When We Have No Answers

As efforts worldwide continue to seek the eradication of the polio virus that plagued the United States and UK over a half century ago, we can now thankfully vaccinate against this virus that can keep on giving 30-40 years later. When people cannot, or choose not, to receive the vaccine, we can understand why they may contract any of the various strains of polio.But for the 15-20 million worldwide survivors (Dr. Colin Tidy, 24 June 2016) who experience post polio syndrome, some wonder why or how they got the disease before Jonas Salk’s successful vaccine that became available in 1955. They have no answers.

A much lesser known disease, the Spanish flu, was a killer second only to the Black Death. Most students of Western Civilization know the Black Death (Great Plague), killed an estimated 75-200 million people in Eurasia between 1337-1350. Some sources claim the Black Death took 30-60% of Europe’s total population.

But until I recently read Susan Meissner’s As Bright as Heaven, I knew virtually nothing about the second greatest pandemic, the Spanish flu. This horrifying flu epidemic occurred just a century ago in 1918. One of the hardest hit cities, Philadelphia, buried more than 12,000. Like polio, the Black Death, and other unexplained tragedies, the Spanish flu was no respecter of persons. Poor, rich, educated, or not, this epidemic took life indiscriminately. One family member might survive while another succumbed within days. Again, we have theories and historical records, but no answers.

Evelyn, a character from this historical fiction, studies neurology in the mid 1920s, and seeks to treat a woman suffering from what was termed “dementia praecox, a psychotic disorder.” Sybil’s illness progresses until she has no ability to speak or even recognize her extremely devoted husband. Treatments of 1925 included “bathing therapies, sleep cures, barbiturates, hypnotics, and alkaloids,” but none kept Sybil from descending into madness (term of that time). Again, they had no answers. Even today, almost a century later, we have no answers to many physical and mental maladies.

When we lack answers, we try to explain situations by using metaphors or some concrete examples. In Meissner’s novel, Evelyn says, “Her mind is like an onion whose layers are peeling off all by themselves. And just like there is no way to reattach an onion’s layers, there is no way to stop Sybil Reese from mentally disappearing.” Such word pictures offer limited insight into the effects of a malady but no answers to the searing ache of loss.

Ever since Job, people have wondered, feared, and/or angrily confronted God for answers to why. Why me? Why this? Why now?

Yet I believe we do well to take a look at Job’s reaction after loses virtually all, and then demands counsel with the Almighty. Job’s contrite response follows.

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted… Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;”. Job 42:2, 3b, 5 ESV

I find real contentment in a sovereign God, One whom I trust to have designs, events, and ways beyond my comprehension, even when I can decipher no earthly answers. And when we all walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can know the One who surmounted evil, triumphing over man’s universal enemy, death. We will see Him face to face; all earthly questions will cease to plague us, and we shall be home.

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