by David Sisler

If only.

How many broken dreams, dashed hopes and crushing frustrations are summed up in those two words?

James Whistler, who became famous as a painter, looked back to a failed exam which caused him to be expelled from West Point, and said, "If silica had been a gas, I might have become a general!"

A 77-year-old man walked into the Toulouse Medical University in France and handed the guard a hand-written card. The card said the man had willed his body to science upon his death.

Then the man said, "I have nothing to live for. I have no interest in the future. My body is available immediately."

He walked a few steps away, pulled out a gun and killed himself.

You read about his suicide and wonder what "if onlys" lay hidden in that man's past. What desperation? What disappointment. What loneliness?

If only.

A man received an urgent phone call: "Dad passed away this morning. Come home as quickly as you can." Then in a series of tragic events, the grieving son was shot to death. A highway patrolman spotted the car on its way to the airport, the driver was speeding, weaving in and out of traffic. The patrolman radioed in the license plate and it came back on the wanted list. So he pulled the man over.

In reconstructing the events, no one was ever sure what actually happened. Perhaps the man stumbled and hit the officer with his car door. Perhaps he suddenly reached inside his coat. Whatever happened, acting on the report that the car was stolen, the policeman pulled his revolver and shot, killing the driver instantly.

The car was not stolen. The report on the license plate was five years old. Through human error, it had never been cleared out of the state police computers. A piece of erroneous information was left in place, it surfaced at the wrong time, and a man died.

If only the operator in charge of clearing the old records had not missed that one. If only the driver had not lost his balance. If only another policeman in the same area had not been recently shot to death by the driver of car that was stolen, then the young officer might not have been so quick to draw and fire.

If only.

The Oklahoma City bombing. If only. The murders of Michael and Alex Smith. If only. Or perhaps it is much more personal. The collapse of your business. The break-up of your marriage. The death of your child. If only.

It is usually at this point, at the point of tragedy, or misunderstanding, or disappointment, or despair that we direct our "if only" to God.

Two sisters, Mary and Martha, threw that accusation directly at Jesus as they stood by the tomb of their brother.

Through bitter tears they said, "Jesus, if only you had been here, our brother, Lazarus, would not have died."

Two days earlier, Jesus had received the word that Lazarus was sick, and for two days he waited. Then he announced, "Lazarus is dead. Now we will go to him."

And then Jesus added a statement which we instinctively know to be true, but which we desperately resent, "I am glad for your sakes that I was not there so that you may believe. This happened to bring glory to the Son of God."

When the words, "If only," are torn from our hearts we very much want to tell Jesus, "I don't care! Get your glory somewhere else, but not through my sorrow and my suffering!" Sometimes we even echo the words of Martha, "I know that even now God will give you anything you ask." Meaning, "Lord, you can reverse this situation! You have the power!"

And for Mary and Martha, Jesus did reverse the situation. He restored Lazarus to life after he had been dead for four days and his body had already started the natural process of decay. Jesus supernaturally reversed death and Lazarus walked out of his tomb, alive.

But so many times we say, "Jesus, if only!" and Jesus is silent.

Then what do we do?

If you will look at his tear-stained face as He stood by the grave of Lazarus, knowing that in a few moments He would raise Lazarus from the dead, but weeping nonetheless because He grieved for the pain Mary and Martha were suffering, there is only one thing you can do--trust Him. Trust Him because He loves you. Trust Him, because even in your pain, He has not forsaken you. You have His word on that!

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/2/95

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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