Thursday, September 15, 2011

Faith and Compassion

An FB friend posted a link to Pat Robertson answering a question about a man whose wife has advanced Alzheimer's disease. The man was angry at God and had started seeing another woman -- and Robertson suggested that, once he's provided for her continued care, it would be appropriate for him to divorce his wife and "start all over". It was a lousy answer to the question, and he was legitimately crucified for it by people from all over the spectrum.

But having watched my mother stand faithfully and lovingly by my father through a cruel 21-year battle with Alzheimer's, I felt defensive at the many implications that Robertson was a hypocritical scumbag for daring to try to give the man an out. Seriously -- have you walked in those shoes?

Sometimes, God allows difficult and painful circumstances in our lives. In fact, "difficult and painful" is hardly adequate to describe the situations some are in. And he calls us, in those times, to be faithful and obedient. To stand firm and not waver. To follow his lead, even into the terrible darkness, trusting that He has us there for a reason and He will never leave us and He will work all things together for good. I believe those like my mother who do stand firm, despite how hopeless and unbearable the situation around them becomes, find a tremendous reward at the end of the battle that makes it all worthwhile.

BUT. It takes a profound faith to believe that God can redeem the unbearable, and some people simply don't have that kind of faith yet. Maybe they're new believers, or immature believers, or wounded believers, or weak believers . . . they may be very genuine believers, and yet when facing the dark path God is leading them down, they simply don't trust enough to keep walking.

It does no good to castigate them for their lack of faith; they're already castigating themselves. We can encourage them, "exhort" them (such a churchy word) to stand firm and trust God, but in the end, they have to have the will to do it, and many won't. In fact, I bet most won't. Most of us walk away from the fight long before such sacrifice is required of us.

So, how do we respond to these?

I think we need to respond in a way that allows them to hear what Jesus would say to them, which I believe is this: I understand. It's okay. What I ask is hard. Impossible, actually. That's why I ask it -- so you can see me work and know it's me. But I give you free will and a choice, and even when you don't choose my will, you're still my child. I still love you. I'll still walk close beside you down the path you're choosing, because things are going to be difficult that way, too. And when I've carried you through those trials, you'll know me better . . . and you'll trust me more. And that was the goal in the first place.

Yes, I believe one should stand beside their invalid spouse to the end. But I also believe God is full of compassion, not condemnation, for his children . . . and we need to be, too. Because it is compassion that gives them strength to keep walking.


Ami Vielehr said...

Gwen, so so true. I am currently working with many profoundly advanced Alzheimer pt and their families and the road seems for some unbearable. I agree that our response should be that of Jesus. Such a beautiful response to one of those dark issues of life that is easy to judge when you are not asked to walk it. Thanks for your insight.
Best to you,

Charissa said...

I think my biggest problem with Robertson's comments is that he is often so quick to judge, especially in issues of divorce, marriage and sexuality and here he lets the guy off the hook. I don't see it as being so much about how hard diseases like this are. They are heartbreaking and mind-numbing and just plain awful. There is no question about it.

My problem is that it's not consistent with his other stances on marriage. If it were a homosexual couple and the husband stood by the invalid husband through it all instead of seeing someone else, would Robertson say, "That is some seriously awesome dedication that we need to see more straight couples." and treat them with the love and compassion of Christ (even if he doesn't approve of their choice to act on their sexual orientation) or would he blame a flood on them?