“…meant to be.” Such a phrase has pervaded throughout our society in almost any sphere of influence. You’ll see this phrase in novels and movies and hear it from philosophers and romantics. It can be a situation (i.e. it’s meant to be) or a relationship (i.e we’re meant to be). It’s said sometimes with hope by the romantics, with despair for the mourning, with contempt for the calloused, and with disbelief to the skeptics.
It makes sense why such a phrase has so permeated our society yet left us ambivalent towards it. After all, we love destiny, but we hate a predestined future. We like “meant to be” when it suites us: “you and I are meant to be,” “it’s as if this [insert good thing] was meant to be.” However we despise the destiny notion when bad things happen, particularly if someone dies before their time. We even say “This wasn’t meant to be.”
So here I am, contemplating this phrase upon my father’s untimely demise. Was this meant to be? Was his death meant to be? Of course this is not the real question. “Meant to be” implies someone meaning a situation to be the way it is. So who means it? Ultimately, the answer is God. And if God meant for a bad thing to happen, then the real question is why? Why would a good God mean for something bad to happen? Yet, I have gotten ahead of myself. For if God did not mean for said evil to happen, then the question turns into “Why did it happen if God didn’t mean it to?
It is that age-old question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Pretty much everyone has asked it at some point, and now I too am seeking answers. The unfortunate part is that I’ve yet to find a scholar, pastor, philosopher, or theologian to give a sound retort. Rabi Kushner places doubt on God’s power, purporting the Devine as unable to stop evil from occurring. In other words, his answer is “God didn’t mean for this to happen, and it happened because He couldn’t stop it from occurring.” Others claim that God is not good or loving. Still even more put together an ambiguous ensemble of possible responses to this question: it’s a test, it’s for His Glory, He will make good come from it, it’s persecution, it’s a sinful world, you’re sinful etc. etc. And of course, some just say it’s because there is no God.
So in short: either God can’t stop (lack of power), God won’t (lack of love), God shouldn’t (something of greater ambiguous importance took precedence over your well-being), or God isn’t. Not a great list of answers, but that is what humanity has come up with to try and answer.
Probably most commonly used in the Church would be what I’d call the “Ambiguity List.” Many times, “God shouldn’t stop bad things” turns out to be an appropriate answer. After all, God did test both Abraham and Job; Stephen was persecuted and it was for God’s glory; Jonah sinned and disobeyed; Joseph saved Egypt as a result of his brothers’ evil intentions. In many of our own situations in life, this applies. However, it is almost always in hindsight that these ambiguous possibilities become a realized concrete actuality. Joseph probably didn’t know why God let his brothers sell him, or why he was imprisoned until he was the right hand of Pharaoh. For decades he had to trust God knew what he was doing.
However, not all our stories turn out so clear cut as Joseph’s. My dad had so much to look forward to. He had his first grandson, my sister got married, he was finally publishing a book he worked on for half of my life. No matter what clarity hindsight brings to answer “why now?” no answer could fully acquiesce the thought of the potential life my dad could have continued to live.
Even more perplexing is the situation surrounding my dad’s death. Both he and my mom, along with the support of the whole family, prayed incessantly for healing. Every day, every church meeting they could go to, every pastor’s meeting, for the 3 months my dad was diagnosed with cancer, he always searched for healing prayer.
In the same church, a woman had been diagnosed with double-breast cancer. I am not sure if it was stage 4 like my dad, but she also sought prayer at the church. The week my dad died, she was healed to the amazement of her oncologist. Dad became a grandpa because God healed my wife so we could have our son, Hezekiah. I cannot doubt that God heals. But now I am left with the question, “Why not dad?”
Thus another question emerges “why do some get healed, and others not?” Now let’s dispense with unsound doctrine. From experience and study of the scriptures, cessationism (Miracles no longer occur) can’t be true and honestly waters the Gospel down. For some Pentecostals to say that my dad did not have enough faith for his healing is both unbiblical and an insult to his legacy of faith. The best theology here is what is referred to as “Kingdom now-not-yet” (what I call “the Incomplete Kingdom”)
Jesus came, but he’s also coming back. His Kingdom is on earth, but not on earth as it is in Heaven. Through the Holy Spirit we can receive the supernatural gifts of prophecy, discernment, words of knowledge, healing, etc.—i.e. Super-nature invading nature. However, our spirit has not permeated the flesh to the fullest potential. Jesus was inaugurated as King, but we are waiting for the Kingship to be fully consummated upon His return. This is Kingdom-now-not-yet theology.
It explains why healing happens to some (Kingdom now) and not others (Kingdom not-yet). You may think, “great, so there IS an answer.” Hold on. Even Kingdom-now-not-yet raises questions. Why did MY dad have to be “Kingdom not-yet” instead of “Kingdom now?” The root question though is “why does it have to be Kingdom now-not-yet?” Or in other words “why didn’t Jesus fully usher in the Kingdom in the first coming?”
With my dad’s passing, I realize things are the way they are—the Kingdom of God is both at hand and is to come—but now I also, as any human being, wonder why things are the way they are.
I wish I had an answer already, but I can only pray that God is as gracious to me and my family as he was to Joseph—revealing His plan, even if it’s only after His plan is accomplished. Between the trees (the cross and the tree of life), we live in this Incomplete Kingdom. I can’t say whether dad’s death was meant to be, but I do believe that good is meant to come