My wife, Karin, handed our young son to a nurse who would take him to an operating room for open-heart surgery. As I watched, I felt kinship with Abraham taking Isaac up Mount Moriah, with hope that they would return down the mountain together. We took Tyler up Mount Moriah to open-heart surgery three times—at six days, four months, and eighteen months—and all three times we returned home with him.
Tyler was diagnosed in utero with a heart defect that would be fatal without surgical intervention. We pondered our options and sought comfort through this difficult journey. In Psalm 139:13–14, the psalmist wrote, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." For Karin, that passage was a source of deep comfort, but it made me angry with God. If God "knits" us "fearfully and wonderfully" in the womb, then why did he drop such an important stitch with our son?
As we went through each surgery, we got to know other parents and families walking the same path. We prayed with some, wept with some, rejoiced with some. We cried when surgeries didn't go well, and grieved when children didn't survive. We rejoiced when surgeries went well, and found courage when children went home.
We gave thanks to God each time Tyler came home with us from the hospital. It was not easy to move beyond my anger at God for dropping a very important stitch when he was knitting Tyler together. But with time, I came to understand that Tyler is "fearfully and wonderfully made," that God didn't make a mistake, and that God had a plan for Tyler and for us.
As a pastor, people come to me with their sorrows and disappointments. A frustrated husband, broken-hearted that his six-month-old marriage is already on the rocks. A young mother, weeping at the death of her husband, leaving her on her own with young children. A man with a beautiful family and many dreams to fulfill, coping with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Sometimes I point them to the words that helped make sense of our difficult journey—questions 27 and 28.
Often believers refuse to place their disappointment and grief at the feet of God. Some say Satan is working overtime, and while I don't want to deny the spiritual battle we may face, my experience is that Satan gets far too much credit. Occasionally people will attribute their trials to chance, but this is uncommon. Most often we seek to find someone or something to blame. Was the heart defect caused by not taking prenatal vitamins? Is the cancer caused by chemical exposure? We want to blame someone or something. It is good to examine causes of diseases and to prevent them where we can, but sometimes there is no clear answer. Although we want to blame someone, we rarely want to blame God.
But the Catechism will have none of it. It confronts the problem of evil, and doesn't turn away from God's sovereign control. It unabashedly testifies of divine providence. We are assured that "rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, ... health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand." We love to give God credit for the rain that brings fruitfulness, the health and prosperity that come our way. But we are reluctant to blame God for the drought and lean years, the sickness and poverty, and the things that go against us. Still, if God is sovereign, then we must acknowledge his responsibility for our trials.
The comfort of questions 27 and 28 is that all these things come not from an enemy, but from a loving, wise Father. Knowing this, "We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from God's love."
Tyler is now a high school junior, and a varsity tennis player. We are grateful because things have gone well, and I know that he is "fearfully and wonderfully made." Our Father's hand has given us this journey, and we have learned patience when the road is difficult, and discovered the good confidence that no obstacle in the path will keep us from the love of our faithful God and Father.
Jeff Sajdak is pastor of First Christian Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa.