"It's Grandma," came my mother's voice across three thousand miles of phone line.  "She's dead."
     How could God have allowed this to happen?  After keeping my grandmother alive for 94 years, why couldn't He manage to keep her alive just three more months, until our scheduled summer visit?
     Although my mother and grandmother had visited us several times since I had moved east, my husband and children had never met my many other relatives in Seattle.  But we had been saving up for a long time, and had finally decided we could afford the trip from New York State.  All the names which over the years had only been signatures on cards and letters would finally become real people to them, part of their family as well as mine. 
     More importantly, it had seemed our one last chance to share with my grandmother about Jesus.  She had been living in an Orthodox Jewish nursing home for the past several years, and we had been looking forward not only to seeing her, but to communicating to her the hope to be found only in the Messiah.
     Now we would never have that chance.

     When I became a believer fifteen years earlier, I attacked my family with all the fervor of a new convert.  I let them know in no uncertain terms that, without Jesus, they were heading straight for hell.  I quickly managed to alienate most of them.
     I soon realized that my aggressive witnessing had been too much of an affront for my grandmother to handle.  My beliefs were an attack on her pride which placed total faith in her own good works to establish her standing before God.  To say that she needed a Savior implied that she was not as good a person as she believed herself to be, for like most Orthodox Jews, she believed her good works were the sole basis on which God would judge her.  She could not admit that she, like everyone else, could never be good enough to meet God's standards.  To admit her need of a Savior would be admitting she was a bad person, and that she could never do.
    As if this barrier were not enough, there was an even greater one between my grandmother and the One who would be her Savior.  The name of Jesus is itself so anathema to many Jews that she could not even allow herself to listen seriously to what I had to say.  So much persecution and bloodshed has been done to the Jewish people over the centuries, supposedly in the name of Jesus, that her mind closed up like a clam at its mention.  Her animosity was so great that I could not hope to communicate with her.
     In typical Orthodox fashion, she had decided to consider me dead.  This she did for many years, throwing out, unopened, all letters and presents I sent her.  She even refused to acknowledge the birth of my first daughter, her own first great-granddaughter.
     So instead of witnessing to her, I began praying.  Specifically, I asked God to send someone into my grandmother's life she could listen to without feeling so personally threatened.  I knew she would be more receptive to the Gospel coming from a friend than from a relative, so I prayed for God to put such a friend in her life.
     After several years, I asked my mother to mediate between us, so that we could restore our relationship.  Finally, one Rosh Hashanah, the time when Jews traditionally seek forgiveness and reconciliation, I asked her if we couldn't try to get along with each other.  By tacit agreement, I would no longer remind her of my faith in Jesus.  She agreed.
     As my grandmother grew older, it became more and more difficult for me to remain silent about Jesus.  I saw her approaching an eternity without God, and I wanted to remind her of her need of Him.
     But I had committed myself to silent intercession.  As the years stretched on, I began to question God's faithfulness.  I had heard nothing of His providing any Christian friend to share with my grandmother, and I wondered how much longer she could live.  Her health was failing, and her memory was beginning to crumble.
     Finally, when she could take care of herself no longer, she entered Seattle's Orthodox Jewish nursing home.  Now, I thought, it was hopeless.  How would she ever meet any Gentiles there, let alone Christian ones?  And even if she did, how could they communicate with her in her senility?  It seemed impossible that God would answer my prayers, despite my fifteen years of beseeching.
     Due to the high cost of airfare, my husband and children had never been to Seattle.  So we planned a trip for the coming summer, and were eager to have one last chance to tell my grandmother of her need for salvation.
     One cold May morning, however, I received that fateful phone call.  My grandmother was dead, and there would be no more sharing with her.  God had failed to provide her with a Christian friend, and He had failed to keep her alive until our summer visit.  Was He able to do anything at all, and was there any point in praying?
     Although these thoughts troubled my mind and shook my confidence in God's willingness to answer prayer, I nevertheless felt a peace as I flew alone to Seattle for the funeral.  God had shown Himself to be in control in so many other areas of my life, I had no cause to doubt His sovereignty here.  I couldn't understand His refusal to reach my grandmother, but I could accept whatever He chose.

     The funeral was a mixture of joy and sorrow.  I felt a sense of continuity and renewal in once again being united with my brother, sister, mother, and countless other relatives, for the first time in nearly twenty years.  Yet there was pain:  Not that my grandmother was dead, for she had certainly outlived her "threescore and ten"; but that she was dead without Jesus, and I would not be reunited with her in eternity.
     After the funeral, at the reception at my great-aunt's apartment, my mother made a point of introducing me to a woman about whom she had been telling me.  This Gentile woman's grandson had married one of my great-aunt's granddaughters, and she had spent much time with my grandmother before her death.  Several relatives had been commenting on all the love she had shown, not only to my grandmother, but also to an aunt who had died of cancer the previous year and to my grandmother's sister.  Everyone was full of her praise, and they wanted me to meet her.
     It was immediately obvious to me that this was the "friend" for whom I had been praying for fifteen years.  Tears streamed down my face as I received her confirmation that yes, she was a Christian, and yes, she was convinced my grandmother was now with the Lord.  Although my grandmother's senility prevented any "rational" discussion between them, she had nevertheless spent much time in prayer with my grandmother, and she felt an assurance that God had reached her.  God had confirmed her feelings with a dream:  In it, my grandmother faced a deep chasm, with a person on one side saying she had to go with him because of her actions; but Someone on the other side beckoned, saying she could go with Him because of her prayers.
     The pride which in my grandmother's sanity had prevented her from admitting her need of a savior had been replaced, in her senility, with a childlike view of life.  Only in this state of mind could she possibly have admitted her need of Jesus, so God put her there.  Her senility, which had seemed like a curse to us was, in fact, a blessing to her, for it allowed her to leave behind her rational restraints and confidence in her own self-sufficiency.
     The Christian woman who was closest to my grandmother at the end is assured of my grandmother's salvation.  And whatever else, I know that God gave my grandmother all that was necessary for her to believe.  He removed her conscious objections by allowing her to become senile, and he placed in her life a woman whose presence was inoffensive, compassionate, and so full of love that all the other relatives couldn't help but comment on it.
     The peace I felt on the plane to Seattle was justified, despite the ostensibly bleak circumstances.  God had not abandoned my grandmother, nor had He failed to answer my prayers, although it had seemed so to me.  I will never again doubt Him because of outward appearances, but will remember His promise in Isaiah 65:24 (NASB), "Before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear."  Although fifteen years seemed an eternity to me, "The Lord is not slow about His promises, as some count slowness, but is patient toward (us), not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, NASB).


Copyright © 2000 by Nancy Silver Cochran



"Symphony in White Number 1: The White Girl," 
by  James Abbott McNeill Whistler
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