't exist or doesn't care about us even if He does exist? It seems that Ron had concluded that these were the only alternatives and so he turned his back on God. The Bible is not silent about this problem. In fact, it has a whole book that graphically illustrates it - Job. Job had seven sons and three daughters who held week-long feasts, rotating among their homes. At the conclusion of these feasts, Job would pray over them and offer sacrifices to God on their behalf because, he said, "Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." (Job 1:5) He didn't want them to forfeit God's protection and blessing by their sins.
Then the day came when Job received the bad news that all his children had been destroyed while they were drinking wine in the oldest brother's house. Other calamities followed but I am sure this was the worst news Job ever received. His wife gave way to bitterness and urged him to "curse God and die." (2:9) He refused to do so, although he did fall into deep despair and became very exasperated with God. Nevertheless, he never turned his back on God and at one point exclaimed, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." (Job 13:15 - KJV). Job was completely unaware of the reason God had allowed him to go through his grief and pain. Yet he trusted in God enough at least to be deeply tried and tormented. It would have been far easier, in the short run, just to give up on God. When God finally did answer Job, He did not immediately give him the explanation found in chapters 1-2 about Satan's challenge to God concerning Job's motivation in serving God. What God did was to give Job a very thorough questioning concerning his credentials to judge of God's ways. (See chapters 38-41.) Job did repent of his questioning of God's ways, again, without having received the explanation.
The explanation is important and illustrates why God will not always do as we think He should. There is a huge war going on and while the ultimate outcome is the victory of God's kingdom and the highest possible good for God and His creation, pain and suffering in the meantime must be endured. Satan's whole aim is to make the case before men and angels that God is selfish, that genuine love (which God requires of us) is impossible and that therefore God has no right to judge us for failing to love Him with all our hearts and our neighbor as we do ourselves. Satan questions God concerning Job, "Does Job fear God for nothing?" (1:9) Satan is saying, in effect, "Job, whom You call a 'blameless and upright man', is actually selfish and therefore not upright according to Your law. He is a mercenary who serves God for the sake of personal gain. Take away the goodies and he will curse You to Your face!" (1:10-11)
God must prove Satan wrong before men and angels. Yes, He could wipe Satan out in an instant and make us all forget that there ever was a being called Satan, but eventually another one would appear and the process would begin again. No, God must prove conclusively, once and for all, that He is love, that those who believe in Him do indeed love Him and His creation unselfishly and that His law is perfectly just and reasonable. To do this requires, among other things, that our faith in Him and love for Him not be tethered to having events always please us. We must, indeed, learn to love God for nothing, just because He is worthy of our love and trust Him implicitly because He is worthy of our trust. On the great Day of Judgment, we will then appear, along with Job and all the saints, as part of the evidence for God's goodness and the goodness of His law before the whole universe of human beings and angels.
I do not know if Ron continued to reject God. Grief can often temporarily unhinge people's minds. Later, he may have come to his senses, realizing that God had the right to deal with Chris as He thought best and that a long life in this world is not the highest good. What a comfort it is, finally, to trust in God's ultimate wisdom, love and power! Yes, we pray and hope as we think best but we must always remember: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9-10) Thank God this is so!