Following this past Sunday morning’s worship gathering at MoSt Church, my bride and I ate lunch together at Pipeline Grill with my daughter (Amber Wheeler) and her family (I highly recommend their catfish). In mid-meal, and out of the blue, my daughter’s oldest, five year-old Ethan, posed a direct and very important question to me.
“Dah-Do, where is MaMa?”
Let the reader understand: I am “Dah-Do” and “MaMa” is my mother, now 20 years deceased.
I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts, for I wanted to answer his question as well as I possibly could. It had been asked with thoughtfulness; I wanted to reply with the same.
However, before I could make reply, another interjected an answer, direct, concise, and thoughtful:
“She’s in heaven.”
I like that answer. I like it a lot! And perhaps that is enough on the matter right now for a five year-old.
But, I also know that my mother was not a Christian, not so, at least, in anything like the conventional sense of the term. Now was she a believer in God? Certainly. Did she believe the Bible was God’s communication with people? Absolutely. Was she a virtuous woman? Far excelling the vast majority of Christians I know (for the record, through the years I’ve had a number of Christian women who knew her well describe her to me as “a saint” in their eyes; their words).
And yet, it all comes full stop right there.
And so, the question, and its true depth, remains:
“Where is MaMa?”
Now while my answer is anything but as concise as the one shared, allow me to share the answer here and now that I was forming as we broke bread (and catfish) together. I like to think of me answering that question after having scooped him up, having set him in my lap, and with my arms wrapped around him in a gentle hug, while I whispered this in his ear.
“Ethan, my man, listen to me very carefully: MaMa is in God’s good hands. That’s where she is: in God’s good hands. Much like this hug I’m giving you right now.
“God does nothing but good; in fact, that’s the only thing he does do – good! And with his own hands, he made MaMa; he gave her her life. And that was good! With his own hands, he gave her life here on earth for many, many years. And that was good! He took good care of her all that time. And that was good! And she used her own hands to do many good things in her life for other people. And that was good, for God’s good hands were involved in all of those good things she did! In fact, he remembers every one of those things and can’t forget them. And that’s really good!
“And so, when MaMa died, God scooped up her spirit and now holds her close to him with his good hands of love and tenderness. Again, sort of like this hug of love I’m giving you right now. That is where she is today – in God’s good hands, his good hands of great love.”
“Now you might wonder about death. All things eventually die. But I will tell you this: you need not fear death or worry about it at all, for God has that stuff whipped! God has the last say in everything and whatever he says, and then does with his good hands, is good for her, is the right thing to do with us, and for all. In life, in death, in all things, God always does the good, right thing.
“So, what you and I, what everyone really, needs to do is to live to please God. To live our life here and now like we are walking with God, holding his good, strong hand of love. And then, someday when we are gone, we too will be in God’s good hands. And God will do what is good for us forever and ever.
“You keep loving God and loving people. God’s good hands takes care of everything else.”
And then I’d tighten the squeeze of my hug, “scob his knob” a bit, set him back on his chair, swipe one of his french fries, give him a big grin, and just let him take it from there.
Thank you, Father God, for my young theologian of a grandson, Ethan. May he seek you with all of his heart, all of his days, with all of his ways. May he find you, again and again and again, until the day you scoop him up, too, and take him in your strong arms forever. I ask this in your Son’s name. Amen.
“In terms of qualifications and rights, we are all like Jonah. Who can claim to be qualified for participation in the divine work? Who has not disobeyed in the past and forfeited any rights that might pertain to serving God? The service of God is thus … always a second chance, always an undeserved privilege. And if vocation comes to us, we can never say that it is on the grounds of our gifts and qualities, or our capacities for the job at hand. The call of God is … a sign of mercy, in that he is willing to employ the unworthy …” (Peter C. Craigie)
“God is holy and just. In all his deeds, God is true to himself and faithful to his promises. In contrast, we act in opposition to our true selves and break our covenant promises. Rather than acknowledging God’s gifts with grateful hearts, we take our lives for granted; or, even worse, we use them as if we had created ourselves. When we ought to honor God by conforming to his holiness and justice, we follow our own foolish inclinations and reject the divine wisdom embodied in God’s law.
“Even if we admit that God has bridged the gaps between being and nothingness, between meaning and meaninglessness, why should the righteous and holy God reach out to an arrogant and ungrateful sinner? That which is nothing might at least arouse pity, since its pitiful state is not its own doing. But the ungrateful lawbreaker who considers himself wiser than God clearly deserves the consequences of his actions. Divine righteousness on one side and human unrighteousness on the other, God’s holiness above and our unholiness beneath – how can God bridge such chasms? And why would he do so if he could?
“To our amazement, God wills to have fellowship with the unrighteous: he chooses to save sinners from the consequences of their actions. … Why does God forgive sinners and reconcile them to himself by taking on their sin? Because he loves us with a love that ‘surpasses knowledge’ (Eph. 3.19), and that provokes our wonder and amazement.”
(Ron Highfield, Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God; pp. 175-176)