FIRST-PERSON: Moving beyond Feb. 5

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--C.S. Lewis in "The Problem of Pain" says that God often uses the experiences of suffering as a megaphone to awaken us. Suffering and pain, Lewis said, are often the essential means by which God brings about dependence, fortitude, patience and forgiveness in His children, while also arousing acts of mercy and compassion.

As I have reflected on the events of Feb. 5 on the Union University campus and the challenging days since that time, I have been helped greatly by the thoughts of Lewis in this regard.

Certainly we have seen thousands of acts of mercy and compassion from people who have responded to the massive needs associated with Union University. These acts of mercy and compassion have come from people near to the university, from people on the political left and the ideological right, from people on both sides of theological and denominational divides, and amazingly from people far away who hardly know anything about Union University.

Somehow the disastrous effect of the Feb. 5 tornado has touched the hearts of these many, many people to help us at this time. Nearly 4,000 volunteers have given their time and service. Nearly 2,000 people have given financial gifts to help meet the incredible needs across our campus. Even more have prayed and offered their encouragement, kindness and support.

Truly the painful aftermath of the storm has, as Lewis so insightfully observed, aroused multiple acts of mercy and compassion across the Baptist family and beyond and we want to again and again express our deep and heartfelt gratitude. The list grows rapidly and we are working hard to stay current with our expressions of gratitude, but we today across the Union University campus stand amazed at the untold number of meaningful acts of mercy and compassion that have been shown to us. We today are a thankful people.

We particularly are grateful to congregations and entities across the Southern Baptist Convention who have responded so generously to our challenges. President Frank Page has asked every SBC congregation and entity to take a special offering to support disaster relief efforts at Union. We are grateful for larger gifts from LifeWay, GuideStone, Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes, the Tennessee Baptist Convention's Executive Board, the SBC Executive Committee and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. But we are also grateful for the many sacrificial gifts from students attending our seminaries and colleges. We do pray that every congregation at this time will prayerfully consider President Page's appeal. Larger churches like Bellevue, Faith (Bartlett, Tenn.), FBC Naples, Prestonwood and others have given significant gifts, for which we are most grateful. We are, however, especially grateful for amazing gifts like those from Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Bradford, Tenn. While the amount of the gift from Mt. Pleasant does not match the gifts from larger churches, in God's economy it is no doubt very special, for it represents 3 percent of the church's annual budget. For every gift, large or small, we are so very grateful.

Now we pray that God will work in our lives to bring about the other virtues described by Lewis. We trust that in the uncertain days ahead that patience would be manifested among us in all of our relationships. We hope that God will help us become a forgiving community, offering forgiveness to those who have wronged us and more importantly seeking forgiveness from others when we have been the ones in the wrong. We pray for fortitude and courage to face the challenges that now are ours. The rebuilding project in front of us will be challenging and lengthy. Moving forward will not be easy, but with God's help we will take the next step and the next step toward the prospects of a better and stronger Union University. In this regard we invite the faithful prayers of God's people for the major rebuilding project in front of us.

Most of all we pray for an urgent sense of our own complete and total dependence on God for all aspects of life. No doubt the haunting and perplexing questions that remain in our hearts and minds will linger. God may at times like these seem distant for some. When that happens what should we do? Assume that God is not here among us? Assume that He is here, but that He does not love or care for us? Assume that He is here, but He is unable to help? I don't think so at all. I believe that we all can learn to trust the providence of God anew, even when we have unanswered questions, and we can find rest in the words of the hymn writer, "Great is thy Faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, they compassions they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is They Faithfulness."

We are grateful indeed for the innumerable acts of mercy, service and compassion in behalf of Union University, especially from friends across the Southern Baptist Convention. We are grateful for the virtues and character qualities that will be strengthened in our lives as we respond to the challenges on this side of Feb. 5. Moreover, we pray for God to bring renewal out of the rubble across the campus as we trust afresh in God's amazing, mysterious, and gracious providence.

David S. Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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