Question by Emmanuel W., Madina, Accra.
“My Lord, something troubles my mind. I have this good friend about 35 years old. He died three weeks ago of liver disease. He was a communicant and a strong Marian devotee. It has been haunting my mind seriously. Why did God allow him to die? Why didn’t Jesus in the Eucharist heal him? If God can’t heal and protect His own, then am I safe?”
Let me begin by expressing my condolences to you over the death of your good friend who died so young. I will remember both him and you in my prayers.
To go back to your question: I think each and every one of us should live with the idea of the certainty of death for ourselves and others. We should come to terms with the idea that death will come to each one of us. As the psalmist says, “What man can live and never see death?” (Psalm 89:48). In a similar vein, William Shakespeare says in Julius Caesar, “death, a necessary end will come when it will come”. Death will come to everyone. The death of a friend, relative, colleague, etc., is just a reminder to us of this fact.
We should also have to live with the idea of the transitoriness of human life. The psalmist speaks of the transitory nature of human life when he says: “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16). Elsewhere the psalmist says that men “are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers” (Psalm 90:5-6).
It is unfortunate that your friend died so young. However, we should know that people much younger than him can die. Babies aged two days or even one day can die. You speak of your friend dying even though he was a communicant and a Marian devotee. As Christians, we derive spiritual nourishment from Holy Communion, but the Church does not teach that communicants will not die! Neither does the Church teach that Marian devotees will not die! We all pray to live long, but we should not think that because we are communicants and Marian devotees we will not die.
You ask why Jesus in the Eucharist did not heal your friend, and you speak of God “allowing him to die” and not being able to “heal him and protect his own”. You know from your reading of the Gospels that Jesus healed sick people and even raised people from the dead. Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain were indeed raised by Jesus from the dead, but they died again later! God’s power to heal people and to raise the dead is clear in the Scriptures too. If Jesus and God the Father have to demonstrate their power every time someone is sick or dies, then there will be no death! However, to be human means that we shall die one day and we need to be ready for it.
We should also know that being a follower of Christ means that we have to suffer. While we pray for good health all our lives, we should know that suffering will come our way some time. Indeed, Christ said that if we want to be his disciples, then we should be ready to take up our cross and follow him. We know that Jesus himself was rejected by his own people and was eventually crucified. His disciples also suffered persecution. Peter and John were imprisoned, but they were not deterred. They said that it is better to obey God rather than men.
Paul encountered a lot of opposition in his ministry. He experienced suffering on many occasions. He says in 2 Cor. 11:24, “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one”. In 2 Cor. 4:10 he says, “We bear in our body the sufferings of the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be seen in our body”. In Col. 1:24 Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”. Paul also suffered imprisonment, stoning, shipwreck and illness. In 2 Cor. 12:7 he tells us that a thorn was given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass him, to keep him from being too proud. Most scholars believe that this was some sort of sickness that Paul suffered from.
However, in the face of sickness, suffering and tribulation we should bear in mind the words of Paul in Rom. 8:35-39, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered’. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
The point I am trying to make is that while we pray that we will live peaceful, sickness-free lives all the days of our lives, we should realize that this may not be possible. We have to be prepared for illnesses and tribulations of various sorts that may come our way. We should also live with the realization that even if we are not sick, death can come to us at any time, whether we are ten, thirty-five or seventy! The important thing is to be ready for death, no matter our age.