It was only a fragment of conversation, a bit of disjointed syntax floating on the ether of multi-linguistic communication at an international airport. I didn’t even hear enough to be able to identify the accent, let alone the actual speaker. But I heard enough that I’ve been pondering the comment ever since. “If there was a God,” the voice said, “He wouldn’t allow such things to happen. What’s the point of praying to a God who lets people suffer? It’s a joke. It’s a farce. God i
” I didn’t hear the final declaration, but something tells me it was not a statement of belief. As a person of faith, I am not offended by such sentiments. I understand why it is difficult for some people to believe. But I am troubled. And saddened. And I can’t help but wonder what Drexell Beckman would have said if he had been in that airport. Drexell Beckman was the lay leader of our church congregation for several years. Then someone else took over the congregation and Brother Beckman became Sunday School teacher to the biggest, baddest batch of 12- and 13-year-olds to ever tackle a Testament. There were 25 of us in the class, and we had a reputation for chewing up and spitting out those who tried to teach us. I remember one stretch when we went through five or six teachers in about three months. We went through Sunday School teachers like Godzilla went through Tokyo. It wasn’t that we were completely unredeemable. It was actually, in retrospect, a pretty terrific group of young people. But there were so many of us. And we enjoyed being together, which meant we were very social. And, okay, I’ll admit it; we boys were just discovering how great girls are, and we wanted to impress them. So we were constantly acting up and showing off, like the time George got stuck in the window while trying to climb out of it. No, wait. That was me. George was the one who snuck a puppy into Sunday School. No, wait. That was me, too. But George did some bad stuff, too. Trust me. He did. We all did. So they split up the class - boys in one class, girls in another - and gave the boys to Drexell Beckman. And that was the end of the trouble. For one thing, the girls were in another class, so there was no point in showing off. For another, we all knew and loved Brother Beckman, and so he immediately commanded our attention and respect. And for still another, his Sunday School lessons were powerful. He had a unique way of taking Bible stories and making them come to life. His love for the scriptures and for God was palpable, and he touched us with his conviction. He talked with us, not at us, about religion, and how it applied to our lives in everyday ways. One day during a lesson about prayer, one of the boys asked about Nina Brinkerhoff. Nina was a member of our congregation who suffered greatly from illness. We often prayed for her during church meetings. If God was so powerful and loving, the boys wanted to know, why was she still sick? The wise teacher looked at the ground for a moment as he considered his response. Finally he said: “Having faith doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have problems. We live in a world where there is illness, where there are tragic accidents, where disasters happen. And we live in this imperfect world with these fragile, imperfect bodies, so bad things can happen. Faith doesn’t change that. But faith in God and in His eternal promises can give us the courage we need to be able to cope with illness, tragedy and disaster when they happen.” He paused, then added: “That’s what Nina’s faith has done for her. It hasn’t healed her body, but it has healed her soul. And for a person of faith, that’s the most important thing.” No matter what you may have overheard at the airport.