And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
My dog has been the beneficiary of the many long walks I have been taking since my hip injury has prevented me from running. This morning we cut through our neighbor’s yard to the bike path in the meadow that leads to town.
The highlight of the walk was the pair of bluebirds we saw near the little spring-fed stream, little chips of blue sky, achingly beautiful, perched on a dead branch.
We continued our walk into town and saw the memorial for the high school students killed in a tragic car accident right before Halloween, still standing at the church across the street from the school. I recently read in the newspaper that the woman who caused the accident, who is being prosecuted for third-degree murder, had no recollection of the disaster or the events leading up to it. No drugs or alcohol were found in her system, no medical issue was uncovered. It may be that the reason for the accident will never be known.
The parents of one of the dead students publicly forgave the driver who caused them such sorrow. They are devout Christians who know their son is with God. I wonder if I could be so charitable under the same circumstances.
Seeing the memorial made me think of the verse from Romans where Paul writes that God works for the good of those who love Him. But, I think, the boy whose life was cut short loved God. His parents do too. How can this verse be true?
This verse is popularly summarized as “Everything happens for a reason“. What, I wonder, is the reason for two teenagers to be killed in such a brutal, sudden manner? How must their families have felt during the recent holiday season?
And what about even larger disasters? What about the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and staff members were killed and 17 others injured? What about the Holocaust that killed millions of innocent people? What about first century Christians who were fed to wild animals, crucified, and burned at the stake – men, women, and even young children – subjected to torturous gruesome deaths?
What could the reason possibly be for these and other barbaric acts of cruelty? “Everything happens for a reason” sounds good, comforting, but it really only works if your life is mild and mostly happy. If the troubles that befall you are slight, it is easy to think you were strengthened by overcoming adversity, that God sent a minor problem as a way to teach you perseverance. What if you are crushed, destroyed by devastating events?
I remember, years ago, reading in a newspaper the story of one survivor of the USS Arizona, a battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor. He was initially trapped in a section of the ship that was underwater and was able to live only because a miraculous air pocket formed nearby, which he was able to access. Rescuers eventually reached him and he was saved.
He told his interviewer that he survived because God was watching out for him. But, I thought, what about the other 1200 men who perished? Wasn’t God watching out for them, too? And if not, why not? Why did this man get to grow old and not the other 1200? Surely there must have been good men that went down with the ship.
How can disasters like these and others be part of God’s plan? How can a merciful God allow children to starve, elderly people to suffer neglect, and innocent young men to be gunned down in the street?
I think the only conclusion we can draw is that indeed there is evil in the world. An evil that is unfathomable to most of us. The world is more complex and more beautiful than the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” allows.
Yes, time randomly churns out phenomena. Some events are breathtakingly beautiful and some are heartbreaking. You and I, who have lived long lives, have probably experienced some of each. Most of our moments are neither; beautiful and heartbreaking are the two, thankfully rare, extremes. We live our lives primarily in the middle ground.
But God belongs to eternity, not to time. God is eternally good, this I believe with all my heart. God’s love is not random, capricious, or conditional. God is not ruled by time. We are told in no uncertain terms that He does “not give to you as the world gives.” What God does not do is to insert human values into time.
I believe that God was there for the sailor who survived the sinking of the USS Arizona, but He was also there for the 1200 who perished. He is there for the new mother, rapturously in love with her newborn and for the students who were killed in the car accident in October, and for the woman who caused the accident.
My oldest son likes to say that Jesus spoke in parables, not in verses. What he means by this is that you cannot take a verse out of context to determine its intent. I know the verse from Romans was written by Paul, not Jesus, but the concept is the same. When you keep reading the eighth chapter of Romans, you eventually come to this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.“
There it is, the good news. Nothing – not car accidents, or madmen with guns, or war, famine, terror or even death- can separate us from the love of God. The least we can do in return is to try to live our days with thankfulness and compassion, willing to reflect God’s love to the world, “called according to his purpose.”
I am linking up with Clean Eats Fast Feets for her Week in Review, Random-osity for The Good, The Random, The Fun, Shank You Very Much for Dream Team link up and Global Blogging, Hooks and Dragons for Mix It Up, Purposeful Faith for RaRa link up, Mary Geisen Tell His Story, Meghan Weyerbacher for Tea and Word, Bethere2day for Wordless Wednesday on a Tuesday, and Mary-andering Creatively for LMM.