God is good ... all the time
Romans 6:28, 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.
29, For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
30, And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31, What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32, He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Through the years of ministry, I’ve known a lot of people and their families who have lived with the effects of Alzheimer Disease. When I’ve gotten to know people during the late stage of the disease, the families tell me about who they used to be. I’ve always been sympathetic with them because I knew how hard it must be to watch someone mentally and sometimes emotionally slip away.
My mother-in-law was diagnosed with it a few years ago. I had a hunch it was coming on about five or six years ago when she started calling me by her other daughter-in-law’s name, and when I overheard her rehearsing which of her children was married to whom and who their children were. When her husband died a year and a half ago, she had to be reminded that he’d passed and then, when she caught on, she fretted about whether the preacher had been called and whether a funeral was planned. She had to move into assisted living. And, as the disease goes, it’s just all the worse this year.
The disease is unfair. I think what’s most unfair is to know what a full and interesting life she’s led up to this point and she doesn’t even get the privilege of being able to look back on it and enjoy the memories, as everybody else gets to do when their in their 80s. College-educated at a time when most women were not, she now can’t remember the family backpacking trips they took or enjoy reading as she once did. Knitting would be impossible.
So, when I found this Scripture attached to a devotion for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, I was surprised. Forgive me for not jumping for joy at the words, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” God predestined our loved ones to have Alzheimer Disease? That seems very mean of God and the promise that “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” seems empty and trite. That’s the Scripture people quote when they want to make someone feel better and don’t know what else to say.
Some might argue that God allows diseases so others can show mercy to them. Even then, though, it paints God as being arbitrary, choosing some to be their helpers just so they can do his work while choosing others to suffer. Where is the logic in that? It’s certainly not logic that paints God as loving. And besides, what does that say about those who watch their loved one suffer?
It’s necessary to put this in context. Further along the chapter of Romans 8, it says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36, As it is written:“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul is not promising that bad things won’t happen. He’s not trying to say that God somehow chooses some people to live through tragedy or illness. He’s saying that no matter what our life may bring — peril, nakedness, persecution, or sword — he’s there with us. In saying that nothing will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, he’s reminding us of one who once suffered, too, and who suffers with us when we do.
I’m convinced that God is taking care of my mother- in-law in a way we can’t understand, just as he took care of the patients on the Neurological ICU (most comatose) during my residency. I believe that the Holy Spirit is interceding with sighs too deep for words as cancer patients await the outcome of their biopsies and that Jesus weeps when tragedies happen.
That’s the God I worship. The God who is good ... all the time.
Sally Oakes is pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, 607 Rivers Road, Fayetteville, GA 30214. Phone: 770-964-6999 or 770-964-6992, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.