This year, 2009, has been a year of Death.
Six weeks ago, we heard the tragic news of a college friend who lost his wife and two young children in an accident. His whole family gone, with no goodbyes . . . no warning.
Yesterday we received the news that this friend, devastated by grief, has taken his life.
Just this week, a local business man lost his life to cancer . . . his young family is in so much pain.
A lady lies dying in a hospital bed tonight. Her heart is failing her. My father is her pastor. Two years ago, her husband walked around the back of his house to their shed. He hung himself. No goodbyes. No warning. She's been living with this every day . . .
Three weeks ago, another college acquaintance lost his 7-year-old daughter to tragedy. She coughed really hard, went to her mommy, and died in her arms.
Tragic. Devastating. Senseless. Illogical.
We ask the obvious question, "Where is God in tragedy?" "Why does this happen?"
I was watching the series LOST online the other day, and I was struck by the title of the episode - "This Place Is Death!" With everything going on in our lives, with all of these tragic events, I identified with the character who, in the throes of madness, begs the people around her to stay far away from this place, to never come back.
This Place Is Death.
I am a youth pastor. This year we are tackling the hard questions each of these teens are facing. I asked that all of them write down a question that they or one of their classmates have been struggling with. One of the questions was, "Why does God allow good people to die?".
I don't know.
Of course, I can come up with a theological answer that includes "we are all appointed to die" or something about rain and the just vs. the unjust. But the truth is that I'm not God, and I don't have a clue why good people with great futures and wonderfully effective ministry's are taken.
I am grieved, but when that happens I have taught myself a peculiar habit . . . I try to see the situation through God's eyes. This is dangerous if we are not ready and willing trust Him with what we find, because we so often don't know Him like we think we do. In difficult, tragic situations, the answers we find are more often than not extremely demanding in their nature. They can require a level of trust that we may not necessarily be ready to give at this time. Many times we must finish the grieving process before we can delve deeper into Who God is in this situation.
The World Death Rate is cycled as follows . . .
1.78 people die each second
107 people die each minute
6,390 people die each hour
153,000 people die each day
56,000,000 people die each year
3,900,000,000 people will die during our lifetime (average of 70 years)
Think about these numbers . . . they are staggering aren't they? Look at them again; slower this time. Now think about this . . .
God sees every one of them, and not only does He see them, He cares infinitely about them in a way you and I can never fathom. He is with each one of those people every second of their life. He is loving each one of them at every choice, with every relationship, at every belief opportunity, in every trial, during every triumph . . .
in every tragedy.
Where is God in tragedy?
God was with my friend's wife and two children when they breathed their last.
He was with my friend as he sat in his car, clutching his child's stuffed animal, grieving to the end.
God was with our local businessman as he succumbed to cancer, his family by his side, our church's prayer vigil outside his door.
God is with my father's parishioner as she lays dying tonight.
He was with her husband as he hung himself.
God held that precious 7-year-old girl as she lay dying in her mother's arms.
Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
2nd Corinthians 4:17 talks about this "lightness". It says, "For the lightness of our present affliction works out for us a far more excellent eternal weight of glory".
The finite being compared to the infinite.
It boggles my mind, and it's so hard to comprehend! How can tragedy be compared to the "lightness" of a burden? But we really have to believe that either God is an insane lunatic puppet master in love with the macabre, or He is wiser and bigger and more loving and merciful than we can comprehend.
Things are out of balance. Things are off-kilter. We see so well that Life is not what it should be because this is us compared to the redeemed world we long for. But this is where we are NOW. This is what we know. We see the emptiness, the hole, and despise the tragedy. We see the offensive and the pain, and our reaction is to do everything we can to immediately right the wrong. We do our best to reverse the curse. We live in a fallen world, and so desperately want to lift ourselves out of this darkness. We see the downside all to clearly. And we mourn. We sob. We ask where God is in all of this . . .
God is here. He, who walks with our loved ones through The Valley of the Shadow of Death, holding their hand, is also here in our pain. We mourn because we lose. We lose someone we love so much, and ask how He could allow this.
Then we see through God's eyes.
We see Christ on the Cross.
Normally this image would bring a mixed sense of joy and awe, because of what we know about our Savior . . .
But then we see something different. We see the shift as God turns his back on the very sin that is killing His Son. We feel the incredible shame that sin brings, so heavy that it turns day into night. We see a child ask His Father "why?". We feel the deafening silence.
And then we realize that God knows . . . He knows what we go through. He knows what a parent goes through when a child dies. He knows the agony a wife feels when confronted by the tragic suicide of her husband. He knows the betrayal we feel when we have been torn apart by others, because He went through it.
Christ knows because He has tasted death.
And it is here that we have an incredible opportunity! We can now see both sides of the the death experience.
A Father's heart broken, and a Son's heart pierced.
We now have an advocate on both sides of sin's curse. And we start to understand what He sees when He hands us the keys to Comfort.
2 Corinthians1:3-4 says, "What a wonderful God we have. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does He do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us."
2Thessalonians 2:16-17 says, "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself AND God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting comfort and hope which we don't deserve, comfort your hearts with all comfort, and help you in every good thing you say and do."
In my grief, I'm trying to see through God's eyes.
I see God's mercy. I see God there with us each second on our journey to and from tragedy. I see His goodness triumphant through us, as we take our experiences and use them to comfort others. I see that tragedy turns to triumph, lived out in our Hope.
I see sin in a constant state of defeat.
I don't know why good people are taken by tragedy. I don't know why the innocent are buried way too soon. Some may say this place is death, and they would be right. But in no other place is death more symbolized than in an old rugged cross at Calvary.
And it is there I see Deliverance.
© Copyright Derek Hickman 2009