Sometimes we pray and expect God to answer our prayers. Sometimes we pray and hope God will hear us. Sometimes we don’t even know how to pray.

Fifty people died in a shooting rampage in Orlando early yesterday morning. The twenty-year-old son of Pastor Bill Greiner, the senior pastor of our sister church Eagle Ridge Church of God in Midland, died in a car collision last week, early on Sunday morning. And ten years ago last week, I wrote a blog post in which I tried to process the shooting deaths of seven people across the alley from our apartment in Indianapolis, which came just a month after the deaths of five people from our college in another auto collision.

How do we make sense of the tragedies in our lives? Where is God in all this mess?

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The Hard Times

photo by Kalexanderson

Automobile accidents can be very tragic events.  We have been reminded of that truth with the recent death of Julie Kurrle and her son Timmy, part of a missionary family in Paraguay, in just such a collision.  Many congregations around the country and, indeed, around the world are mourning the loss of this young woman and her very young son.  Please continue to remember Norberto Kurrle (Julie’s husband) and their daughter Anahi as they rebuild the pieces of their lives, a process which will take a very long time.

This comes at a significant time of the year for me, personally:  six years ago yesterday, a van full of Taylor University students and staff members was struck by an oncoming truck on an Indiana highway.  Four students and one staff member died in that collision, which occurred while I was on Taylor’s faculty as a math teacher.  Recently, the brother of one of these students wrote a good reflection on the aftermath of this difficult event; you can read his thoughts here.

Many inspirational stories can come out of these kinds of tragedies.  For instance, one of the Taylor students who survived the collision was in a coma for some time.  When she finally awoke, everyone began to realize that she was not who they thought she was; there had been a case of mistaken identity at the scene of the crash.  The two families – one who thought they had lost a daughter but found her alive, and one who thought their daughter had survived but realized she was gone – have been drawn together by their common Christian faith.  It’s a beautiful story of healing, sorrow, and the strength of Christian relationships.

More recently, Norberto Kurrle gave a moving speech at the memorial service for his wife and son.  He spoke about searching for God’s plan for his family, trying to make sense of all that has happened, and being grateful for the many blessings of these two lives that God has shared with him.  (You can read all about the memorial service here.)  According to eyewitness accounts, Norberto’s faith in Christ shined through even in this darkest of times.

When Christians struggle with real-life situations, I hear people quote two verses very frequently, almost without fail:  Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28.  Look up those two verses and read them to yourself, even if you have them memorized.  These verses seem to promise good things to those who trust in the Lord.  So why do tragedies happen?  Are we supposed to look at the hard times of our lives and search for meaning, value, purpose, and good in them?

I don’t know why tragedies happen.  I do know, however, that they happen.  And I do know that God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death (see Psalm 23).  I know that having faith in Christ is no guarantee that we will avoid trouble, hardship, loss, or tragedy.  In fact, if we truly are following Christ, then we should expect to suffer for the cause of Christ (see Matthew 16:21-28).  And that is not just idle suffering or having bad things happen to us or our families:  it means actively giving witness to our faith in Christ even when the world is falling apart around us.  It means denying our desire for good things (as we might believe Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 promise for us) and giving glory to God for his faithfulness to us in all circumstances.

Are we able to exercise our faith in God during the good times and the hard times?  Or are we only fair-weather Christians?

–Pastor David

A Testimony of Thankfulness

“We thank You, O God!  We give thanks because You are near.  People everywhere tell of Your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 75:1 NLT)

Word travels quickly in a small church, and if you’re reading this on paper, then this is probably old news to you:  this week, I was involved in a car crash.  On the way to the Detroit airport, my sister-in-law and I got off the highway for a pit stop, and we were rear-ended by another driver while I was changing lanes.  Both Leah and I were unharmed except for some soreness the next morning, and to the best of my knowledge, the other driver was not seriously hurt.  Leah’s car, which I was driving, is pretty well banged up, though.

Automobile accidents like these are such random occurrences.  Any number of choices, actions, or other incidents could have changed the outcome of this event.  If only we had left home a minute or two earlier or later; if only I had set the cruise control a hair lower when we first got on the highway; if only we had to stop for gas before we left home…

I am reminded of the terrible collision that occurred in 2006, while I was a math teacher at Taylor University in Indiana.  You may have heard of it:  a semi-truck crossed the median and hit a van full of Taylor students and staff going the opposite direction.  Four students and a staff member were killed; the driver, the front passenger, and one other student survived.  Here, the “if only”s involve microseconds:  a split second one direction, and no collision happens; a split second the other direction, and the driver, the front passenger, and the other surviving student may not have been so fortunate.

Does God design these events to happen?  Does God control the variables?  Does God determine who survives car crashes and who doesn’t?

In times like these, it’s helpful for me to count our blessings, with the full awareness that many other people have not been so fortunate.  I am thankful that we were hit squarely in the back of the car and not on either the driver’s or passenger’s sides.  I am thankful that there was no oncoming traffic, so we were able to careen to the other side of the street without causing more destruction.  I am thankful that Leah was able to make her flight on time, thanks to the police officer calling a cab for us.  I am thankful that we all have another day to breathe, to enjoy God’s creation, to tell of his mercies, to rest in him.

Personally, I don’t believe God predestines the outcomes of car crashes and other random human events.  I think he may very well be surprised when these events occur, just as we are.  But I do believe wholeheartedly that God walks with us through times of trial, that God grants peace to his people no matter the circumstance, and that no matter what happens to us, he will care for us.  Thanks be to God!

–Pastor David