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Why Did God Let Oswald Chambers Die So Young?

Why did Oswald Chambers die so young; God's will, Biddy Chambers, commitment to Christ, YMCA in WWI, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

A reader voiced a concern over my recent post about Oswald Chambers‘ death.

Oswald Chambers might not have died if he had sought immediate medical attention when he began having abdominal pain. He went all noble and refused to take up a bed that might be needed by a wounded soldier. By the time he was operated on, his appendix had ruptured and he died of peritonitis. Biddy and Kathleen lived in poverty for years after his death.

That is one way of looking at the facts concerning Oswald Chamber’s death.

His appendix did rupture in late October 1917. Oswald delayed going to the hospital several days, believing he merely had a stomach virus (they were in Egypt) and because he did not want to take a hospital bed from a needy soldier.

He survived the appendectomy, rallied, and everyone believed he would recover.

Life in Egypt

Why did Oswald Chambers die so young; God's will, Biddy Chambers, commitment to Christ, YMCA in WWI, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Photo courtesy Wheaton College Special Collections

The above photo is of Oswald in his prime. To the right is a photo of Oswald Chambers  in late summer, 1917. Note the hollow cheeks and tired eyes.

Oswald had been preaching, teaching, studying and counseling round the clock for two very long years in desert conditions.  He was exhausted.

Eva Spinks, a young woman working with him at the time, praised God in her diary “for Thy keeping of my beloved two [Oswald and Biddy] in bringing him through safely.”

According to biographer David McCasland in Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, on November 4, Oswald “suffered a serious relapse from a blood clot in his lung. He rallied from it only to be hit with another more serious attack the next day.”

While Biddy clung to a verse “this sickness is not unto death,” the nurses told her there was no hope.

Oswald recovered and began to regain strength. His four year-old Kathleen visited. Another encouraging week went by, but on Tuesday, November 13, his lungs hemorrhaged. He died at seven in the morning on November 15, 1917.

Biddy wired home to close friends and family: “Oswald in His Presence.”

Why did God let Oswald Chambers die?

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In Psalm 139:16, the psalmist records:

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

Conventional Christianity takes this to mean God determines the length of our days. He decides when we will be born and when we will die.

That is what Oswald and Biddy Chambers believed. It’s what I believe, too.

The Chambers dedicated their lives to God’s disposal for His purposes and His timing. Did Chambers want to die?

I don’t think so. He loved his wife, daughter, friends and ministry passionately.

But not as passionately as he loved and trusted his God.

What was the result of Oswald’s early death?

Biddy Chambers elected to stay on and continue her husband’s ministry–because it was hers as well. An accomplished stenographer, she had taken shorthand notes of all Oswald’s lectures from his time at the Bible Training College, through his work in Egypt. She had many notes.

She also had a young daughter to raise. A daughter who believed what she had been told, that though her father was no longer present with her, he was with Jesus and that was cause to rejoice.

Some nine months after her husband’s death, Biddy wrote to a friend the following:

“Living with Oswald and seeing his faith in God and knowing that ‘by his faithfulness he is speaking to us still’ is the secret of life these days, and I feel as if it will be overwhelming to one day see what God has wrought, and one will only be sorry not to have trusted more utterly.”

Biddy had notes and a typewriter and a ministry. With the help of the YMCA and trusted friends, she transcribed and put together Oswald’s sermons and teachings into pamphlets. After she and Kathleen relocated back to England following the war, Biddy spent the rest of her life producing some 30 books using Oswald’s teachings, the most important of which is My Utmost for His Highest.

First published in 1927, My Utmost for His Highest has never been out of print.

Poverty for wife and child?

Biddy ran a boarding house when she returned to England. She fed countless people who came to her door, worked on the writings and mailings, raised her daughter and worshipped her God.

She never remarried.

Was Biddy disappointed in her financial situation?

Long before their marriage, Oswald advised her: “I have nothing to offer you but my love and steady lavish service for Him.”

The Light of the World (Manchester Art Gallery) Why did Oswald Chambers die so young; God's will, Biddy Chambers, commitment to Christ, YMCA in WWI, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

The Light of the World (Manchester Art Gallery)

Even as he loved Biddy, he focused on Jesus.

When the time was right by his understanding of God’s lead, Oswald took Biddy to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. They stood before Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World,” and became engaged.

McCasland wrote about the painting and the moment:

“Christ came at night carrying light and a gentle request for entrance to a door that could be opened only from the inside. The meaning was clearly and skillfully portrayed on the canvas. He and Biddy were pledging their love, first and foremost, to Jesus Christ, and to His work in this dark world. Their commitment went far beyond a hope for personal happiness to embrace a calling to belong first to God, and then to each other.”

Biddy knew what she was getting into when she married such a man as Oswald Chambers.

The result?

We cannot know how God will use whatever circumstances He brings us into. But believers like Oswald and BIddy Chambers, and I hope myself, know that their lives have been poured out for one purpose only: to glorify God.

The Westminster Catechism spells it out:

Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Do you believe God has been glorified as a result of Oswald Chamber’s death?

My Utmost for His Highest would not have been published in its present format if Oswald Chambers had lived. Click to Tweet

Why did Oswald Chambers die so young; God's will, Biddy Chambers, commitment to Christ, YMCA in WWI, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Biddy and Kathleen; photo courtesy of Wheaton Special Collections Library

Did Biddy and Kathleen miss Oswald Chambers? Did his friends?

Of course.

Did they grieve?

Of course.

But Biddy knew the God she worshipped well. It’s interesting to note the Scripture passage she chose in My Utmost for His Highest for the day her husband died, John 21:21-22:

“Peter . . . said to Jesus, ’But Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ’. . . what is that to you? You follow Me’.”

The beginning of that November 15 devotional used Oswald’s words  to explain much:

One of the hardest lessons to learn comes from our stubborn refusal to refrain from interfering in other people’s lives. It takes a long time to realize the danger of being an amateur providence, that is, interfering with God’s plan for others.

Who are we to question what God did in Oswald, Biddy and Kathleen Chambers’ lives? They accepted God’s will.

Why did Oswald Chambers die so young?

So God could be glorified. So Biddy could produce works that pointed people to Jesus for 89 straight years and counting.

Tweetables

Was God glorified in spite of Oswald Chambers’ early death?  Click to Tweet

Why did God let Oswald Chambers die so young? Click to Tweet

Can God be glorified by the early death of a promising Christian? Click to Tweet

 

 

Interested in Oswald and Biddy Chambers? I’ll be telling stories about the amazing ways God led me through the writing of two books about them, Why did Oswald Chambers die so young; God's will, Biddy Chambers, commitment to Christ, YMCA in WWI, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Higheststarting in my January newsletter–one a month for 2017, free.

If you’d like to follow the serial–the same chronological way it unfolded for me–sign up for my newsletter here.

 

 

 

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16 Comments

  1. Early death is a hard pill to swallow, for Oswald Chambers, or for anyone. Sheldon Vanauken, a friend of C.S. Lewis, explored the subject at length in “A Severe Mercy”, the story of his marriage, and the death of his young wife.

    I’m not sure if God decides the date of our passing, or ‘just’ knows it. I’ve seen too many young people die violently, and the deciding factor was where they stood, or when they raised their head, in relation to the passage of a bullet. Most were unformed young men, with potential, yes, but that potential remained unrealized in terms of God’s glorification as a temporal legacy.

    They were ordinary guys, and they wanted to pass through the crucible and come home. But they didn’t, and in my heart I don’t believe that God matched their steps to a lump of supersonic copper-clad lead.

    I think that God puts into our hearts the ability to make choices, to be where we are, or where we might prefer not to be but where we HAVE to be under the pull of duty and decency.

    Is it written? Yes, but perhaps God is turning the pages with us. He may have peeked ahead – I’m sure he did – and knows what awaits. And as we follow a beloved character we know will meet a hard fate, He weeps that the end cannot be different.

    I’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan” a dozen times. And each time I hope that somehow Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks’ character) will somehow survive, and return to Pennsylvania to live out his life in peace.

    When Eric Blehm was writing “Fearless”, the story of Adam Brown, a SEAL who overcame a life of bad choices to become one of America’s most capable warriors, he knew the end – that Chief Brown would die in an attack on a Taliban compound in Afghanistan.

    He hoped it would be different, as he wrote.

    I think this is how God sees our lives. But He can do what a writer or reader cannot, and reach into the pages to give us the strength to face our trials. Not alone.

    And perhaps that is God’s glorification. Not what we leave as a legacy, but His love for us.

    Reply
  2. Michelle Ule

     /  July 30, 2013

    Very true, Andrew. I thought of A Severe Mercy as I wrote this.

    I went back and forth as I wrote this, because it is uncomfortable to think how minor our lives–which are so important to us– may appear in the grand sweep of history.

    And yet, that same God knows every hair on our head and has a purpose for each life.

    I always default to, I will try to live in concert with God’s will, wherever it takes me and be thankful for the opportunity He affords to walk through this life with me.

    Can I do any less?

    Thanks, as always, for sharing. I’ve never watched Saving Private Ryan. As a military wife who has read a lot of history, some of those stories feel too overwhelmingly close.

    Reply
    • I think it is our lives that are important – and it is history that is, in the end, trivial.

      I just came in from walking one of my dogs – though ‘walking’ is perhaps a misnomer. Bella is a little terrier who was hit by a car a couple of weeks ago, and we found her drowning in a ditch, with a broken back.

      We made a wheelchair for her, and she just went for a joyous ‘wheel’ around the property. We have sage and gravel, and the chair weighs almost as much as she does, but she pulls it uphill and down, picking paths through which she can pass.

      God knows the fall of each sparrow, and implied there is that the small tragedy of a dying bird is held as closely to His heart as the death of a king.

      And Bella? Bravely pulling, and smiling, under the New Mexico sun?

      I hear choirs of angels singing. And there is the rustle of flying robes behind me, where God is dancing a jig.

      Reply
  3. I have not really considered this type question before, but I suppose his death glorified God because he died in Jesus, as a believer, and as one who let loose to the world at large the good news of how God defeated death through death—the unimaginable death of His own son with the unimaginable victory over death for all who would believe in Jesus. His early death was a stark reminder of the truth. When the elderly die it is more expected. When people get off course and do not lead a godly life often they die “before their natural time.” But for one to die young who clearly is a follower of Jesus and lives rightly in the good manner prescribed by God, well…that gets your attention more. It draws people to think more deeply about the message of God through Jesus. In that way, I suppose his early death was a brilliant manner of bringing glory to Himself. He does not think as we people think. He is always doing something unimaginable. I think this was another of those situations.

    Reply
  4. Susan Manchester

     /  July 30, 2013

    Thank you so much for this story, and its reminder! I will be saving this to use in our homeschool. It is an amazing testimony to faithfulness!

    Reply
  5. I love this, and the questions you raise are fascinating and so important. I attended a funeral at which the person who passed away left behind a video. In it, he said, “People ask why God let me die… listen, I made a lot of choices that brought on my illness, and God has been so good to me. Please don’t blame him.” It was a powerful confession of faith, and a brave willingness to take responsibility. Of course, it is not always the case when a person invites suffering thru his/her choices, but there are plenty of cases where it happens. We make choices and then blame God when we reap what we sow. Chambers made a choice, and it cost him. Yes, God was involved, but I don’t think he was to blame, at least not in this case. Thanks for making me think.

    Reply
  6. Thank you so much for this thoughtful, insightful post in reply to your reader’s comment. The conversation that has followed has also been thoughtful and inspiring.

    God’s timing is His own — that’s all we really know for certain about it. But we miss the point if we think everything should be neatly resolved in a way we can understand. God always has a long-term plan — Oswald and Biddy may not have had much time together on earth, but something profound and very far-reaching came out of it. I’m quite sure Biddy would have seen it this way herself.

    I see Oswald Chambers’ death as an expression of his life. He considered the “washing of feet” more important than sermons.

    Reply
  7. Laurie

     /  August 1, 2014

    This was beautiful to read! Our lives here are so short .Biddy Chambers is often somewhat overlooked. I am so grateful for her work. The “OC” has meant SO much to me! That “bigger picture” continues to influence and inspire, priceless.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  August 1, 2014

      Absolutely, Laurie. It doesn’t mean we don’t regret a life lived too short–OC was 43 when he died–but we can rejoice that in pouring out his life, he enabled Biddy to provide the books that have meant so much to the world.

      Reply
  8. I praise the Lord for His sharing His perfect will with us! It is difficult for us to appreciate His workings and timings but that is due to our limited view. However, if we trust and rely on Him our ‘view’ is perfected! Today this tweet has enabled me to accept more fully God’s work in people’s lives around me and thus have been released of needless strivings!

    Reply
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