In recent posts I’ve been looking at questions around God’s leading and speaking, and God’s plans for our lives. But what happens when everything appears to have gone completely wrong, awry, off course? What are we to do when the very worst happens, when our plans lie in ruins and God’s good will for our lives appears to have been utterly derailed – perhaps even destroyed beyond repair?
There was a tragic story in our national news recently about a bright 16-year old boy with a promising future who died after being supplied class-A drugs at a rave.
Stories like this crop up every year, but the difference this time for me was that I know the family. Suddenly the news story becomes personal; no longer merely a sad statistic and an anonymous stranger’s face, but a real person. It hits home like a ten-tonne truck. The worst can happen; it has happened, to good people who I know and like and respect.
And then for perhaps entirely selfish reasons, suddenly it all becomes so close to home. I have children only a few years younger than this young man; soon they too will enter this same world and face the same issues. And in some ways this terrible story could have been mine, though I won’t go into details. So I cannot condemn or criticise, not that I want to. Nor can I watch comfortably and complacently from a safe distance.
I would normally say ‘there but for the grace of God go I’, but that phrase seems to ring hollow right now. Where was the grace of God for this bright lad and his loving family? His parents are Christians with a deep faith, who doubtless prayed many times over the years for their son’s safety and his future. Now it’s all been snatched away by one single tiny tab-shaped lapse with the most tragic consequences.
The normal human response to disaster is to look for someone or something to blame. And for me, it’s really God I want to blame – God forgive me.
How could you let this happen, God? Was it your will that this happened? If so, then you must be a monster unworthy of worship. But if it wasn’t your will, then were you either too weak or too indifferent to prevent it? Have you not heard these good people’s prayers for their children over the years? Has their faith in you meant nothing? What about all your promises of protection in the Bible – are they all meaningless and false? What on earth are you playing at? Where the hell are you in all this?
I realise that all this sounds pretty ironic given my previous post on an experience of grace. Then I said that if my family were taken away from me that very night, having been part of their lives would have been enough. How can I say that then and then say this now? Perhaps it’s just an example of human inconsistency and fickleness. Perhaps it’s just that that was hypothetical, whereas this is actual. Perhaps this is an initial reaction, and the other comes with time.
Or perhaps it’s simply that this is not my grief, and therefore not my grace. In other words, though this situation upsets me, it does not directly affect me. When I’m the one who’s affected, then perhaps I will experience the grace that I need.
And perhaps both responses are valid, and can even co-exist. We may alternate between rage and gratitude, blame and acceptance.
Leaving the inexplicable unexplained
Now as a bystander I can of course spout all manner of theology to exonerate God. And some of it might even be technically correct, though much of it would probably just be pious platitude. But I doubt if any of it would be in the least bit helpful. Theology can maybe come later – much, much later – when hurt and grief and all the other emotions have been allowed to run their full course. And God rarely if ever tries to explain things like this; it’s humans who try to do that, with little success.
We want things to make sense, to have a meaning. We try desperately to find sense in the seemingly senseless, meaning in the apparently meaningless. But maybe some things really just don’t make any sense. Maybe sometimes there is no meaning to be found – at least none that we’ll be able to comprehend.
Perhaps we sometimes have to live without knowing, without any solution or resolution. Perhaps sometimes we have to learn, almost impossibly, to live with unanswered and unanswerable questions.
I’ve said it before: God generally doesn’t seem to intervene to prevent bad things happening, nor does he offer an explanation afterwards. What he does instead is to heal and redeem – slowly, gradually and painstakingly bringing good out of the worst. And as he does so, perhaps he does start to bring meaning to what was meaningless.
What will you do?
What then if the very worst does ever happen to you, to your family or your friends?
We live in a world where people do get ill or hurt, and where people die – including people we know and care about, including young people with bright promise and unrealised potential. We live in a world where the worst does happen on a fairly regular basis, and Christians are not exempt. I hope it never happens to you or to me; but it might. And short of locking our loved ones up, we can do very little to prevent it.
Of course, we can never know for sure how we’d react until it happens. But I suspect that if the worst happened to me, I might well hate God for a season (excepting the influence of grace of course). I imagine I would want nothing to do with church or Bible or worship songs, or any kind of prayer except the prayer of shouting and raging at God.
I might also of course be inclined to blame myself – imagining that somehow I could have prevented the worst had I been a better Christian, or had more faith, or acted differently somehow. And that would be natural and, I’m pretty certain, completely and entirely false.
And if anyone mentioned forgiveness to me during this time, I think I would be inclined to ram it down their throats with interest. I do believe in the absolute importance of forgiveness, but no-one has a right to preach to those in the immediate throes of grief and loss.
But I hope and pray that God would hold on to me through that season. That at the end of all the rage and hate and pain and tears – if there is an end – he would still be there, still loving and accepting me. That his beauty and grace would break through again into my heart, despite myself.
I don’t know why terrible things happen; I can only offer sticking-plaster guesses that fail to satisfy. But I accept that in this not-yet perfect world these things do happen, and that even the worst may occur.
But I also believe in hope. I believe in grace, and love, and second chances, and in redemption. I believe that God in the end – though it may take many years – will bring something good out of the worst things; that evil and darkness and chaos never get the final word. And I believe in the coming Kingdom where all wrongs will be righted, all harms and hurts healed.
And in the meantime, I cry out to God. I cry out against the darkness and pain and horror of the world (and that which exists in my own heart), and I pray that his goodness and light will prevail. Amen.