A classmate of mine passed away a couple of weeks ago, and he was probably one of the best of guys I’ve known. Funny. Humble. He was a walking definition of sincerity. It’s people like him who make death at 46 years old seem very unfair. Unfortunately, it’s been a month of unfairness. Another friend of mine had a classmate pass away, and just tonight, a 17-year old student who has attended our church and made many friends has died in an apparent tragic accident.
This is the point I’m supposed to ask where is God. If God exists, these things shouldn’t happen so randomly perhaps. If God exists, there should be some semblance of rhyme and reason involved. There should be a why. Otherwise God is either hiding or ignoring us, or he doesn’t exist at all.
Something like that.
To be fair to God, He made something I consider good come out of the death of my classmate. He gave my classmate real hope. See, my friend had always been an atheist because when he was young his dad had died. My classmate couldn’t understand why, and rejected any belief in God as a result. Things changed in him when he faced own death. And it didn’t change as you might imagine.
Yes, he put his faith and hope in Jesus. Yes someone can argue it was just to cover his bases, or because he was grasping at any hope he could find. Thing is, it didn’t look like he was grasping. Truth is, my friend’s change of heart was pretty amazing. He had real peace and joy. It’s hard to explain, but a week before he died we talked about it, and he wasn’t hoping. He hadn’t put his faith in Jesus because it worked for him. He really, truly believed. He was sure. He was at peace. It reminded me that God always seems to put light in the darkness in some small ways, but the fact there was darkness didn’t change.
What God’s plan for his death, the 17 year old’s death, my father’s early departure, or anyone else who has passed away recently might have been… is anyone’s guess.
I’m not sure if there is always a “plan” or a reason “why,” or at least a reason that I would like or understand. People say that God has a plan, but it’s worth noting the Bible never says that. Jesus said in this world we will have trouble. In fact, he told his guys not to worry about people who can kill the body but can’t kill the soul. I’m pretty sure they would rather he said don’t worry about anyone trying to kill you because I won’t let them. Instead he said, you’ll have trouble in this world, and he didn’t say that was part of the plan. He just said it like that was the way it is.
The Bible talks like that everywhere. In Revelation Jesus tells a church that Satan was going to throw some of them in prison and they would suffer for awhile. Instead of promising to keep them safe, He told them to “be faithful until death.”
Wait, if you’re the Son of God, save yourself and us. Those words were spoken by one of the thieves on the cross next to Jesus-not the “good” thief but the other one. The “good” thief never asked why. Isn’t that weird? I think it is. I ask God why all the time.
Jesus even talked about some people in Luke 13 who had a tower fall on them. He said they weren’t any worse sinners than anyone else. They were just regular people. Even more amazing, Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament says “the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, …. rather, time and chance happen to all of them.” That’s not a plan. That’s just random, yet that’s what the Bible has always said. Maybe we just don’t want to think about those parts.
Perhaps God doesn’t always have a specific, particular reason for allowing something bad to happen. While He does promise to put an end to these bad things someday, for the moment He allows our circumstances to go on just like they always have. Tragedies are normal. The Bible says sin and death and suffering are part of this world. Part of the deal. So when we’re asking why, it’s because that’s our current circumstance. It’s the way it is. For now. Even though Jesus promises eternal life, and an end to suffering, pain, and death someday, this world still continues to come with a side of suffering and tragedy.
Why would God set up circumstances like that?
Well with my classmate, he used circumstances like that to show him hope, peace, and in my sincere belief, to restore a relationship and give my friend eternal life. Death leads us to look for hope, and hope leads us to the God who promises it.
I think that’s at least part of it. After all, Romans 11 says God bound all men over to disobedience (a bad thing) so that He could have mercy on them all (a good thing).
It’s like the nation of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years. God told them their children would suffer because of their sin because, after all, they would have to grow up in that harsh desert. In some ways we’re in the desert with the hope of someday making it to the Promised Land. Meanwhile the desert stinks. People die here. People suffer.
The Bible makes it clear that it’s because of God’s judgment against us that we’re wandering around in this desert, and for a period of time, it’s going to go on. For now, having some rough days or weeks or months or years are just part of the deal. The Bible never pretended otherwise, it just made a promise that this life wasn’t all there is. It’s not the end.
And the crazy thing is, that hope is a powerful thing. If there really is hope, then we’re going to be ok. We can make it, because this is only temporary.
Make no mistake, Jesus was always about hope for eternal life, not merely hope for this temporary one. He didn’t say there was a plan for why a tower fell on a bunch of people, but he did say there was a plan for wiping away every tear and doing away with the old order of things.
That plan by the way is Jesus. Even though the world is under judgment and suffering as a result, God promises every individual they can be saved through the forgiveness of our sins provided by Jesus on the cross.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Yeah, you’ve heard that before. Have you heard that for as many as received Him, to those who believed on His name He gave the right to become children of God? Or the other one that explained if we repent and are baptized we will no longer be separated from God but will receive the Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance?
Ok, I combined a couple with that last one, but I’m not twisting anything. There it is. Jesus restores our relationship with God and God is in the business of saving regular people for all of eternity. I’m not saying salvation comes through a church, I’m saying salvation comes through Jesus.
Remembering my dad when he was at death’s door was much like the attitude I saw with my classmate. Dad was confident. At peace. He had no doubts, and explained that even he was surprised at that. He kept saying over and over just before he passed away, “keep Jesus at the center.” He did.
My dad died. Jesus died, too, but I don’t think either one of them stayed dead.
I don’t think anyone has to.