I received a prayer request this afternoon from one of our devoted readers. It had to do with praying for a family in Virginia who lost their son in a drowning incident yesterday. In fact, his body was not recovered until this morning. Now, the family, neighbors, friends and the entire community are mourning the loss of this teenage boy whose life was cut short in a freak riptide accident in a large river. Sooner or later, I knew that enough bad things would happen to good people that I would need to address this age old question – and I want to say at the top of this post that I don’t have the answer…. Nobody this side of heaven does.
But who among us has never asked this question? We all have. And not just once, but numerous times. Sometimes the pain involved is just too much for us to bear. That’s when we cry out to God and ask, “Why?” And we don’t get answers – usually just silence. There are a number of different suppositions as to why good people are taken “home” but we really won’t know the truth of it all until we are able to stand in the throne room of heaven and ask God Himself. And that gives us little consolation when we are in the depths of our suffering – the loss of a friend, a parent, a child, or any other seemingly unexplainable tragedy that befalls someone we care about.
And the pain that we suffer is directly proportional to how much we care for the person, or the family, involved. Because pain and suffering is the price we pay for caring. The more we care, the more we will suffer when tragedy happens. And while the pain seems intolerable, I do believe that we are better off to have loved and then suffered pain than never to have loved at all. The world would be an awful place if we didn’t have love to help us through.
But these are hollow words when we are in the depth of our grief. One thing is for sure. God desires a relationship with us, yet when adversity strikes, we are either driven closer to God or further away from Him. We never come through the event exactly the same place we were before it all happened. One thing I do believe is that God does not force bad things to happen to good people in order to drive people to be dependent on Him. Because God could, in his infinite power and wisdom, just force us to love Him and not have to go through the pain of grief at all.
But our Father in heaven wants us to love Him by choice – not by necessity. This is why God instituted the idea of free will. We can choose to cling to Him in times of trouble, or not. It’s our choice. And while God does not cause evil, He does, on occasion, allow it to occur. If you need proof of that, read the first several chapters of Job, who suffered unbelievable agony because God allowed Satan to torment him. But this is of little consolation when trials and tribulations happen so close to our own homes.
Unfortunately, many Christians run from God when bad things happen – and nothing could be further from God’s desire for us during these times. In fact, the only thing worse than these terrible events would be to go through them without depending on God to get us through. Again, perhaps hollow words to someone who is in the depth of suffering, but to be separated from God, for an instant, let alone eternally, would be eternal agony. And with the suffering that we experience when we lose someone close to us, I can’t even imagine what that feeling would be like on an eternal basis if we are driven away from God in the process.
Of course, as pastors, these are the types of questions we get from people who are hurting – “Why did this happen?” or “A loving God wouldn’t let this happen…” or “When will the pain stop?” Of course, we sound inadequate when we can’t answer these questions as perceived leaders of the faith. But that doesn’t mean that to love God is the the wrong answer – it merely means that we are human and we don’t have the answers… yet.
Probably one of the greatest theologians of all time was Paul, who wrote many of the New Testament books. And he addressed this issue of trying to understand God in the book of Romans. In Romans 8:28, Paul tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In other words, while we may not know why certain things happen, we can rest assured that God knows the parts of the plan that we aren’t aware of and ultimately, good will come from the all things designed by God for those who love Him.
My encouragement this evening is to pray that God will provide each of us with peace and his divine comfort during the times of tragedy in our lives. My prayer is that God will welcome this teenage boy in to the throne room of heaven with open arms and will also provide his family with comfort and strength to endure the days ahead. The loss of anyone is painful – but it is unnatural for parents to attend the funeral of their children. Please join me in petitioning God to hold this family safely in the palm of His hand – and hopefully they will be drawn closer, into a deeper relationship with Him, in the process. Grace and peace…