On Feb. 1, 2016 Joseph H. Buehrle II, was freed from the prison his body had become, and entered the rest of the Lord. Joe’s life was a powerful testimony to the victory in Jesus promised to all of Christ’s disciples. One of Joe’s dearest friends for decades has been Jeff Stevenson. Jeff’s brother, Dr. Greg Stevenson, has written an excellent book titled A Slaughtered Lamb in which he pens a beautiful tribute to Joe:
If one function of apocalyptic is exposing human experience to transcendence so that people learn to view their physical experiences from a spiritual perspective, then they may themselves discern a greater meaning for their suffering. Human suffering can, at times, be a catalyst for redemption and renewal. Many years ago I met a man named Joe who, growing up, had been the quintessential All-American kid―tall, handsome, athletic, and intelligent. Joe had been raised in a Christian family by loving parents, yet during high school he rebelled against everything that Christianity stood for and against the values his parents had instilled in him. He determined that the sole purpose of life was to have a good time and threw himself wholeheartedly into that pursuit. Drugs, alcohol, women―nothing was off-limits. Joe’s relentless pursuit of pleasure resulted in expulsion from several schools and eventually from his own home. School leaders, his minister, and his parents all tried to talk to him, but Joe refused to listen. One night, just a couple of months before Joe’s nineteenth birthday, he got in an argument at a party with his ex-girlfriend. She threatened to kill herself if he didn’t come back to her. This was a cycle they had been through several times before, so this time Joe was fed up. He went over to her house later and she met him on the front lawn with a gun. To make matters worse, both of them were drunk. As they drunkenly struggled over the gun, she grabbed it and it went off. The blast hit Joe in the neck, severing his spinal cord.
That was over twenty-seven years ago and Joe has spent every day since then paralyzed from the neck down. Many people in that situation would be very bitter. They might blame God in anger or decry the lack of justice since the police bungled the investigation and the woman was never charged. Others might take the experience as clear evidence that a loving and merciful God could not exist. But not Joe. Joe once told me that this experience, with all its tragedy and hardship, was paradoxically one of the best things that ever happened to him because it provided him with a much-needed wake-up call. Joe sobered up and cleaned up. He reunited with his parents and rededicated his life to God. Now some might argue that this is an awfully high price to pay for reconciliation, and perhaps it is; but given the choice between the person Joe was before this tragedy and the person he became after, Joe recognized the value attached to that price because he came to understand that life is about more than the body.
Theologians can quibble endlessly over whether or not God had any involvement in Joe’s suffering and how best to characterize it. For Joe, however, things are much simpler. He sees the hand of God at work in his sufferings. In a talk that Joe once gave at a high school, he summed up his experience this way: “My problem was that I wouldn’t sit still long enough to listen to anyone. So God put me in a chair that I couldn’t get out of.” Joe views his suffering, not as the product of a vengeful and angry God who wants to punish him for how he lived, but as the product of a merciful God who took his body to save his soul.
We will see you again, dear brother.
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