Sometimes I get angry at God.
One of those times was when I read the biography of Dr. Daniel Sargent.
It was never my privilege to meet Dan, but his father Forrest and I play tennis together. The pain of losing Dan—and the worst emotional pain imaginable is the pain of losing a child–is forever engraved on his soul.
Dr. Sargent was a gifted scientist and Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. He was doing vital cancer research, but he died at that age of 46.
In my anger I ask, “Why, God, did you allow this?”
Dr. Sargent was pushing back the curtain of human understanding in the search for a cure for cancer. He was the Ralph S. and Beverly E. Caulkins Professor of Cancer Research and the Chair of the Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics in the Department of Health Sciences Research at the Mayo Clinic.
His obituary on the web site of the American Society for Clinical Oncology further notes, “Dr. Sargent was the principal investigator for the statistics and data management program at the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (ALLIANCE), a national clinical trials network sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. He led multiple international groups including ACCENT in adjuvant colon cancer, the prospective IDEA in colon cancer, and the FLASH international consortia in follicular lymphoma. He authored or co-authored more than 300 peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters, editorials, and letters.”
It is hard to believe that a man who accomplished so many great things only lived 46 years.
I could cite further accomplishments of Dr. Sargent’s brilliant career, but they would only make me angrier at God for taking away so young a person who did so much good.
Of course I am familiar with many theological theories. Perhaps, as Rabbi Harold Kushner teaches in, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, there is a realm of nature that God does not and cannot control.
I must even consider the possibility that there is no God at all. I am well familiar with the claims that no good God could allow so many tragedies to happen.
As I ponder, “Why,” there are some things I will never say:
- God needed Dr. Sargent in heaven.
What kind of a God could ever need Dan Sargent more than his wife and young children?
- He is in a better place.
Again, what better place could there be for a man, who married and loved his high school sweetheart and had two wonderful children than with them?
Yes there are things I know never to say, but that still leaves me groping for an answer.
Ultimately, I retreat to what God said to Job out of the whirlwind: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … Who has put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who has given understanding to the mind …Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 38:4, 36; 40:8)
In other words, much about God is and always will be, a mystery.
As wise as humans will ever become, there is and always will be an infinite gap between what we can grasp and what God does or does not allow to happen.
That does not mean we have to like or accept these mysteries. We should continue to try to unravel them, but we must accept this reality: our efforts to fully understand the reasons bad things happen will always fall short.
Life is often unfair. It is OK to be angry at God. I believe God can handle our anger. But when we condemn God for what we do not understand, we become victims of our own arrogance.
Indeed, it is arrogant to say that if God does not conform to my moral standards of right and wrong, then either there is no God or God’s power is limited. It is only our understanding that is and will remain limited.
We should answer to God but not expect God to answer to us.
Despite all we shall never know, here are things we can say about God.
We have a good idea of how God wants us to act toward one another. It is clear that God wants us to use our vast power to make a better world on earth.
It is also clear that Dan Sargent used his vast talents in pursuit of that lofty goal.
Let the example of his life inspire us to do the same. That will be his enduring legacy!
What will our legacy be?
If we try to live our lives as Dr. Sargent did for however many days or years we have, then people will remember us as a blessing.
That, I believe is the highest reward life can offer.