There are moments in life that take our breath away. We feel sucker-punched, the wind knocked out of us. This often involves a loss of some sort: the loss of our health, the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a soul, the loss of our dreams. Most of these are unexpected. And to some degree, all are painful.
For me, one of the most painful losses I’ve ever experienced was the untimely death of my brother-in-law, Del.
Six years ago tomorrow, Del was killed by an impaired driver while on his way home from a weeklong, work-related trip. Many of you reading this know that his tragic death left behind two very sad little boys, ages 5 and 3, and a devastated wife, my sweet sister, Mel, who at the time, was four months pregnant with their baby girl. They had recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and were thriving in every area of their lives. In my opinion, the timing could not have been worse.
I ached for my sister. My family. Myself. How would we get through this? If our loving God would allow some terrible driver to take this wonderful husband and father, then what did I know of Love? If Love accomplishes the absolute best for us, then clearly, I’ve misunderstood the term “best”. The Bible encourages us to trust wholeheartedly in the Lord but how do we trust again after that? How can we possibly stay close to the One who allows the pain? This loss shattered our hearts. And this loss nearly shattered my theology.
I wrestled for awhile with the goodness of God and still do some days. I may always struggle to understand His heart in that mess (and in the messes I see today!). I knew Del loved the Lord. I knew he had chosen to follow Christ and was walking in His grace. I knew that we would all be reunited one day in heaven but that did little to alleviate my pain in the present. I wanted more, I guess. I wanted him back here with us.
I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of the character of God. Then the unthinkable happened to my family and the lesson got way too personal and the wound way too painful. I could almost hear Satan taunting, “Now do you think He’s good? Surely, He could have prevented the accident. This Love you claim to know simply can’t be trusted.” If I remember correctly, he used this deceptive thinking in the Garden. He wanted Adam and Eve to doubt the goodness of God. Well, in my heartache, I gave those taunts way too much of my time. For months, they swirled around in my head while I tried to make sense of the senseless.
Eventually, I began to emerge from that “dark night of the soul”. I started to read books on the goodness of God, of the Hope we have in Him. One of my favorite authors during that time was (and still is) Mark Buchanan, author of the book,
Your God is Too Safe. Buchanan recalls the scene from C.S. Lewis’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy asks the Beavers whether the great lion, Aslan, is safe. Mr. Beaver explodes, “Safe? Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Now, I have read the Chronicles of Narnia countless times. You would think I’d have considered the weight of this particular scene. But I didn’t have a personal experience to relate to Mr. Beaver’s statement back then. Now I did. This scene was pivotal for me as I began to accept the reality of Del’s death and the goodness of God in our pain.
I slowly learned to accept God’s idea of safe, as opposed to my own. Physical safety is not a measure of God’s love for us. Seems so obvious, doesn’t it? So many deaths, particularly martyrs, can attest to that. And since He is God, I must be the one who needs to alter her thinking. Lord knows, I’m gonna need His help to do that. I began to let the Truth, spoken from an oversized rodent, take root in my mind and in my heart.
About a month after Del’s death, my 5 yr. old nephew asked me while swinging one day, “Why didn’t God keep Daddy safe?” Phew. Wasn’t prepared for that one. I fought tears then like I am now. With a shaky voice, I stammered, “He didn’t keep Daddy safe the way we want him safe. We want him safe here with us but he’s safe in heaven now with Jesus.” While this was true, it was small consolation for a little guy trying to make sense of his Daddy’s absence. Small consolation for any of us navigating the path of grief. My prayer for my nephews is that they would know the goodness of God despite their painful loss. That even when they cannot fathom how their pain fits into God’s good plan for them, that they, and all of us, can believe by faith in Mr. Beaver’s simplistic, Scripture-based Truth: He is not safe, but He is good.
I end with Mark Buchanan’s response to a passage from the book of Habakkuk, found in the Bible. Habakkuk, by the way, is one of favorite Old Testament books, one that has helped me cling to God’s goodness in the midst of suffering. I highly recommend that you read it. Anyway, after God and Habakkuk have had some serious dialogue regarding Israel’s suffering, God says (wait for it…wait for it), “The righteous will live by faith.” Thanks for those profound words of comfort, oh loving God of the universe. You did say that You FOR me, right?! (Insert sarcastic tone, please.) In his book, The Holy Wild, Buchanan’s response to God’s succinct, profound statement, is exactly what many of us need to hear, “At first blush, this seems cold comfort…An ice pack applied to a ruptured organ. A tin shack erected against a typhoon. But it’s infinitely more than that. It is, in fact, a truth utterly basic to life. The core of the Christian life is to live by faith. And faith is finally this: resting so utterly in the character of God-in the ultimate goodness of God-that you trust Him even when He seems untrustworthy.”
Goodness gracious, my friends. Here I am, six years later and I’m still learning that we can trust Him. Even when He seems to give us every reason not to.