By Paige K Slighter
“The Jesus I know now is not about maintaining the status quo and convention at the cost of relationship and love.”
In 2007, Sharon experienced the tragic loss of her husband, Jim, to cancer. She said, “At the time, I was surrounded by Christians who were convinced of the Lord’s promises of healing, contingent on our degree of faith, the fervor of our prayers, the number of people praying, anointing with oil and the laying on of hands. There was an unstated but understood formula that we were to follow and if we did it right, God was obligated to act.” Sharon, Jim and all their friends poured every ounce of their energy into believing in miraculous healing.
When Jim passed away six months after his initial diagnosis, Sharon felt betrayed and abandoned by God. She said, “I was angry at God and at the Christian community that tried but failed in supporting me through this outcome. I felt blamed, not that anyone said it was my fault, but this theology of healing couldn’t help but lead to the conclusion that we had somehow failed in our faith or that it was God’s will for Jim to die. I was either deficient or God was not so good.”
During the years after Jim’s death, Sharon read a lot of books by Christian authors on the problem of pain. While she understood the ramifications of free will and a fallen world, she wasn’t comforted. She said, “I just kept thinking that God could have healed Jim and he didn’t. Therefore he was either just fine with Jim dying or couldn’t be bothered. It seemed like God didn’t really care about my suffering and that my pain was a consequence of my defective faith.”
The healing finally started when Sharon found Greg’s book, Is God to Blame? Her mindset began to shift as she realized that God’s ultimate purpose is love and he’s not okay with the evil of the world. He grieves with us when we’re suffering. Sharon said, “This new theology and understanding of how and why God operates in the world is what finally allowed me to see him as good and loving. The burden of a dispassionate, uncaring, punishing God has slowly been lifted from my heart.”
Though Sharon had a home church in Hawaii, she started listening to sermons from Woodland as a podrishioner. She plunged headfirst into the messages, saying she felt like she was “experiencing a second honeymoon with Jesus.”
When she first discovered Jesus’ saving grace, she fell in love, but she didn’t fully understand it. Then somehow along the way she’d lost sight of the beauty of who he really is. She said, “My second honeymoon with Jesus was the result of rediscovering him. The Jesus I now follow makes loving him and loving others my highest priority. His teachings are radical and while not easy to accomplish, they are easy to understand when viewed through the lens of the cross. I now understand my task and purpose and, guess what? It’s not to figure out what other people, especially people who don’t claim to follow Jesus, should and shouldn’t be doing. I don’t need to figure out who is in and who is out, who should I love and value.”
Though Sharon has a deeper understanding of Jesus, her personal sorrow still exists. She said, “I still grieve for my losses and for the world, but I see how God is always working to bring good out of each situation with his infinite intelligence.” Her advice for others who are suffering and wondering if God cares boils down to taking a hard look at our core beliefs. She encourages us to not feel guilty for our questions or our anger in the midst of strife. She says, “There’s nothing you can think or say that God hasn’t heard before, nothing he can’t handle.”
In the middle of the pandemic, Sharon moved from Hawaii to Southern Oregon with her husband Jerry (she’s remarried now). They said, “Woodland Hills sermons, classes and Gathering Groups have been a lifesaver for them.” We are so glad Sharon is part of our community and we are inspired by her story of resilience!