One of my most memorable experiences in seminary was taking a class on the book of Job. That book has always fascinated me in the fact that Job loses so much in what seems like a short period. He loses his fortune and more tragically, he loses his children and his health. His friends came by and they all have a debate on why all of this was happening. Did he do something wrong? Where was God in all of this? Why did this happen?
There was a tragic sense of irony in that the professor who taught us had to deal with the death of his wife after a long illness during the class. As we were learning about Job’s questioning, the professor had to face his own tragedy as well.
I’ve been thinking about the “hows and whys” we all deal with in our lives. Why did he get cancer? Why did she die? Why did they lose their baby? We can’t help but ask why tragedies happen and no matter what, we wonder why bad things happen to you and the people close to you.
Suffering is a part of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean we never ask why suffering exists. I think the question is also part of the human experience.
I’ve been thinking about this in light ofthe recent news of the death of Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock group Rush. Known as one of the best drummers ever, his death from brain cancer was especially tragic because he had already suffered such profound loss in his life. Within the space of a year, Peart lost his daughter in car accident in 1997 and then lost his wife to cancer months later. He retired from drumming in 2015 only to discover his diagnosis of brain cancer months later.
Peart was known for incredibly profound lyrics, which was a welcome oddity in the rock world. One of those profound lyrics is the 1991 single “Roll the Bones” from the album of the same name. The point of the song is that bad things happen, they just do. Life is random. We never know when our luck will run out so Roll the Bones, take a chance at living. “We go out in the world and take our chances, fate is just a weight of circumstances, that’s the way that lady luck dances, roll the bones.”
When I was younger, I would have been bothered by that line of thinking believing it was godless. But age has made me think life is far more random than we want to believe. I think God is present and moves in our lives, but God is not a master puppeteer making sure everything works out. Because life is random and circumstantial, we might not want to take risks. Why should we try to live in this very scary world where your plane can get hit by a rocket?
But we are called to live our lives. As people of faith we know that we are profoundly loved by God, no matter what happens in our lives.
Which reminds me of the obituary of one Ken Fuson. Fuson was a journalist who worked for many media including the Des Moines Register. He died on January 3 at the age of 63 from cirrohsis of the liver. He wrote his own obituary which included a ton of wry humor. But midway through the obituary, he talks about his gambling addiction and his faith in a world where he dealt with pain and illness. But instead of railing against the unfairness, he expressed the presence of the love of God:
For most of his life, Ken suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction that nearly destroyed him. But his church friends, and the loving people at Gamblers Anonymous, never gave up on him. Ken last placed a bet on Sept. 5, 2009. He died clean. He hopes that anyone who needs help will seek it, which is hard, and accept it, which is even harder. Miracles abound. Ken’s pastor says God can work miracles for you and through you. Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything. For many years Ken was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Indianola and sang in the choir, which was a neat trick considering he couldn’t read a note of music. The choir members will never know how much they helped him. He then joined Lutheran Church of Hope. If you want to know what God’s love feels like, just walk in those doors. Seriously, right now. We’ll wait. Ken’s not going anywhere.
Despite all the sadness in his life, he had a sense of joy that seemed to withstand what life threw at him. It was unfair to get a liver disease even when he didn’t abuse alcohol. But instead, he witnessed the incredible of love and grace of God. He rolled the bones and let life happen, good and bad, knowing that God was with him and loved him.
Job never got answer from God about his suffering. But he knew God was present. So we should the life God gave us with boldness and be willing to take chances, knowing that whatever happens, we are loved by God.
Why does it happen? Because it happens. Roll the bones.