When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad,
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Nothing so captures the heart of a community as the death of a child. Just two days ago, the death of a nine-year-old boy in Fort Pierce, Florida has done just that. A memorial service was held today for Aaron Beauchamp, the only student to die aboard the France K. Sweet Elementary School bus that crashed.
At this time, five other children remain in critical condition. The bus driver, a man whose driving record has been impeccable throughout his driving career, will never forget that tragic day, or the tragic decision to turn in front of a semi. An accident. Certainly the family and friends of all who were involved will never forget the day either. March 26 will live forever in their minds. It will haunt them. Perhaps even the number 26 will do this, or the number of the bus. Details, details.
I would venture a guess that somewhere tonight, even as I type this, someone is asking why God allowed such a thing to happen. Going so far as to say that God must not exist, because if a loving God existed, this kind of thing could not happen.
It's a point well taken. A loving God would want his children to prosper, succeed, do well, be happy, be healed. Right?
Many years ago, just months after my own son died following a car accident, I sat in a Sunday school room listening to a testimony. I was visiting the church for the first time -- our former church home, the one we had helped start, had become less than nurturing, less than friendly due to judgmentalism and legalism and all the other isms that man-made religions (or man's interpretation of Christianity) historically inflict -- and was hopeful of finding a welcoming place.
I was still raw from the loss of our son, so it was unfair, really, to expect a new church to meet my needs, but one testimony in a Sunday school sent me packing.
The woman sharing so enthusiastically had almost had an accident, you see, but God had intervened. God is so good! He is so loving! He protected her! This near-miss proved that God is sovereignly watching over his beloved, that all is as it should be.
Bullshit. And no, I'm not going to ask you to pardon my French. That's an honest, heartfelt assessment of that particular brand of God-gushing, and it's in plain English. God is God. He does whatever the hell he wants (she said ironically) and for whatever reasons he deems best. Sometimes he protects and delivers and heals. Sometimes he lets people die. He's still God. We're still not.
See, we can't have it both ways. We can't rave about God's love and care when things go right, and then say, well, God didn't have anything to do with a tragedy. Of course he did. He either is God or he isn't.
Could God have prevented my son's death? Aaron Beauchamp's death? Abso-freakin'-lutely. He also could prevent the death of innumerable children and others slightly less likely to pull on our heartstrings...every minute or every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year of every decade of every century of every millennium.
Why doesn't he? I have no idea. I've been fed the same tired stories of his not interfering with human will that you have. I've heard the "It's God's will." I've heard the "God's permissive vs. perfect will." I've heard the cries of "unfair God" or "no-God-at-all" when things go bad, oddly unaccompanied by the "fair God" and "praise God" when things go well.
Every day that we live, we owe allegiance to the Creator of the universe. He created us. He breathed life into us. There is no blessing we receive that has not come from his hand. If we worked for it, he gave us the ability to work, the talent to perform. Grace. Unmerited favor. We're born in our father Adam's sinful likeness, yet he lets us live because he loves us and wants us to get to know him, wants us to find the way back to him.
And sometimes...always. Always. ALWAYS, there are tragic times. The woman in the Sunday school class had apparently not had hers yet or she wouldn't have babbled on about proof of God's love in her life when she escaped injury in a freaking car accident. Her time is coming. "In this world you will have trouble," Jesus said in John 16:33, and he was talking to the guys he loved best.
Did you catch that? YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. Maybe it will be a physical problem. Mental illness. Financial woes. Marital difficulty. The death of a loved one. Career setbacks. Crimes against you. Crimes perpetrated by you. You will have trouble. It doesn't mean there isn't a God, any more than a (temporary) lack of trouble means that you are blessed.
We have finite minds. We can't understand. We don't fathom the mysteries of God. But I am convinced that God exists, and that his plan for us is good. The best, actually:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21, New International Version).
He is able to do more than we ask or imagine. That he doesn't always DO what we ask or imagine is his business...and by extension, his problem. We don't have to like it. We don't have to approve of his methods. He's still God. I believe that we can trust him to work, as Paul wrote, all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).
All things. All. Things. Even the really horrible ones.
The friends and family of Aaron Beauchamp are going to have some questions for God. I would be surprised if he answers them. Lord knows, I'm still waiting for answers to MY questions.
But one thing I know: God loves us. We are created for eternity. My son, and little Aaron, are there right now.