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A wasted life? 


Some seriously bad people live to be a hundred, while many good people, including fine Christians, have their earthly lives cut cruelly short. Where is God in this? By Colin Sedgwick



I worshipped recently at a church that was founded some 70 years ago in memory of a young church member. She was, apparently, a radiant Christian, and had felt called by God to serve as a missionary nurse in India.

From the moment she arrived she felt at home – she described the place where she was sent as “a ripping hospital” (no doubt today she would have said “incredible”, “fantastic” or “amazing”).

But… within a couple of months she was dead, struck down by disease.

You are tempted to think, “What a waste of a life! What was the point? There she was, just beginning her life’s work – and for no reason it’s suddenly cut short.”

You might be tempted to go on, “Where was God in this? Was he there at all?”

Such thoughts are very natural. And, of course, there can be no clear or easy answers. But it’s a plain fact that some seriously bad people live to be a hundred, while many good people, including fine Christians, have their earthly lives cut cruelly short.

I find myself thinking of Stephen...

We are introduced to him in Acts 6:5 as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”, and we read in Acts 6:15 that under threat of death “his face was like the face of an angel”. We say goodbye to him in Acts 8:2: after his stoning “godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.”

True, we aren’t told anything much about Stephen beyond those few details. How old was he? Was he married? Did he have children? We simply don’t know. But we get the impression of a man in the prime of life. And one thing we do know is that he had been a Christian (though the word “Christian” hadn’t even been coined at this time) for a matter probably of just a few weeks.

Acts 7 makes it clear that he had powerful speaking gifts, and even in those early days he had been given a leadership position in the church.

So you think: the impact he might have had! He might have ended up greater than Peter or Paul! And, as with that nurse, “What a waste…” How much good he might have done if God had given him another 20, or even just 10, years!”

But no. We have no choice but to accept that God had other ideas; and who are we to question him?

It’s a sobering thought that some people achieve more for God in just a year or two than some of us do in a whole lifetime. In Stephen’s case, Acts drops us an intriguing little detail that we shouldn’t miss…

Apparently there was a young man standing by as they prepared to kill him, and while he wasn’t involved in the stoning he did look after their coats: Luke tells us that he “approved” of what they did.

And what was his name? Saul, that’s what. Saul of Tarsus. Saul, who would soon become Paul, the apostle to the gentiles. Saul, who would be used by God to change the course of history.

Saul’s conversion to Jesus is described a couple of chapters later. We can’t say for sure that witnessing Stephen’s Christlike death had affected him. But I don’t think you’re sticking your neck out too far if you say “Oh, surely, it must have; it must have!”

And who knows how many lives were transformed by having known, however briefly, that nurse we started with?

We tend to measure the quality of a life by its length: “She had a good innings,” we say, of someone who has just died in her 90s. And so indeed she may have done.

But even if she did, that way of assessing a life is the way of the world, not the way of God. What matters is not how many years I have, but what I do with the ones I am given.

Jesus himself, after all, once the period of his childhood was over, spent some twenty years preparing for his life’s work and then some three years – just three years! – fulfilling it.

But who would dare to say, “Think of the even greater good he could have done if he had lived to 70!” The very thought verges on the blasphemous.

No. God knows what he is doing. May he give us grace to accept it – even if we can’t understand it.

Lord Jesus Christ, whether my life be long or short, sad or sorrowful, exciting or routine, inspire me to fill it with glad service for you. Amen. 



Image | Ben White | Unsplash

Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com


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Baptist Times, 30/10/2018
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