QUESTION: Our 74-year-old father is in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and this is very difficult for those of us who love him. He was an engineer, extremely brilliant and enjoyed life to the fullest. Now he’s depressed and confused. His physical body is very healthy, and it looks like he’ll suffer many more years before he passes on.
Our question is why does God let this happen? We’ve always been a church-going family and all of us have served and continue to serve in various ways at our church. It would seem to us that a servant of the Lord wouldn’t have to endure this debilitating, dehumanizing condition.
~ Despondent Family
Dear Despondent Family,
I wish the prognosis were different. I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I wish bad things didn’t happen to good people. But they do, and I hate it. Perhaps there’s comfort in knowing you’re in good company. King David wrote, “Troubles without number surround me … They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.” Psalm 40:12
The prophet Jeremiah asked, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?” Jer. 15:18
And Jesus, who was called a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matt 6:34
Surely men like these didn’t deserve suffering, did they? I wish going to church exempted us from disease and sorrow but it doesn’t. Here are some things to keep in mind when walking this very difficult road: 1. The world is free but fallen. The days of paradise in the garden are over. From now on, we live and breathe in a world that is not normal. It is fallen. Awful things happen now that are a result of human rebellion against God. Natural disasters, diseases and all kinds of suffering are part of life on this cursed planet.
2. Our suffering is redemptive and limited. Suffering accomplishes things like nothing else can. C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In the meantime, we must remember that God weeps with those who weep – that His own son was acquainted with sorrows and grief. And He will help us to bear the agony of the world’s evil.
3. The ultimate issue is not us but God’s glory. Since you’re a family of faith, ask yourself, “What could God be doing for the sake of great Name in the life of your family.” As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked Him, “Teacher, whose sin caused this man to be born blind – his own sin or his parents’ sin?” Jesus answered, “It is not this man’s sin or his parents’ sin that made him be blind. This man was born blind so that God’s power could be shown in him.” John 9:1-3
Dutch Christian Corrie Ten Boom came out of her experience in the Nazi concentration camp not talking about herself but about God! She said, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” Somehow all the pain and evil and sorrow we suffer will result in His glory when we turn to Him in the midst of our pain. Every tear we cry is His tear as well.
I know the answer to the question of suffering and evil in the world is elusive but God answered that question with a person, who endured pain, for you.
Rev. Jon Karn
Light on the Corner Church
Dear Despondent Family,
Let me say how sad I am to hear of your father’s compromised mental health due to Alzheimer’s disease. I know from my experience as a pastoral counselor how hard that can be for those who love someone in such circumstances. Your question about why God lets these things happen to good people is incredibly complex, but I will try to shed some light on the issue from my perspective as a person of faith and a member of the clergy. It is a question that many people have asked throughout history.
Why do babies from religious families die before a birth or soon after? Why are young mothers killed in traffic accidents when they have lived in loving service to their families? And why do old people have to suffer after all their years of sacrifice for others? The simple answer is that we don’t know. It is just the way of things in this world. We are born and we die.
But that is not the end of the story for me. I encourage you to read a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, titled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” As a father he suffered the death of his young son from a disease that caused his premature aging. So he wrote a book to help explain things to himself and others. What he writes is that we cannot always control what happens to us; the only thing we can manage is how we deal with life’s challenges and how we support others in their sorrows.
So my prayer for you is that you will find all the ways you can to be with each other during these difficult times knowing that God is walking with you through them all. Please know that you have my deepest empathy and support.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford, Minister
Church of the Verdugo Hills La Crescenta
QUESTION: Both my husband and I were very poor growing up. Fortunately for us, we went to college and now have well paying careers; however, we don’t consider ourselves wealthy. We have three incredible children ages 13, 15 and 18. In September, we’re sending the 18-year-old off to college out of state. Our problem is she wants a car. She’ll be attending college where practically everything is in walking distance. Because of the cost of a car, insurance and maintenance, we don’t want to get her a car. Our thinking is we’d get her one for college graduation. The arguments with her over this seem never-ending.
~ Bewildered Parents
Dear Bewildered Parents,
In my private practice I see many young people throughout their teen years into their college years (most go out of state to school) and then in the summer when they come home. Not one out-of-state student I’ve treated has received a car, no matter how wealthy their parents are. Unfortunately, no matter how well we parent, this generation is an entitled generation. They have more than we ever had, work less and expect more. As a mother of three, I have to instill gratitude into my children on certain issues, because our world just allows them to expect things: iPhones, iPads, and even cars without having worked a job to pay for them.
I bought my first car at 18 with my own money and I therefore appreciated it. When I went to college I paid my way through, and I appreciated every class I was in. Hard work breeds gratitude and appreciation for what we have.
I share these stories with you because giving our children things does not produce a work ethic nor appreciation. Your daughter does not need a car at college. Most out-of-state students do not receive a car because it is unnecessary. I agree to save it for a college graduation gift and she will learn the value of accomplishing a goal and being rewarded, much like we are in the workforce – work complete, then a paycheck.
Kimberlie Zakarian, LMFT
Thrive Therapy Center
Dear Bewildered Parents,
You should feel so fortunate that you have three wonderful children and that your eldest (and hopefully the other two as well) is following in your footsteps and seeking a degree in higher education. Not everyone is so lucky.
Regarding your dilemma, since I’m not sure of the particulars I will frame my response assuming two scenarios.
If you’re hesitant to buy the car because of finances and you simply cannot afford a new car at this time then you should sit your daughter down and have a heart-to-heart conversation about spending responsibly and not buying things beyond your means. This can be a great teaching moment.
On the other hand, if you can afford the car then perhaps it is the poverty you experienced when growing up that is influencing you. A car is not really a luxury item anymore and many college kids have one. Yes I know that everything is within walking distance – but there is so much that is inevitably not.
Regardless of the circumstances, for many young adults a car is a symbol of independence and not having one can affect their feelings of self-determination. Whatever you decide, have a conversation with your daughter about how much you trust and have full confidence in her and that this attitude is ever-present regardless of whether you buy her the car or not.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center