|Yusei Kikuchi with Seibu Lions in Japan
(Photo: えすぱにぃ via Wiki Commons)
“…he’s a good lefty who throws at 92-93 mph with a cutter, a slider and good straight change. He’s a solid three (third starter), maybe better than that.”
There is a famous old Yiddish proverb that has had many takes on it over the years, widely attributed to Israel Furman in 1968, which is itself a take on the Bible’s Psalm 33:10 verse reading “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”
That saying of Furman’s? “Man plans, and God laughs.”
The actual translation of the Yiddish would be that man proposes, and God disposes. In other words, we can make all the plans that we want here on Earth in regards to our lives, but in the end it will be God’s plan that will come to pass, whether or not that coincides with our own plans, hopes, and dreams.
The saying came to me this morning as I contemplated a recent dual tragedy which has struck a family that I know personally. They suffered a sudden, recent, untimely death, and now immediately on top of that tragedy have suffered yet another major blow. Without going into details, still fresh and painful for many, there are a number of people suffering because of these twin tragedies right now, and a few whose lives have been completely devastated.
How do we possibly make sense of such apparently senseless tragedy? How can any of that be a part of God’s plan for those individuals, for that family? And what does it have to do with that old Yiddish saying that I mention in the beginning of this piece?
No matter what age, we all make plans. Young people plan on where they’re going to meet after school, what they’re going to do this weekend. Students plan on what courses they are going to sign up for in the next semester or school year. Folks make plans for with whom they want to begin or continue a relationship, how many children to have, their career choice, where they are going on vacation, what’s for dinner tonight, and much more.
But how many plans have you made in your life, small or large, only to have something intervene to delay, change, or completely thwart those sometimes well-conceived plans?
How many times did you make a wrong turn, depend on the wrong person, fail to receive some type of anticipated support, gotten sick, lost something, run late, or had any number of other scenarios occur to interrupt and disrupt those plans?
Today, the life expectancy of an average American is up to almost 79 years. For Canadians and Brits, that number is almost 81. And for the Japanese, their life expectancy is over 82.5 years of age. In China, life expectancy is almost 73.5 years, and in India the number is at almost 65.5 years.
When people look at these numbers and see disparity between a native of China expecting to live to 73 years of age, and a Japanese native expecting 83, we wonder about that decade of difference, and we rightly try to examine the many factors that go into one group of people having a longer life, and in many cases, a better quality of life, than others.
But the fact is that whether you live in India or China or the United States, those are average numbers. They are the “expectancy” based on any individual living out a full, “natural” life span. We all know that there are people who live to be 80, 82, 85 and even higher in the United States.
To keep that expectancy number at 79 years on average, there is a trade-off. For every American who lives to 85, and there are many, there are just as many only living to 73. For everyone living into their 90’s, there are people dying in their 60’s.
How about this one? You live to be 100 years of age or more! Congratulations to you, at least assuming you have most of your mental faculties and physical capacities, adjusted for aging, of course.
So you’re 100 or over? Well, there are more than 53,000 of you right now in the United States alone. 53,000 who beat the expectancy age of 79 by 21 or more years. But all that means is that there are at least as many who have died at age 58 or less.
Now that phenomenon and those statistics may not be exact, but you get the idea – there are no guarantees. You might make 79. You might make 100. You also might make only 58, or less. And there is nothing unnatural about it. In fact, it is to be expected.
Why does God allow some people to reach 100 and others to be taken from their families at birth? Why do some die quietly in their beds in their 80’s after a mostly healthy life, while others die broken and bloodied on a battlefield thousands of miles from their homes? Who do some commit murder and go on to live 50 years in prison, while an innocent 12-year old is killed riding their bicycle outside their home?
Why do you decide you want to be a priest, enter the seminary, and end up 10 years later as a firefighter, married with 3 children? Why do you look forward to celebrating your wife’s 39th birthday with her in a couple months, planning a dinner or party, only to have her die from a massive heart attack two days after you make the reservations? Why do you move your family across town to your dream house in your ideal neighborhood, only to find the home destroyed a year later by flood, fire, or storm?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Frankly, each of our lives is visited at some time or other by illness, loss, tragedy, and death. For some, it happens too early, or too often, or too close together, or too painfully or violently. Almost any time, it happens too soon. Sooner than we ever could expect. Sooner than we feel is justified by a benevolent God. Certainly sooner than we ourselves had ever planned.
There are dozens of atheist reasons against their belief in God. I am certainly not going to make these incorrect, flawed arguments on their behalf. But one of those reasons involves this issue of a loving, caring, just God allowing injustice, disaster, destruction, and even murder. Why wouldn’t such a God step in and intervene? How could He allow such pain and suffering?
And if indeed God has a “plan” for each of us, then was a part of that plan for us to be shot by a robber, or stabbed by a jealous lover, or run down by a drunk driver, or have our plane flown into a tower? If not, has that killer intervened in God’s plan, and if so, does that mean God Himself can have His plans thwarted?
And if we are all out here making plans for our lives, and those plans are disrupted by major injury, illness, disaster, or even death, was that God intervening and changing our lives? Is God actually sitting somewhere, waiting for us to make a plan for our lives, watching us, waiting for a chance to laugh on seeing our reaction as his greater destiny for us unfolds? And if so, what’s so funny about it, especially when it involves hurt and pain?
Simply, the answer is a resounding “no”, God is not really out there laughing at us, or waiting to laugh as we make plans that He knows are contradictory to His own, that He knows will ultimately fail. And God certainly is not doing so when that involves our pain and suffering.
There is a simple, although unsatisfying for some, answer as to the ‘when’ and ‘why’ of our ultimate destiny here on Earth. The fact is that we all have a “time” allotted to us. There is a day and an a hour and a moment out there which will be our last. The circumstances surrounding that ultimate final moment for each of us are different, and may seem arbitrary to us.
Why those circumstances? Why do some go with ease while others suffer? Why do some slip away over time while others are snatched away suddenly? The fact is, there are some questions that we must all learn to accept we will never, ever receive an answer to in this mortal, human life.
There is also a simple answer as to the similar question regarding the circumstances of our lives. Why do we make plans, sometimes rearranging our lives, investing our time and talent and treasure, building up hope inside, only to have sudden circumstances alter those carefully conceived ideas? Why would God not reward such dedication, perseverance, and discipline on our part?
The answer is that maybe He will, maybe He won’t – it all depends on what God ultimately has in store for you within His own plan. Perhaps you are being inspired by the Holy Spirit down the right path, and your plans will be rewarded. But perhaps you are making all the wrong plans for all the wrong reasons.
Do we not have a “free will” to choose for ourselves what is best for us? You do indeed have that freedom. However, there are ramifications for each of our choices and decisions. There is a price to be paid for everything. Which direction you drive home today, where you go for lunch, who you have sexual relations with, how many drinks you consume at the bar, what you choose to eat each day – every decision matters. Those decisions may determine the final “where” and “how” as each of our ultimate “when” becomes imminent.
Every decision isn’t “life and death”, those are just the biggest decisions with the biggest ramifications. We make numerous small decisions each day, some of which we know are wrong, some of which may result in a mild chastisement from that loving God as a direct attempt to teach us a lesson.
In some of those instances, I can definitely see the Lord sitting back and having a little laugh at our relatively unharmed expense, especially when we do indeed learn those lessons. It is only my own personal belief, but I believe in a God with a sense of humor.
But the pain, suffering, destruction, and the death that comes naturally as a part of this human life on Earth? There is nothing funny about those things to our loving God. He suffers with us, indeed, he sent his only Son here specifically to suffer and die on our behalf. He knows our pain.
He asks that we accept Him as our God. He asks that we persevere to the end through whatever the challenge, trusting Him in all circumstances, no matter how challenging or unjust they may seem to us.
He asks that we believe in the truth that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience, knowing that any hurt, pain, sadness, and despair are only temporary. He asks this knowing that heaven is forever, the ultimate reward for those who do remain strong in the challenge of life’s pain and grief, and who choose to remain strong in their faith and belief in Him.
They are leaving us now on a daily basis, the American armed service veterans who served and fought during the greatest military conflict in the history of the planet Earth.
The youngest of the men and women who served their country, whose efforts secured freedom and democracy for generations to come, and who have survived to continue as living representatives of those long-ago days are now in their 80’s.
On May 30th, 2006, the advancement of age and the ravages of illness finally took from us a man who the Imperial Japanese could not. On that date, 85-year old Donald Rudolph of Minnesota died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
He left behind his wife, Helen Rudolph, who remains with us for now to tell the story to their three grandchildren of a man on whom “the fellas in his platoon relied on for leadership” and who he had said was doing “his duty to protect them because they were going to protect him.”
On that day few realized that the world was entering the final months of what had been a conflict that had raged across the globe for more than five years.
Just a few weeks earlier, American forces fighting in the Pacific theater against Japan had stormed the main island of Luzon in the Philippines and began a 110-mile drive on the capital city of Manila. They were involved in the process of liberating island-by-island the territories which the Japanese had invaded, conquered, and subjugated over the past few years.
On that early February day, Don Rudolph was a Sergeant and platoon leader with the Army’s 20th infantry, Sixth infantry division which was engaged in a pitched battle for the heavily fortified town of Munoz.
Rudolph was administering first aid to a wounded soldier when his platoon suddenly came under heavy fire from a group of Japanese who were concealed in a culvert.
Grabbing his rifle and some grenades, Rudolph moved forward, his men supporting him with their own rifle cover. He reached the culvert safely and was able to take out three of the Japanese soldiers. Then he began to make his way across open ground to attack some pillboxes which were housing Japanese machine guns.
On reaching the first he tossed a grenade through an opening there. Not thinking the job done, Rudolph then tore the cover off the pillbox with his bare hands and dropped another grenade inside. He moved on to a second pillbox and utilized a pickax to bust it open, then took out its combatants with rifle fire and another grenade.
Rudolph continued to move along the pillboxes, taking out six more, when suddenly a Japanese tank arrived and began to attack their platoon. Sergeant Rudolph leaped atop the tank and dropped a grenade through the turret, killing the Japanese crew.
In the aftermath, for his actions he was given a battlefield commission to the rank of Lieutenant.
On August 23rd, just ten days before the Japanese would formally surrender, President Harry S. Truman presented Lt. Donald Rudolph with the Medal of Honor stating that in acting in “complete disregard for his own safety” Rudolph had “cleared a path for an advance which culminated in one of the most decisive victories of the Philippine campaign.”
Unlike many of his fellow service persons in his ‘Greatest Generation’, Don Rudolph went on to live a long, healthy life. He finally retired from military service in 1963, and was later marching in a Minneapolis Veteran’s Day parade in 1969 when he was interviewed and said “When I see that flag, it does something to me inside. I want to jump up and salute.”
What a sentiment. It is important that we not only share his sentiment, but that we also remember to jump up and salute the real American heroes such as Donald Rudolph whose actions have made and continue to make freedom possible both in the United States and around the world.
NOTE: This is the continuation of the ‘Real American Heroes’ series remembering U.S. military heroes, all the entries of which you can view by clicking on to that below label. Thanks as always to the http://www.mishalov.com website.
I was trying to think of an appropriate way to blend my usual ‘Sunday Sermon’ article with a remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day.
I could have just went with two separate articles, but there had to be many connections between faith and the events of December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Naval forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
This sneak attack, which directly ushered America into World War II, resulted in President Franklin D. Roosevelt calling that Sunday morning “A date which will live in infamy!”
Hawaii was a U.S. territory at the time, it would not become a full state until 1959, and it was a major American naval outpost in the South Pacific. The United States had never been attacked directly from an outside enemy, considering the Civil War as a purely internal struggle.
So as the 353 Japanese bombers continually descended over Pearl without warning on that peaceful, sunny Sunday morning and began their devastating bombing and strafing runs, the significant American forces stationed there were taken completely by surprise.
The Japanese inflicted tremendous damage that morning in an attempt to keep America from influencing their plans to dominate Southeast Asia. Numerous American ships and aircraft were destroyed and damaged, while 2,402 Americans lost their lives at Pearl and another 1,282 were wounded.
The Japanese were allies of the Germans, and Hitler and his Nazi regime were already engaged in overrunning Europe. The Americans had tried to stay out of the war to this point, but in the aftermath of the attack at Pearl, Hitler declared war on the United States as an ally of Japan.
At that time the U.S. was not the most powerful nation on earth. Instead it was a budding military power that was still trying to fully emerge from the internal struggle of its lengthy economic Depression of the 1930’s.
America’s passions were enflamed by this attack and the deaths of so many young servicepersons, and the nation was rallied to open their eyes to the full scope of the danger in sitting back and not engaging the Nazis and the Japanese Imperialists.
When you look closely at the basic elements of the key nations in the titanic struggle that was WWII, one stands out above all to any person of faith. The Germans and the Japanese cultures were overrun by Nazis and Imperialists, and in Italy the Socialists were in charge. Combined they were known as the ‘Axis’ powers who wanted to spread their ideologies and power, and none had a place for God.
The Americans and British and the rest of what became known as the ‘Allies’ were largely God-fearing nations who frequently called on their faith to sustain during difficult times. That faith should always be appreciated by anyone who analyzes the eventual victory of the Allies in this epic struggle.
A victory by the Allies signified a victory for freedom, democracy, and religious faith over the purely secular Axis regimes. Americans flooded their churches during these periods, praying for the health and safety of their loved ones, and for victory for our side.
At home, they drew strength from this faith and forged one of the greatest industrial responses that mankind has ever seen, turning America’s manufacturing capabilities from civilian purposes to military, allowing us to eventually overtake what had been a military superiority for the Axis at the outset.
On the battlefields, in the skies, and on the seas, American military personnel were overwhelmingly Christian, prayed regularly, and turned to their faith during the difficult battles and circumstances in which they found themselves.
I have no doubt that the one true God hears the prayers of His faithful. He allows our free will and our human choices to lead events here on earth, but he will intervene at the worst times when the direction of humanity itself is at stake.
I have no doubt that God Himself intervened at numerous key times to give an ultimate advantage to the Allied forces in World War II. He granted us this intervention because we did not turn our backs on Him, and in fact turned even more towards Him during this difficult time.
The lesson that we can learn is that it is important to turn to the Lord during difficult times in both our national and personal experiences. But we should also not return to a spiritual malaise when things are going well.
Man’s nature has always been to drift away from God when things are going good, thinking that we are doing well without Him when the truth is that it is His very blessings that put us in such a good position. We all need to turn more to God, in good times and in bad.
Pearl Harbor became a rallying cry for the ‘greatest generation’, but there is question as to whether today’s America can possibly respond in the same way to an existential threat, such as that from Radical Islam.
We have drifted steadily away from God as a society and a nation since the end of WWII. We need to remember on this Sunday, December 7th, that Sunday morning 67 years ago, and never forget the blessings that God has given our nation throughout its history.
God bless the living Veteran survivors of that fateful day. Their work, their sacrifice, their faith lives on now in fame, not in infamy.