We talked with dear friends who have a close relative facing the slow, certain deterioration that characterizes ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Quickly the conversation turned to the question of what our prayers can reasonably include and the purposes of God in a moment like this. It resonated deeply with the news I received today that one of my students died at the end of last month from a rare, aggressive cancer that claimed her life after just 5 or 6 years of active ministry.
If the purpose of life is to secure a relationship with God that makes our lives safe and enjoyable — and if the Christian journey is about getting God to side with us, fix our problems, and run interference for us — then both of these stories are a tragic indictment of God and of the Christian faith. But, of course, that isn’t the point according to every deep, well-rooted Christian tradition.
The point of the journey is companionship with God and the purposes of God take shape around the spread of God’s reign over the lives and hearts of humankind. Our well-being — which is firmly circumscribed by our mortality — is a secondary consideration. That is why Ignatius of Loyola preferred the term “companions of Christ” for the order we know as the Jesuits. The point of the Christian journey is not to secure God’s help with the lives we want to live. It is about living lives that serve the purpose of God. And indicting God for failing to fix our problems is a bit like indicting a general for failing to keep his army out of combat.
Does that mean that God is insensitive to our needs? No. But it does put the shape of the journey into perspective. Occasionally we experience a cure, remission, or a reprieve in this life. But complete healing is an enterprise that awaits us beyond the boundaries of this life. And, whatever may happen to us now is something that can only be navigated by giving our lives back to God in the middle of whatever it is that we are experiencing.
Any interpretation of the Gospel that suggests otherwise misunderstands the shape of the journey.