January 5, 2021

​Life in the Balance

What must the Lifegiver do in the presence of death?

Bruce Nicola, Jr.

Burned into my mind’s eye is a haunting, disturbing image that will remain with me until Jesus comes and removes it.

The setting is night. The place is San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. On this particular night a lone figure approaches. He has been here many times before. It is a place of solitude and peace. He is searching one last time for something that has eluded him.

Slowly the young man (25 years old—and young) approachesthe spot where the meaning of life has many times been thought about, analyzed, and processed. At times his mind is clear, though at other times clouded by mental struggles and drugs.

Tonight his mind is unclouded by either. Rather, he is struggling with an intensity of powerful feelings that are consuming him. The midnight darkness of depression envelopes him. Failure. Futility. Hopelessness. Loneliness. Tonight he hopes to achieve peace, find answers to questions about life, God, and all that other stuff.

He climbs about 10 feet into one of the four large concrete basins that surround the massive columned dome and methodically begins to organize various items that will shortly end his life. By morning he will have been successful, if that’s the right word. The last sentence of his suicide note reads, “I need to go home.”

I must be patient and satisfied with God’s mercy and justice while I wait for answers in the world called heaven.


This is where my mind’s eye pictures another Person. He walks with this young man whose parents had such high hopes for him; who was loved and valued by his family; a young man who had been prayed for every day of his life. His parents, family, friends, and prayer partners had all been praying for this Person to guide, protect, and care for him. Their prayers had an urgency of needing a miracle to change the desperate situation in this young life.

But the picture in my mind’s eye does not see a last-minute miracle. This story will not have that testimonial, evangelistic ending that everyone likes. Perfect love and sin don’t always make sense in the great controversy.

I see that Person standing—no, He’s kneeling beside the young man. Hot tears stream down His face. Sin is about to claim the life of another of God’s children. A father’s son, whom another Father’s Son died for centuries ago, is about to die.

The process of slowly snuffing out a life begins. The Person feels the life force return to Him as He chooses not to intervene; a decision only He, the Lifegiver, can make; a decision over which I have no control or comprehension. God the Father and God the Son understand perfectly what is happening at this moment of human incomprehension to this young man so dearly loved by his earthly parents and infinitely loved by the Creator of this human being.

Finally, there is no longer any breath, no heartbeat, no life, no personality for the one I once knew as my son, Garrett. Sin has claimed another of God’s children. What resurrection morning will be his?

This is where the ironies, paradoxes, and questions come into play. If the Lifegiver is present, why isn’t there life? It worked 2,000 years ago; why not now? Is there some cosmic, significant part to an ongoing story I don’t understand? Something only infinite divine wisdom and love can discern? If not, why even bother with the idea of this God-man holding gently my lifeless son in His arms?

We Want Answers, Not Questions

My mind’s eye leaves this scene. I need to see a little of what God already sees in the future. I want to grasp the hope and reality that there is a moment when death will cease; when broken lives will be mended. I go to all the promises I’ve read again and again, running the words across the pictures in my mind like subtitles in a movie. I superimpose these promises over the horrific images that remain vividly burned into my mind.

I imagine Job. He wanted answers. He lost his material possessions; then his children were killed in a moment of horror. Then, while he was racked with physical suffering, his marital problems surged, along with misguided support from his friends. Answers from God would have been helpful. Except, like us, Job didn’t get answers. Just a series of statements and questions from God.

The problems of sin, pain, suffering, and death do not offer satisfactory answers in this miserable, sin-polluted world we temporarily call home.

His Son for Our Children

A number of years ago I had the privilege of being prayed for by a group of prayer intercessors on the one-year anniversary of our son’s suicide. Spirit-filled people lovingly lifted me up in prayer for God’s healing touch on my broken heart. One of them prayed this sentence: “Your Son for his son.”

God gave His Son, Jesus, for my son, Garrett. Does this mean that I will hold my son again? I know where sin abounds, grace abounds infinitely more (Rom. 5:20, 21).

The only hope my eye of faith can see and try to understand is the significance of a rough, wooden cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. On it hangs the God-man, Jesus Christ. God the Father joins me in my sin-filled pain and suffering. He understands; He knows the end from the beginning. I must either reject or accept one of the choices before me.

If I reject God’s perfect wisdom, I run the terrible risk of never finding out why.

So I choose to accept God’s view. But I realize I must be patient and satisfied with God’s mercy and justice while I wait for answers in the world called heaven. I am hanging on to a verse that promises “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

So does my son’s suicide make sense now? No. The taking of one’s own life should never “make sense.”

Can I understand why it happened? Not really. All the answers I’ve heard are only trite, empty cliches.

Do I feel better? Somewhat, but not always; not in this lifetime.

Until then, my mind’s eye of faith will struggle each day to keep the picture, the words, and the person of Jesus Christ clearly in my heart. God is love. God is fair. God is good and merciful. God has been where I am, a heavenly Father losing a Son in death. The good news is that He got His Son back!

“Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

If you, or someone you know, is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Hotline, 800-273-8255, or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

Bruce Nicola, Jr., is retired after a career serving as a pastor and hospital chaplain.