SERMON from 9-2-12: “No Atheists in Foxholes? Check the VA Hospital.”

This is the third sermon in a series called “iGod.” However, since the death of my son, this is gonna look a little different than the others.

Jeremiah 29.11-14

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.


iGod Am All Knowing


I want to welcome you to one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.


I sat down at my computer a number of times this week, only to get right back up again. I thought of a thousand different ways I would begin to address the topic for this week, only to lose that thought strand like a single, helium-filled balloon as it rises just out of your grasp. In fact, let me from the past tell you what it was like:


“In all seriousness, I am typing this explanation out in real-time. I have not completed any more of my sermon beyond what I am typing (future me: now reciting) right now. I feel like I am a ship that’s been released from it’s dock. The water is relatively calm and there is no current taking me out to sea. I’m just sort of floating lazily along the shore. I see life continuing back ashore. There are headlights moving along the dark roads in straight lines, and there are buildings whose lights move from on to off as needed. I see all that happening–yet my ship is listing lazily along its way.”


As late as Friday evening, that’s all I had completed–though it wan’t for lack of trying.


Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to be melodramatic or unnecessarily morose. I am not trying to make a plea for sympathy, and I’m not pretending to be the only pastor who’s had to write a sermon after something life-shattering has happened to them.


I think what I’m trying to do is break through.


It’s like when you’re assigned a journaling assignment in school. Your teacher might give you a prompt to get you going, or you might just be told to write what you’re thinking. Not that this never happens to girls, but it seemed to be a problem almost entirely exclusive to the boys that there would be nothing inside their heads to put down on the paper.


It’s like that Jerry Seinfeld joke where he promises to tell women what it is us men are thinking. Nothing.


The advice we would receive from the teacher was to just write a single word over and over. The thought was that–at some point–your brain would begin to form words into sentences and thoughts would begin to make their way onto the paper.


I am a little older and wiser now. I am a professional orator and semiprofessional writer. I am forced to read dozens of thought-provoking books about interesting ideas and people. So, I guess the process for when you get stuck–as an adult–begins by getting ideas out on the page, and hoping they form into coherent streams of thought.


Last time I preached, we were continuing a series on discovering who God is. From the Exodus 3 explanation, we have God telling Moses “I AM that I AM.” Sparing you the details of an intense theological discussion, we can take this to mean that God is just far too great a concept for us to understand. We can try, but our conclusions will always be inadequate.


We’ve already discussed how God is all-powerful and all-present. Today, we look into what it means for us that God is omniscient–or all-knowing. In other words, God has a plan, right? If God is all-knowing–and he created the universe (and our means for understanding everything contained within)–then what we know as “God’s plan” stems from the omniscience which comes from God being “I AM that I AM.”


I think there’s a problem with “God’s plan.”


For example, consider a young girl who becomes pregnant. She’s not married and barely knows the guy by whom she became pregnant. She’s scared and alone. Why is she alone? She’s from a Catholic family and she’s afraid of what might be said if she came home with this news. Feeling as if she had run out of options–she doesn’t seek an abortion–she just does nothing.


Her doing nothing proves to be dangerous to her unborn child. Medical fragilities that should have been taken care of during her prenatal doctor visits were overlooked. There were no prenatal vitamins, no Lamaze classes and no belly earphones. In fact, there was no connection between fetus and carrier. The only real impact this baby would have on her life was the day she passed out on her college, dorm-room floor–because she had gone into labor.


After being airlifted to the nearest hospital–one that could handle a traumatic birth–the process of labor continues. That is, until she begins to have seizures. These seizures continue and last for minutes at a time. One of them lasted for four minutes. Unfortunately, for the child, he was in the birth canal when it happened. The first four minutes of this young child’s life were ones without oxygen. After the process was over–and the young girl had realized what happened (and choosing to give this child up for adoption)–this young child also spent the first 12 days of his life without a mother.


The child is left with a body that is weak, but a spirit that is strong.


That spirit got him through some extremely difficult times. He couldn’t eat on his own. He couldn’t withstand a cabinet door being shut too loudly. He couldn’t stand not to be swaddled tightly 24/7. Yet, through all that, everyone who knew him this young boy knew his smile.


That smile, however, couldn’t prevent him from going through yet more pain. He would face numerous surgeries–including a tube into his stomach, repairing a nose-bleed and having his legs broken and put back together with pins. On numerous occasions, those surgeries suppressed his immune and nervous systems. His parents would have many conversations with doctors about things like DNR, and the like.


After all the years of fighting valiantly against the hand he was dealt, he succumbed. His body couldn’t regulate his temperature and he was overcome with seizures–the same ones he faced coming into this world. Morphine provided some respite, as–little by little–his body shut down. Shallow breaths. Low O2. Slow heart rate.


He died in the arms of the mother who cherished him and the father who was humbled by him.


That was “God’s plan,” was it?


Someone once, blusterously said, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I say they forgot to check the VA hospitals.


Would they dare?


If God is omniscient, then he should have seen it coming. At that point, he should have used some of his omnipotence and stopped it from happening in the first place. It goes on from there. If God loves us, why do bad things happen? If God is so good, why do his people suffer such tragedy and loss? Is there a God at all?


For those wondering about now, I am not there. On the day Carter died, I shared a picture–online–of Carter’s bed. I gathered his stuffed animals where he used to lay–because I couldn’t yet bare seeing it empty. Along with the picture, I wrote, “Our grief is strong, but our faith is sure.”


I still mean that.


But we’re still left with how to deal with an all-knowing God who knows what’s going to happen to us, and doesn’t use all the other facets of who he is to save us from it.


Do we flip a Bible open to Jeremiah 29 and say something like, “It wasn’t God who harmed you, because it says right here that God’s plan is to make you prosperous and restore things to you that were taken away.” To that, I would say–sarcastically and painfully–”So, God’s going to give me back my son?”


I’m going to lay it out for you. God does know all. We can trust that his word and his presence in our lives will lead us in the right ways. We also have a choice, right? It’s called “free will.” We can choose to pay attention to those things in our lives. More importantly, we can choose a life as his disciple. That’s what he wants. God desires us to make that choice. It’s what makes what we share with God a “relationship.” If he interferes in one life–and another and another–the concept of “free will” is destroyed. We can no longer choose him. It becomes something we have to do and not that we want to do.


We know the difference between those two things, don’t we? Why wouldn’t we expect God to? So, yes, God knows all. He also created us all, in order that we would have–rather, want–a relationship with him.


Where is God when it hurts? He’s the wall you lean against that keeps you from tumbling to the ground. He’s the floor that keeps you on solid ground. He’s in the song that envelops you. He’s the waves that keep your boat near shore, so you don’t float out to sea.


And thanks be to God for that.



2 comments on “SERMON from 9-2-12: “No Atheists in Foxholes? Check the VA Hospital.”

  1. Eric J Allman
    September 4, 2012 at 10:03 AM #

    great sermon

  2. Nate
    September 7, 2012 at 6:44 PM #

    I am so sorry for your loss, I am the proud father of 4 boys (an embarrassment of riches I am well aware of) and reading your story made me cry and I a don’t cry. I have never experienced anything of this magnitude in my life but for a second imagined loosing one of mine……My heart goes out to you.

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