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Radical Hope

     A few days before Christmas 2004, a friend of ours came to the house to work on a landscaping project.  He was also the husband of a fellow nurse and good friend of mine.  They had been married only a few months and were expecting their first baby, a boy.  

“Searching . . .”

     Alex and Nadine could have been described as “Hippie-Girl Meets Surfer-Dude Party-Boy.” Man, they were tough to witness to! By wordly standards, they were operating within acceptable parameters.  However, they were not saved.  They had an aversion for anything faintly scented with religion. Most discussions involving faith didn’t go very far before our friends would become irritated and defensive. My husband and I recognized that reaction, however, as evidence of their spirits being in “search mode,” so we didn’t push. I wish I could say that our primary focus was witnessing, but it was not.  We truly, truly enjoyed their company and friendship and hoped that eventually our friendship would lead them to asking more questions about God. A few days later, I woke up feeling uneasy and restless. All day long I felt emotionally hijacked by an increasingly heavy darkness. I started having weird, panicky thoughts.

     God’s Word tells us that through the Holy Spirit, Christians are given the ability to perceive things in the spiritual realm. The more you walk with God, the more He reveals to you. Sometimes, we aren’t necessarily being called to physically intervene in circumstances per se, but called to pray.  It’s like God is mustering His troops, but not everyone on the field is a foot soldier.  In this case, we got the dreaded phone call at the end of that uneasy day.  Before I heard a single syllable, I knew. My husband hung up the phone and just looked at me. “Honey, Alex fell.  He died.” He shook his head in disbelief.

I catapulted out of my chair and fell to my knees on the floor in front of our four children.  All I could scream was,“Oh  God !  NO! NO NO NO!” Our kids were absolutely frozen in time on the sofa. My heart shattered into a zillion tiny slivers for my beautiful friend and their unborn son. That, however, meant nothing in comparison to the despair and wretched darkness that overtook Nadine.  She had no hope.

It all came tumbling down . . .

     In a freak accident, Alex had fallen from the third floor of a parking garage and suffered a massive skull fracture.  One minute, Alex and his friends had been goofing off and running around.  The next minute, Alex had disappeared.  His friends searched for him INSIDE that parking garage, but Alex had fallen OUTSIDE of it.  Being the pranksters they were, they figured Alex was playing a joke on them, and they left at 2 a.m.  The paramedics did not receive the dispatch until well after 4 a.m.  Worse yet, Alex had been taken to the hospital and already pronounced brain dead before his wife was even notified.  After a hectic night shift at the hospital, she was met in her driveway by the police who didn’t give her any information but escorted her back to the hospital.  Because he was an organ donor, Alex’s body was being kept alive in the ICU, and there were a lot of emotional arrangements to be made.  An avalanche of endless, unanswered questions plagued my friend for a long time to come.  Nadine’s life had just fallen apart into a giant heap on the floor.

She had a lot of questions. “So, where was God when Alex fell? Where was God when Alex lay dying on the pavement for TWO hours?!  He died alone and no one cared!”

I had no words.  All I could do was cry.

“And,” she said, “Where was God when the people who found him stepped over him several times, thinking he was a drunk passed out in the street?!”

     My heart knows God was indeed there.  He clearly tells us, “For I will never leave or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV)  This means everybody. I felt strongly convicted that what I needed to do was just listen and pray. This was not the time to proselytize. I pleaded with God to simply give me the right words.

“If I hear someone say that again, I am gonna lose it!”

The horror of what happened fell heavy on us for awhile.  During the next few months, I myself began to doubt and question:

“God?  Were you there?  Were you comforting him?”  

     I was haunted by the idea of Alex dying apart from God.  I tried to picture Jesus right there with him the whole time as the One providing the comfort.  I tried to imagine those two hours when he seemingly laid there alone, unconscious, still alive, yet, not alone.

     I wondered, “Is God hindered by unconsciousness?” A few well-meaning people said things to me like, “Well, God is serious about salvation.  It’s so sad that your friend died without Jesus!”  Yes, I know God is serious about that.

“Well, Jodi, you are taking it more personally because it is someone you know.  You just want to believe that Jesus was with Alex.”

     Hold on. Isn’t that the way I should feel?!  Forgive my sarcasm, but I wanted to scream, “Hey! Thanks for cleverly pointing that out, Professor Obvious! Honestly, who cares if I want it to be true?!  Who cares if his young wife and unborn son want it to be true, right?  GOD wants it more than any of us do, amigo!  Do we honestly believe for one nanosecond that God did not want him to be saved?” “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9. NIV)

At this time, my friend Jeana said the most beautiful thing to me about this part of my story. “Wow.  He got to talk to God face-to-face for two hours.  That must have been some conversation.”  I just cried.  

Four-and-a-smidge years later, the veracity of God’s persistence still touches me. A few “comforters” even proclaimed and concluded from their own paper thrones that Alex “probably died without Jesus.  Awww, too bad, so sad.” Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Jesus loves me, this I know . . .

     Can we be honest here and really examine this for a minute? Can we expose what is lurking underneath?  Listen, do we really want people to go to hell? Really?  Because if we do, we need an earth-shattering kick in the spiritual pants.  We need to look at those things which we profess to believe and claim in the name of Jesus Christ.  I know people need to vent in the face of crisis.  That is part of the grieving process. As a registered nurse, I have witnessed hundreds and hundreds of last weeks, days, hours, minutes . . . even seconds. Now, search your heart and ask yourself this: What do you believe God thinks about that?  My bet is that He won’t be high-fiving anyone or making a fancy sheet cake to mark the occasion. No “Ha-ha, You Sinner!” party favors here either.  I imagine it hurts God.  Alex was God’s child, too, despite everything. What if someone said that about you?  What if Alex had been your son or daughter?  As Christians, we should never derive satisfaction from others’ pain and torment. We should never be rejoicing over someone else’s damnation, either.

      I really struggled with this.  I was inviting bitterness into my heart for the legalists and their rhetoric. God showed me that we have to have mercy for those who commit spiritual malpractice as well. Via freewill, we actually have a choice: we can continue to condemn the condemners, and continue to pass around that judgment like a disfiguring social disease, or we can choose to walk in mercy and love with God.  We cannot do that alone.  It just won’t happen.  It’s too hard. That’s why we so desperately need God.  ONLY God can supernaturally equip us to do so.  It would have been a shame if I would have chosen to pay that vicious cycle forward.  Believe me, I wanted to!  I am being completely honest here: I wanted to beat the living daylights out of some people, OK?  But, God warns us, “Do not repay evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17, NIV) Whew! That is really hard, too.

For the Bible tells me so . . .

     I asked God so many times over the following months to allow me a peace about the whole thing, even if it meant an answer I didn’t like. Like a little girl shuffling her feet and batting her eyelashes at Daddy. “Give me a hint . . . ,  ” I was met with silence most of the time.  However, this motivated me to seek more of God.  I talked to and sought counsel from other Christians whom I respect.

     Remember the Parable of the Vineyard Workers?  The general point Jesus made with this parable is whether we personally like it or not, whether we think it is fair or not, the same employee benefit package is available to all. Even if you punch in at the last minute of the work day.  This last-minute stuff is part of that radical hope we must have in Jesus.  We serve a God that NEVER gives up on us.

     We often are the ones who give up on God when we feel He is not being the God we think He should be:  jumping through hoops like a trained seal and making all of our sparkly new-pony wishes come true. The Bible tells us, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:14, NIV ) Please understand that I am NOT saying, “God is love, we’re all going to party in heaven.  Love.  Peace. Joy. Whatever.”  An eternity without God is very real.  It is a terrifying consequence, and I believe there are people who will freely choose the smoking section. The Bible tells me so.

     The Bible also tells me that God shares some of His knowledge with those whom He calls friends.  John Bevere’s study, Drawing Near discusses this phenomenon. “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:11-12, NIV).

Every second counts . . .

     Almost a year later, I was waiting in the car for my husband to finish some banking. Only minutes before I had told him that I felt God had finally given me peace about Alex.  I imagined God cradling Alex in those last hours.  I pictured tears on God’s face, too comforting him as only a parent can, soothing and quieting his spirit, singing, and shushing him to sleep.  What happened was no surprise to God. God knew it was imminent long before Alex knew it was reality. Did God give up on Alex five seconds before he died?  I don’t think so.  God doesn’t walk off the field in a huff.  If a football team decides to play those last five seconds, it is because a small margin of hope exists that a miraculous recovery can still unfold. There is a radical hope that resolution and victory will come in the last possible breath. If we hope like that for the sake of a temporal football game, imagine the monumental effects of radical hope in Jesus and the lengths that God will go to for the sake of our eternal souls. That blows me away.  Every time.

Buckle up!

     I settled into the front seat and randomly opened the Bible. “Speak to me, Father!” Oooo, don’t you love doing that?  He never disappoints either, does He?  When this happens to me, I feel a tremendous anticipation and stirring of my spirit that demands to be satisfied.  I am instantly starving for a connection and revelation from God.  I knew, even though I was wearing flip-flops, He was going to knock my socks off!  He’s God, and He is not hindered by a no-socks scenario. He can do anything!  I just breathed a heavy sigh. Release. I opened the Bible directly to Acts 20.  I was familiar with some of that book and found my eyes glued to every single word.  Why had I not seen this chapter before?  I thought.  Now, buckle up for this one . . . are you ready?

      “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight . . . Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!". . . The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” (Acts 20, 7-12 NIV)

Sweet release

     Tears just poured in a torrent down my face.  I felt the very real presence of God say into my spirit. “He is here, Jodi. He is right here.”  I thanked God and just wept, surrendering one more tiny space for repairs by the Master Carpenter.  Doubt just got evicted and left the building.  When my husband got back in the car, I immediately told him what had just happened.  As we began to realize the immensity of what God had unveiled to us, we prayed together for a few minutes, just crying.  We let it wash over us . . . weave itself through us . . . soaking into us . . . becoming part of us.  Through his own tears, my husband said to me, “God is so good, Honey.  ALL of the time.” Indeed.  Every single second.

     My point is this.  The facts are we do NOT know the definite, final destination of any other person.  We do not see others’ hearts.  We see what we think we see.  God is the only One who knows all. As much as we don’t like the possibility of people that we think deserve eternal wrath getting an inheritance, we have to face truth first.

     God’s Word says that NO ONE is worthy on his or her own merit or good works, not even that sweet little grandma who gives all her pennies to missions. The price has already been paid.  Salvation is not for sale.

      Paul also says that “works without faith is dead.”  God doesn’t CLEP us out of eternal damnation by any act we commit.  The opposite is true as well. Our good works-- those things that make us admirable and moral-- are filth to God.  They don’t really mean anything.  If we could WORK our way in by giving God a list of all of the kittens we rescued and the hungry we have fed, it would not get us into Heaven.

“God is no respecter of men.”

The time is near.  The urgency is known to God far before the circumstances are known to us.

Copyright © 2008-2015 Jodi Crago

Reader Comments...
2009-11-21 11:26:50
As always, very well put. God has your back. I know cause he is faithful, please write more & define the Broad & Narrow definition of Occult Your loved one had like a glass of water splashed in her face. (do all roads lead to God?) (God will go down many paths to find us) As I have my monthly lunchdates with your loved one I always invite Jesus & pray the spirit draws, reveals & drops barriers."

        - Gloria

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