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Does love explode in our hearts?

Church Corner

I sat in the sunshine at Agnes Mischke’s kitchen table on the plains of North Dakota drinking coffee from chipped china. Agnes worked hard all her life; now at 72, her body riddled with bone cancer, aching here and throbbing there, she had a question:

“I’ve confessed every sin I can think of. What is God holding against me?” she asked this 21-year-old student pastor.

“Nothing, Agnes,” I’m sure I must have said it. “God doesn’t hold your sins against you and punish you with cancer.”

I doubt she believed me. I’m not sure I did, either.

So 20 years later, I’m reading the book of Job and thinking of Agnes again. Agnes haunts me a little. Job asks her questions and ours: “I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul …If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who watch over us all? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?” (Job 7:11 and 20).

I still don’t believe God punishes sin with cancer – outside of smoking, maybe, or radioactive foolishness. Jesus made it pretty clear: his father doesn’t punish sin with illness or disability. On the other hand, Jesus didn’t answer many of our “why’s.”

So let’s leave them behind and ask a new question: What shall we do with the hurting folks around us? Will love or light come to people like Agnes whose paths cross our own? Will we bring it? Will you be Agnes’ friend? Will you keep company with a soul in pain, bite your tongue against answering the questions, hold back from advising suffering you cannot know? Can you – and I – be as helpless in love as our friends are helpless in pain? And might we find more and deeper life in sharing the suffering of someone we love than in the happiness we so stubbornly pursue?

When we visit the sick, the aging, the injured, the infirmed; when we stick with friends through divorce and layoffs and infidelity and bankruptcy; when we go to those in prison who will never see release – does love sometimes explode in our hearts? Does life spring from death? Does heaven manifest on earth, if only for a moment? And is that Easter?

My thanks to you who sit with friends today: you bring Easter to them and hope to us all.

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