John 11:6 So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.
I write this sitting in the shade of the old oak outside of our small town.
It started as a cough. But the cough went on for days. My brother had been living with us for some time and had always been the most active and healthiest in our family. He had won many races, climbed mountains, was an avid outdoorsman and so it seemed strange that, of all people, he was this ill. He was opposed to going to the doctor so we finally reached out to a friend, a family physician who was kind enough to pay us a visit. Unfortunately, doc was bewildered and couldn’t put his finger on a diagnosis. He said the symptomology was complex. We knew that much. Continuous spiking fever, abdominal pain, swelling in his feet and his hair was falling out like a dog sheds in the heat.
On his birthday, he was bedridden and still refusing to see a specialist when we gathered for a somber dinner in the dining room. Sis had prepared a special meal in his honor, veal with steamed vegetables and had brought from the cellar a bottle of our best red wine. Two of our nephews, their grandmother and a couple of close friends had joined us. It was a very special dinner. Or at least it started that way.
It seemed mom was more distressed than anyone else at the table. She would ring her hands more than she would cut her meat, bowing her head and shaking it in apparent disbelief.
“What Grandma?” asked one of my nephews.
“I just can’t believe he’s so sick. We must continue to pray for him. I’m so afraid we’ll lose him soon. Please keep praying for him.” Her voice shook.
“We pray every day for him, mama. Don’t be so distraught. Enjoy your dinner, and give God thanks. I believe He’s going to heal my brother.”
She glanced up, her eyes filled with doubt and uncertainty, “He’s just so sick and it seems like he gets worse every day. Why would God allow this?”
“That’s enough Grandma!” My nephew could hardly stand it. He was certain God would never do this, nor allow such an illness to befall his dad.
Still lamenting, “But honey, don’t you feel like you should ask God ‘why’? It’s been days now and your father is unable to move and can barely speak. Oh, why would God allow it?”
“Enough!” He slammed his fist down on the table toppling my glass of wine and nearly the candle that my sister had lit in hopes of a peaceful evening. “I’m not going to listen to this! Here me. God would not allow even one day of sickness to come upon papa. I beg you grandma, quit asking these faithless questions.”
She returned to a bowed position, her veal cool and untouched as she muttered prayers no one could hear but God. I felt led to pray with her. As I grabbed her hand, she reached out to her other side and my sister took hold and then our nephews and friends. Then I prayed.
“God, we have faith today for healing in my brother’s body. Sickness be gone. Swelling be gone. Pain be gone. We believe for a healing now.”
The grip at my hands increased as the intensity of the prayer escalated.
“We know you would never allow anything bad to happen to him. You are good and good all the time and Your love for him is unfailing and Your power without limit. Heal him now for his sake, for our sake and for Your glory!”
A moan came from his bedroom. I couldn’t help but think that God was in his room at His bedside performing a miraculous work. Our hands were still locked as I quickly assessed the eyes of all those at the table. I could see in each a mix of bewilderment and hope as another moan came from the bedroom. Abruptly, we jumped up from the table, causing my sister to steady the candle once more. We raced to his bedroom door. The seven of us gathered quickly around his bed. And then we heard it. His last breath. It was like the last bit of wind pushed through a valley after a passing storm and the eerie silence that followed seemed to swallow us all. It swallowed the room. It was the silence of death that even seemed to swallow reality. We were in disbelief. No goodbyes. No smile creased his face as he passed. His eyes never opened at the last moment to communicate his love. We weren’t even holding his hand when it happened. He was gone.
“No!” It was one word with a weight that collapsed my mother over the bed and the body of her only son. Mourning had come.
Burying my brother was the hardest thing I had ever been through. No less painful than the loss of my sibling was witnessing the pain in my mother. Dad had passed just a year ago and now her son. I wondered if it would not be the end of her.
It seemed strange that just a few days later, the sun bright behind a blue sky, the calla lilies in bloom and the birds alive full of flight and sound. It was as if nature cared not. I sat displaced from it all when my sister came bounding up the porch steps, short of breath from a sprint, she said, “The master is coming!”
“Did you speak with Him?”
“Yes. Yes” She tried to catch her breath.
“Well, tell me! What happened?”
“I told Him that if He had been here, brother would not have died. Then He told me that everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die. It doesn’t make any sense to me because brother believed, but he is dead. You should go talk to Him.”
“I will. But do you know where He was when brother was sick? We had sent word to Him several days ago about the illness.”
“I wondered the same so I asked one of the men who was with Him and he said that He knew brother was ill but that when He found out, He made a decision to wait for two more days anyway.”
My heart sunk. I couldn’t help but go back to that moment at the dinner table when my mother had cried the question, “Why would God allow this?” Anger stirred in my heart against such insensitivity. But I wondered if my sister had been told the truth. Had He really waited intentionally? Had He allowed my brother to remain sick and in pain to his end? The questions motivated me to find Him and ask.
I could see the cloud of dirt lifting from the road before I could make out the crowd. My sister was right. The Healer was coming.
“Too late” I thought, still perplexed by actions that seemed so clear but ones I couldn’t understand. “How could He have allowed my brother’s sickness to go on?”
The question pressed its way from silent thought to my lips, “How? How? How?” It seemed I barely muttered it three times before I had reached the outskirts of town and when I looked up, there He was. The Healer stood in front of me with eyes filled with grace and tenderness but with a transcending power that brought me to my knees. The crowd around Him was silent watching intently as if they knew He had come for this very conversation.
“Why my Lord? Why did you wait? If you had come, he would not have died. He was so sick the last few days and you knew it! You knew it and you decided not to come! How my Lord could you have allowed it to go on? Why did you allow him to die?!”
The anguish that I had suppressed the last few days welled up like a fist inside my stomach and wrenched me to the ground, my face in the dirt, I wailed in bitterness. Through my gasps of pain, I heard Him ask, “Where did they bury him?”
And then they left. Hope dashed, heart in despair, soul languishing, and my body in the dirt, they just left. The last in the crowd to leave looked back at me with great sympathy and said, “Dear woman, arise. Maybe God has allowed this to happen for a reason.”
The anger stirred up in me from such a notion ended my sobbing and I crawled my way to the side of the road, took off my satchel from around my shoulders and leaned against the bark of an old oak tree.
The Healer has just left me. There’s a part of me that feels good about it. I’m not sure I want to be near Him anymore. My brother is dead and I write this sitting in the shade of the old oak outside of our small town.