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“Who Failed?”

Bruce came to me on a Thursday. He was an alcoholic but was ready to change his ways. Our church had helped him a few times by giving him some odd jobs and paying him for work. So I guess he felt like I was the one he was supposed to come to for help.

He said, “I can’t do this anymore. My life is slipping away. My family needs me to be there but won’t allow me to come around because of my drinking. Do you know of a program I can get into so I can beat my addiction?”

It just so happened that I had been to a meeting less than a week before where a point person for an inpatient recovery program offered a free space for any addict I knew of who may be a good prospect for the program.

I said, “Bruce, I just talked to someone this week that may be able to help you. I will call him and if he gives the OK, I’ll let you know. Do you have a number where I can call you? If I hear back from my friend, I’ll call you today and maybe we can get you in the program this weekend.”

Bruce was elated and gave me a number where I could reach him and left. Meanwhile, I called my friend and left a message for him to call me back. He did, however, it wasn’t until the next day. I told him about Bruce and he was excited to get him into his program that very weekend.

I called Bruce at the number he gave me and left a message for him. But Bruce never returned my call. I was grieved because it seemed to me that God had set the whole thing up for Bruce. I chocked it up as another addict who had not hit rock bottom yet and wondered what it would take for Bruce.

Six months later I used Bruce’s story in a sermon without mentioning his name. A man who happened to be visiting our church that Sunday came up to me after the service.

He said, “The person you described in your sermon sounds like a man I knew.” We compared notes and found that Bruce was indeed our mutual friend, a certain miracle considering that we were in the San Fernando Valley which is part of the Los Angeles metro area. But this man shared with me the bad news about Bruce.

It seems the same Thursday night of Bruce’s conversation with me he obtained a quantity of alcohol, drank it, and while in his drunken state, wandered in front of an approaching train. This man had actually attended Bruce’s funeral. I was in shock.

I think we humans are programmed to ask about incidents such as this…Who failed?

Some may say that I was the one who failed. If I really cared I should have acted more quickly and searched the world over for Bruce. I should have just tried harder. And believe me; I spent a considerable time pondering this possibility.

Some may say God was the one who failed. Certainly He could have caused the timing to have been better for Bruce. He could have insured the point person for the recovery program got the message I left and made sure Bruce had gotten into the program before he drank again. Surely He could have kept Bruce’s heart from faltering for at least a day.

Others may say, no, it was all Bruce. He was a hopeless alcoholic and received the just consequences of his behavior. Had he been sincere, he would have been able to say no to drink for a single night.

The disciples asked Jesus one day when they saw a man born blind from birth, “Who was to blame, the man and his sin or his parents and theirs?” Jesus replied, “Neither, but that God is glorified.”

As I consider Bruce’s tragedy, certainly it wasn’t God that was to blame. He did everything within His grace to make a way for Bruce. He moved on Bruce’s heart and connected him with me, someone who could help him.

If it was any human that was to blame, it was all of us. Certainly the whole human system marked by self-interest could shoulder the responsibility. I could have not let Bruce out of my sight. The point person could have gotten back to me quicker. The person who was Bruce’s contact could have been more available. And Bruce could have been more resolved to become healed.

However, I went away from the whole incident more convinced of the sovereignty of God and His ways. And I think that is at least part of what Jesus meant when he corrected the disciples desire to blame. Our human blame is inconsequential if God’s ways are followed.

Whose ways are you following?

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