Jon was supposed to die. I know that’s a provocative statement and probably somewhat controversial. Some with differing views of God, may disagree, but this blog still remains just reflections through my personal walk with grief. It’s still about setting up signposts for myself, so that when I’m through the valley, I won’t forget how closely Christ walked beside me in it. Rather how He carried me through it. But, I do want to encourage you too. My intention isn’t to be controversial, but at the very least I know what I’m about to write will be thought provoking.
Last week I met with Jon’s cardiologist. I wrestled for awhile with setting up this meeting, but eventually realized I had to. My heart in meeting with the doctor wasn’t retributive in any way. I prayed a lot about my motives before I went. I just wanted to express to him my understanding of God’s sovereignty over Jon’s death, and see if he could shed any additional light on what medically caused Jon to die.
I’ve struggled with guilt since Jon died. Perhaps this is a a battle for anyone deeply grieving. But, for me I think the rapid events that led to Jon’s death have made the temptation toward guilt stronger than had he died, for example, from cancer. Does that make sense? With cancer we would have known he was dying. But the night Jon died, it didn’t register what was happening even when the doctor in the emergency room said, “It’s been over an hour. You have to tell us we can stop.” He meant giving the permission to stop CPR. How vividly I remember my near hysterical response, “Are you telling me my husband is going to die? How can this be possible? How can you ask me to make that decision?” I think I just kept saying, “How is this possible?” over and over. As I’ve mentioned before, God did give grace to finally say, “He’s yours.” But the temptation toward guilt sometimes seemed unbearable. But maybe someone who’s walked through cancer with a loved one can tell me if there is also a battle with guilt.
“I should have taken him to the ER sooner. I should have pressed the cardiologist harder when we were there on Wednesday. Why was Jon so stubborn? I should have taken him straight to Rockford and not Kishwaukee. When he was in the hospital in December, why didn’t they do more tests then?” I should have. I should have. I should have. And why, why, why. Satan and my mind knew how best to buffet me.
But anyway, after I left the cardiologist last week I was astounded by how much God’s sovereignty at last “sunk in.” Like at the experiential, heart level. I’ve known and maintained God’s sovereignty throughout, but now it seems I really know it. One new piece of information the cardiologist had to offer was just how drastically Jon’s valve had changed in less than a month. Of course I never knew the results of the 2nd echocardiogram because Jon died two days after he had it. The doctor told me that he had reviewed the echo on Friday (the day Jon died), and had dispatched a note to his nurse saying that she needed expedite Jon’s angiogram and get it done first thing the following week. Let me rephrase that. He was shocked at how much more deterioration he saw, and knew Jon’s more invasive tests needed to be sped up. But, he wrote that note after 5:00pm on Friday, so no one ever saw it. Jon died that night. It was too late.
After I heard these things, I realized that Jon’s valve had deteriorated much more quickly than the cardiologist was used to seeing. Jon went from “His valve looks ok. You can definitely wait till summer for surgery” to his body shutting down. And no one could see it. There was more stress on his heart than anyone understood. So here’s my new understanding of God’s sovereignty; Jon was supposed to die.
I may have believed God’s sovereignty this whole time, but last week was the first time I could say those specific words. God could have changed any number of factors leading up to Jon’s death, but He chose not to. He could have had the doctor review the echo the day we were there or on Thursday even. He could have enabled us to see the cardiologist sooner. Believe me, we were on the phone with the office a lot! We also saw a nurse practitioner at the cardiology office the week before Jon died.
He could have stopped Jon from getting pneumonia or the flu on top of his valve problem. For it is very likely, that one of these was the case.
But He didn’t. And He didn’t allow anyone to fully see the severity of the situation.
And yes, there could have been mistakes made. But that doesn’t matter. Mistakes don’t change the fact that God is sovereign. God even uses human mistakes to accomplish His purposes. So there really is no one to blame.
So I recognize the controversy here. There are those of you whose minds are reeling. “So you’re saying God ordained Jon’s death?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Though we have live in an age of stunning medical technology, doctors still cannot see everything. They are not God.
Because here’s the truth. No person held Jon’s life in his hands, except Jesus Christ. The day and time of Jon’s death was ordained before he was ever born. Just as the day of your death and my death is already known by God.
And some might be thinking, “So how in the world is this comforting?” Well, because I also know that God is good. And because I know God’s character, I can trust His sovereign plan to be good.
So, I sat on my couch the day after meeting with the cardiologist writing and mulling over these things. And I penned the words “Nothing any human does can thwart your plans God. The ‘what ifs’ wouldn’t have changed anything. And God you do use horrible things for good. This is redemption. This is gospel.”
I sat there just talking with God and thought. “Lord I feel as I’m on the brink of seeing some truth in a magnificent way. I think I’m standing right on the precipice of something big in my heart. So you work God. Make your truth clear. And I’ll stay here with you till we hammer this out.”
With a rushing “holy stars and stripes batman” type of clarity, God flooded my mind with truth from Scripture. I don’t think I can really communicate the intensity of that moment with Him. Have you ever been there? That place where you know you are at a cross-roads of belief where truth penetrates so deeply that it’s life changing? That place where it feels like you can identify with Moses when he took his shoes off because he was treading on holy ground?
How can one communicate these things? Feebly I think.
“I know you are working a reversal. In my eyes, Jon’s death was the worst thing that could have happened to me, but God you are changing it to something infinitely good! Something I’ll look back on and say ‘That was good. God meant it for good. I wouldn’t change it.’ And I’ll say ‘God your plan is so much better!’ Death bringing forth life. Perhaps Jon’s death is bringing forth a life in me that I never imagined. You are using it to accomplish something great in me. And Jon would want that. Because he loved you far more than he loved me.”
The theme of reversal is all over the Bible! Think of Job, Joseph, Daniel, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan woman, the prodigal son, and Paul just to name a few. They all experienced real, tangible reversal in their lives. Joseph was thrown in prison, but then exalted as 2nd only to Pharoah! Daniel was throw into a pit filled with lions, but his accusers were the ones that got eaten for dinner! Ruth was a barren widow, but she was redeemed and included in the line of Christ! The Prodigal squandered all of his inheritance, slept with prostitutes, and got so hungry he wished he could eat pig slop. But O how his Father looked for Him! And then exalted him and lavished grace on him when he returned. “Bring the robe. Bring the ring. Kill the calf. We’re having a party! My boy’s come home!” And then there’s Paul. Shipwrecked, beaten, jailed, you name it, but the gospel went to Rome and then to all of Western civilization! Countless have believed as a result. Reversal.
Then there’s the imagery The potter smashes the clay and reworks it into something more beautiful. “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles?’’ (Isaiah 45) Or “can I not do with you as this potter has done?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold like the clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hand?’’
There’s a beautiful sentence in Isaiah 29. “You turn things upside down.” And that’s just what God does.
And what about the vineyard? The vinedresser prunes every branch that it bear more fruit. Sometimes he must strip it down till it looks barren. Till it seems that there will be no more fruit. But the branch is still very much alive on the inside because it is connected to the vine. (John 15) I learned this astonishing thing about wine grapes the other day. The vines that struggle the most, produce the best, most high-quality grapes, and therefore, the best wine. The most intense, lovely flavors come from the vines that have had to push their roots deep to get to the water and the nutrients, in essence to struggle for their very existence. So winemakers will intentionally create “distress.” It’s true. Do a google search. So on the heels of that thought, my brain took it a little further. Wine grapes are a lot smaller, more compact, and bundled more closely together than table grapes. Therefore, the flavor is also more saturated. So here is this lovely thing in of itself. But how does it become a much more valuable product? You’ve got to crush the grapes first.
And I think about Jon. God already did the most spectacular reversal in his life… death immediately turned to life. No more faulty heart valve. No more weakness. And no more struggle with sin.
And all these people, and all the imagery points to the ultimate reversal! On the cross Jesus reversed the curse of sin and death. He reversed the ledger of debt taking all of it on Himself, and canceling out the record of debt against me. He made himself to be sin for me, so that I might be made righteous. It looked like He was defeated. Yet He rose again! So in His is death and resurrection He triumphed openly over His enemies making Satan truly a naked dog on a leash. The serpent doesn’t believe it yet, but Jesus has already crushed his head. The reversal has been made. The victory is accomplished. He will one day reverse even the curse on creation. And there will be no more death.
Can you see me just about leaping as I type this? Don’t you just want to shout with me? “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
So God really did hammer it all out in my heart that day.
“O Lord there have been several crossroads days on this journey with grief, and I think this is one of them. You literally, truly are making a reversal out of the “worst.” And the greater the “worst,” the greater the reversal of good! You give back more than you take. The good is always in ridiculously larger proportion than the bad. Jesus was made the lowest, and now He is exalted, supreme, in His rightful place. O God if you love me enough to reverse the very curse of sin, then surely you are reversing the ‘badness’ of Jon’s death!”
I can expect something beautiful. God is working a reversal–A real, physical, tangible transfer of bad to good, not just a nebulous concept. Some things I’ll not see till eternity, but I can also expect God to do immensely good in this life.
I don’t know how God’s working, but I can anticipate that He is.
So when guilt stealthily creeps in, I can look back and say, “God you illumined my heart to these things in a radical way. I know your lessons are true.” Satan tries to sift me, but I don’t have to be sifted.
And when I think of my Jon, though he would have wanted to stay, he would have wanted Christ more. And now he would not want to come back. He’s more alive than any of us. Perhaps there was a time of surrender where he said, “God do what you want with me. Do what you want with Ami. Do what you want to make us more like you.” In fact, I know there was.
“O my soul praise you! Lord I just humbly bow and worship. That seems to be the only response I can give.”