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Page10: Revised 09/10/1999
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Reprinted with the author's permission, from Along The Way, ©1996 by Robert F. O'Donnell; published by WritePro Publishing.
Something was wrong! Barely five steps into Palmer 304 and I knew Rose was about to have a seizure. Moving quickly, I engaged her in small talk. Always a faithful indicator, her eyes shifted in and out of that 'no one is home' look. Several unfinished sentences convinced me a seizure was imminent.
Hurrying to the nurses station, I informed the first person in sight. Within moments she was surrounded by a cadre of medical experts.
Having taken the only action available, I turned to God in prayer. While nurses rolled Rose on her side and taped to the bed rail the mouthpiece that would protect her tongue during a seizure, I pleaded with God. "Please. Just this once let it pass! I know you have the power! I know you hear me. See how much she loves you. In the name of love and mercy, don't let her have a seizure!"
Even as I pleaded for this small divine intervention my ears were attacked by the low-pitched beginning of the scream that signals a grand mal seizure. It rose in pitch until it cut the air like an out-of-control motor burning out its bearings.
Casting a glare into a corner of the ceiling (as if God was watching our suffering from that vantage point) I hurled an unprintable insult in that direction and headed for the door. "With a friend like you, I don't need enemies!" I mentally shot over my shoulder.
Experience is a great teacher; I am a slow learner. I had played out the same scene many times--always with the same results. However this was the first time my prayer for Rose had been a silent one. This prayer in silence was guarded self-preservation. If the seizure struck, at least no one would have cause to ridicule either God or my faith in Him. Previously I declared our expectation of divine healing openly and unashamedly. Most times while in the midst of declaring faith in God's ability to heal a seizure would strike with ferocity. Once I was actually hurled backward, by what force I never knew.(1)
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At the moment all I 'knew' was that 'God hadn't kept his own word!' Some conclusion. The false faith I had so carefully nurtured out of desperate need dissolved somewhere between Rose's first convulsion and the door to Palmer 304. With it went true hope along with false. Unable to trust God's word in simple matters that could be seen, how could I possibly trust it in matters of salvation, which cannot be seen?!
No matter that I was holding God responsible for promises he never made--belief in the 'faith' message had convinced me that he had so promised. When he failed to come through the thought of reexamining my belief system didn't arise.
Rather, had I unwittingly come upon a classical argument against God's power. As I wrestled with the issue of healing, I concluded that it was a paradox. Either God was all powerful but not all good, or he was all good but not all powerful. After all, I reasoned, a good God who was all powerful would never tolerate suffering, especially by those who really loved him. Since there was no healing it had to be that God was good but lacked the power to heal, or He had the power and wasn't good enough to use it.
Here you have an example of my ability to come to wrong conclusions in a brilliant manner. I was comparing God as Father with myself as father. If, as a human father, I would use all power at my disposal to relieve my children of suffering, would not God do the same? Seems logical, doesn't it? But what is wrong is my audacity at elevating myself above God . . . demanding that he perform according to my ideals. He doesn't. This subject of suffering is worthy of a chapter (or a dozen chapters) of its own, so I won't dwell on it here.
Arguments that I 'lacked faith for healing' or that I had hidden or unconfessed sin only heightened anxiety. If my faith was inadequate for a simple healing which could be seen, how could I trust it for salvation, which cannot be seen? Some dilemma! Who needed it?
Authoritatively and calmly the voice said, "I want you to go in there and tell her two things. First, tell her 'yes, I do love you.' Second, tell her 'I have already forgiven you.'"
That was it--nothing more. No introduction, no comforting words for myself, just a command. There I was telling God what he could do with his promises, totally enraged at him and he picks that moment to communicate in a dramatic, personal way.
Stunned, I stared into the room across the hall. "For all I know she'll throw me out. Maybe she's an atheist who will think I'm a religious fanatic." In my gut I just wanted to keep on moving.
"What the hell," I concluded. "If this is just a crisis-generated self-deception I'll soon find out. What have I got to lose? If she screams or throws me out I'll have one more bit of evidence that my faith is worthless."
"Excuse me." I said to her back. She turned her head slowly, and our eyes made contact. Her expression mirrored my own inner sense of fear and abandonment.
"Jesus sent me here to tell you two things. He says to tell you that he does love you, and he wants you to know that he has already forgiven you."
Annie, as I later found her name to be, wept. Several minutes of sobbing followed my prophecy. I took her hand and waited. Rose's throes were audible behind me as I stood here holding a stranger's hand. What else could I do?
"How did you know?" She finally managed to ask.
"Know what?" I replied. "I only know what Jesus told me to say to you."
Her story quickly unfolded. That afternoon the doctors had spoken her death sentence. Diabetes had done its work in her thirty-nine-year old body. Her heart and liver were ready to give out. At best she had but weeks to live. A former Roman Catholic, Annie had divorced her first husband (with good reason) and married a man who really loved her and her children.
Rome's deviltry had done its work well in Annie. As I approached with God's special word for her, Annie was pleading for his forgiveness for that divorce and remarriage. She couldn't handle the small-town public ignominy of being refused her church's sacraments. Neither could she renounce a very real and true marriage in favor of the former sham. Annie was between a rock and a hard place. Afraid of further 'sin' she couldn't bring herself to find the love and support of communion with another denomination.
Only a real miracle could pierce the shroud of Romish darkness and set her free. So effectively had she been conditioned that no amount of theological argument could break the grasp of false doctrine that bound her.
So God supplied that miracle. Annie had cried out to God about these issues all afternoon. She kept asking God's forgiveness and wondering about his love. Then a stranger shows up in the name of Jesus Christ and provides such precise answers there is no room for doubt. One sentence from God had the power to sweep away volumes of false doctrine, years of false teaching.
Fear gave way to joy and Annie wept again. This time it was tears of relief as her burden dissolved in the presence of God's love for her.
During the following weeks I visited Annie each time I visited Rose. Together we explored the simple truths of salvation. What a joy it was to be there when she placed her faith in Jesus Christ, and him alone. Her transformation from fear and hopelessness to joy and expectation was complete and self-evident.
Rose and Annie left the hospital about the same time, Rose to recover from an amputation, and Annie to die. A letter from her husband informed me of her passing. Absolute certainty attends my conviction that Annie is in heaven. Her last few weeks were a time of rejoicing. She eagerly anticipated coming face-to-face with the one she now knew as Father, not as judge.
If nothing else, God has an incredible sense of timing and economy. There in the Deaconess Hospital He had two children who had been deceived by distorted doctrines. Both had reached a point of distrust in his love. One was shot through with needless fear of eternal torture; the other angrily rejecting a false God He thought to be real.
With a one-sentence command He bypassed all doubts, fears and deceptions in both. He supplied precisely what was needed by both, at the exact moment it was needed.(3)
When He met Annie's needs, He also met mine. Who knows where I would be today if he had not spoken. The reality of His voice in my head was proven beyond doubt. How could I turn my back on a God who loved his children that much? I couldn't.
Not that all my questions were answered. Far from it. Why did God refuse my prayer to intervene and stop Rose's seizure? Why did He allow one who loved him to suffer while He tended to one who had never met him? I don't know; I can only surmise.
Certainly being born again is more important than avoiding physical distress. God brought salvation to one who was about to die. He could as easily have brought healing to Rose. He didn't. As I record this episode years later, he still hasn't.
That experience was my introduction to the real meaning of God's sovereignty. Unlike the powerless-to-act-without-my-faith deity of the blab-it-and-grab-it crowd, this God is in total control. He does what He wants, when He wants, where he wants, to whoever He wants, any way He wants, whether they have faith or not. Annie had no faith, only desperate need. I had no faith, only hostility and rage. There was no 'faith present to release God's power to act' yet He acted decisively.
Annie had lived in Hollowell, Maine. Rose and I usually pass it on the Maine Turnpike several times a year on our trips to Greenville. We pray and say, 'Hello, Annie! Hope you are enjoying Heaven.'
It is enough to know she is free and that God is an ever-present help in time of trouble.(4) I have given up telling him what kind of help or when to deliver it. What I consider trouble He may see as a classroom exercise; what I consider help He may see as harmful. I may often miss what He considers important. It is better to play out the hand I am dealt than to challenge the dealer.
Good night, Annie.
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The Roman Catholic Church refuses to recognize a civil divorce. However, if you are either wealthy enough, or clever enough, you can get an official Roman Catholic divorce quite easily. Of course, Rome does not call it a divorce; she calls it an 'annulment.'
QUESTION: What is the difference between a divorce and an annulment?
ANSWER: For all practical purposes, there is no difference at all. In a Roman Catholic annulment, the married couple is 'legally' separated, and each remains free to marry again. Rome plays a little word-game here. Rather than say the couple is divorced, Rome says "The couple were never married in the first place." That is, a Roman Catholic annulment is a denial of the marriage.
Never mind that a couple was married, in a Roman Catholic church, by a Roman Catholic priest. Never mind that they had several children. Never mind that they fulfilled all the requirements set forth by Rome for a valid marriage. For the right price, or with just the right words, you can get the Roman Catholic Church to deny that the marriage ever existed!
QUESTION: Isn't that a bit hypocritical?
ANSWER: I think it is. What do you think?
In fairness, I need to say that, for the rank-and-file Catholic (or Catholic couple), there is not
always a lot of money involved. They do ask you for donations, however. I don't fault the church
for this because they do seem to spend a lot of manpower evaluating annulment requests, and its
only fair to make some sort of payment. But the place where money comes in strongly, is with
the wealthy, well-known Catholic who seeks an annulment. Money greases the skids for them in
such a manner that those people can get there annulment pushed through in a matter of weeks,
while the rest of us have to wait up to a year or more. I guess Rome is no different than any other
business in our culture. For the right price you can almost always get better, and especially faster
service, with fewer obstacles and questions to deal with.
Their marriage began to fall apart about twelve years later. For five years they lived more or less as brother and sister because Helen, who had become attracted to other men, refused to have sex, or any form of intimacy with her husband. John finally had enough, so he moved out. The couple met often during the following year always in divorce court. Finally the civil divorce was granted. Neither one gave a twit for their church's opinion on divorce. Life had become pure hell for both of them, and they both acknowledged that the marriage had become a futile sham, a pretense. Now let's hear it in John's own words.
"Well, as luck would have it, I met and fell in love with Sylvia. My parents were still living, and they refused to accept either Sylvia, or our impending marriage. They were stuck in (with?) the teachings of their church which told them, in effect, that divorce and remarriage is a mortal sin. Out of respect for them, we chose to delay the wedding while I filed for an annulment with the Roman Catholic Church. Actually, I didn't really care what the church thought. I had already left the Roman Catholic Church for a Christian denomination. But I did care about my parents acceptance. Sylvia and I really wanted their acceptance and their blessing on our marriage."
"I had to submit an incredibly thorough, very detailed request, including written testimonials from several long-time acquaintances, and a letter of commendation from at least one Roman Catholic priest. The objective of the entire exercise was to convince a board of priests that my marriage to Helen, my first wife, had never really existed. I was lucky to have a priest friend willing to 'sponsor' my request. He wrote a very nice letter attesting to my personal character. What my character had to do with my attempt to sneak through a loophole in cannon law, I cannot say. I only know it was a necessary part of the package."
"I submitted approximately twenty-five pages of text, plus the required letters from others. Several months later, I was summoned before an official of the local Roman Catholic diocese, where I was grilled for more than two hours. I played the role of a humble, honest, dejected Roman Catholic man who had suddenly realized that I had been too immature when I married Helen."
"I managed to convince my interrogator that were too young, and too emotionally and intellectually immature to have made a valid, informed commitment! What a laugh! Seventeen years earlier I had sat with another priest and spent several hours convincing him that I was old enough and mature enough to get married! That early priest had even subject both Helen and I to take a long psychological test that measured our level of maturity. We passed with flying colors."
"And here I was, seventeen years later, making the exact opposite argument. And I won! Both times! After the interrogation, the priest had to send all the paperwork to some Roman Catholic group down in Washington, DC for its approval. After a long delay the experts in Washington approved the request and granted my annulment."
"It is interesting to note that not once was I questioned about my children, or how I would support them and continue to be a father to them. None of the priests I dealt with seemed to be concerned about that very important matter. Even lawyers and judges in a civil court show more concern for the children than does the Catholic Church. In court I had heathens holding my feet to the fire to ensure that I took care of our children, and provided for their education and health care. But not the priests! Maybe never having children of their own it never occurred to them? I don't know, and I lost a lot of respect for the priests because of this insensitivity."
"During the almost year-long process, the local chancery priests sent certified mail copies of all my information to my ex-wife. They offered her the opportunity to contest the annulment. She ignored all of them. Why not? She had no interest at all."
"Once my parents saw the official annulment document, they were satisfied. They then accepted Sylvia, and took part in our wedding. How strange! For more than seventy years they refused to accept divorce, let alone remarriage simply because that is what their church told them to think. Then, in an instant, they reversed their position, again, because their church told them they could. How sad that my parents, such wonderful, thinking people, were such slaves to the celibate clerics of a foreign nation who didn't even know they existed. "
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QUESTION: What does it take to get an annulment from the Roman Catholic Church?
ANSWER: A lot of paperwork. A lot of double-talk. A lot of easily-checked-out misrepresentation. Awareness of loopholes in cannon law. A lot of time (that can be shortened with Money). A priest friend willing to attest to your high moral character. A few friends willing to write letters in which they note how terrible your marriage was. In a way, it is easier to get an annulment than a civil divorce. There is usually no adversarial effort because, by the time one partner files for an annulment, both are already divorced, and want to stay that way.
QUESTION: What concern does Rome show for the children of an annulled marriage?
ANSWER: None at all. Rome is only concerned with the letter of cannon law, not with people.
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1.--Page 2 Rose once called me from work. She was building toward a seizure and wanted me to take her home. I rushed to where she worked, praying all the way. When I entered her office I could see it coming. With unwavering faith I said, "Excuse me, I have to pray for my wife." Whereupon I put my hands on her shoulders and began to pray aloud, in English. I then began to pray in tongues. Within seconds the seizure struck and a massive, tangible force hurled me backwards several feet. Recovering, I eased Rose to the floor and onto her side and asked whoever was listening to call an ambulance.
Was it God or the devil who pushed me away? I do not know. Why was I pushed away? I do not
know. Why didn't God stop the seizure? I do not know. All I know is that I honored my faith
before many witnesses and they all saw quite a show! What was the impact on them? Again I do
not know. How would such a demonstration influence others? Once thing is sure; they won't
soon forget it, and cannot help but conclude that they had witnessed God in action, whatever the
2.--Page 2 This was the second time I had heard an audible voice with no one near to speak. The first time it was the voice of my father, and it saved my life. About two o'clock one afternoon I was leaving the Traveler's building on High Street in Boston. I was about to cross the street when my Father's voice called my name. Startled, I turned to find no one within speaking distance. My puzzlement ended as a car turned the corner on two wheels and sped past, almost in the gutter. Had I not paused I would most assuredly have been killed. From that day I have been assured that God has a purpose for my life whether I understand it or not. Why else would He have taken the trouble to keep me alive?
Such incidents also reveal that God is not beyond the use of allegory. He used 'my father's voice'
to get my attention and protect me. The point was not lost on me!
3.--Had this been the only incident of such 'photo finish' action by God, I could be tempted to write it off as coincidence. it wasn't. On many occasions I have observed the same convergence of lives and events culminate in an answer to prayer.
4.--But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD; He is their strength in the time of trouble." Psalm 37:39