It’s been nearly 50 years since the funeral, but the words of the priest are still fresh. The young man in the casket was a college student who, while working a summer job, had fallen off a roof into an electrical substation. He survived the fall, electrocution, and burns, but then died in surgery due to a stupid mix-up with the oxygen-gas line.
The deceased was the youngest child of the president of the small company the writer worked for, and a sizable number of the employees attended the funeral service. For many of the group, mostly younger men and women, being in church was an unusual experience. And so, the words said had particular relevance.
The priest addressed the question that all were asking: “How can God let such a horribly senseless thing happen?” He allowed that this was a question that he often found himself asking at times like this, and that he had no ready answer: “But what I have observed over the years is that tragic events like this often open a window into the hearts of those who are going through life without thinking about their own mortality.”
God’s ways are beyond our knowing. There are those who will insist that “everything that happens to us is what God intends” and perhaps in some sense this is correct. Yet, as scripture makes clear, God takes no pleasure in human misery. All the evil that we experience is a consequence of man’s fallen nature – the brokenness that separates us from God’s loving intentions. But though we profess to accept that, we still struggle to understand how a loving Father can permit terrible pain and misfortune to afflict His children – especially when it seems so ‘random’ and ‘unfair.’ There are no completely satisfactory answers to questions like this, but we can gain some insight from passages like Romans 8:28 which tells us that “for those who love God all things work together for good”. This reassures us that even in the painful things that we experience – pain that also grieves our loving God – that He redeems our suffering so that good is accomplished. Sometimes that is our own good (as many of us know as we look back at painful life experiences that were ultimately revealed as blessings) and sometimes God uses our pain to bless others. We then become windows of His Grace.
That is the message that came so clearly through the words of the priest that sad morning so many years ago. Looking at the somber faces all around, it was clear that many of us were reevaluating priorities in the light of this stark reminder of how our own lives could suddenly be snuffed out. Perhaps there was someone present on that day who was turned towards True Life in Christ as a result of this young man’s tragic death. That does not mitigate the pain experienced by the family in the present, but it does suggest how, even in such a senseless tragedy, God can find ways to reach out in Grace to thwart evil and accomplish eternal good.
Thoughtful people have noted that adversity often brings out the best in human nature. During times of ease and comfort we tend to be lulled into a false security that turns us inward — the point of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21). Conversely, in times of suffering, when driven to our knees by peril or pain, we remember where our true hope and strength is to be found. Thus, as Jesus so remarkably taught, God’s most profound blessings are often found in times of hardship (Matthew 5:2-11).
It is recorded in scripture that Jesus wept at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus before He restored him to life (John 11). A remarkable and often-overlooked aspect of this account is that Jesus seems to have permitted Lazarus’ death so “that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” As the text makes clear, Jesus was deeply moved by the suffering of his friends, but He employed their grief for a greater good – as a window through which the Glory of God might shine to bring light and life into the world. And so too, we may take comfort in the knowledge that even in our darkest times our loving Lord is not pouring out our lives pointlessly, but rather that following in His own sacrificial path, we too may be windows through which His glorious light shines into the lives of others.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18 NIV)