Death almost always brings with it the basic question of “why.” When it is young innocents as in the Sandy Hook attack or our son Mack, it becomes even more desperate. Even when those who are older who die for no clear moral reason we are at a loss for an answer and yet need to ask the question. Why did they die? What could possibly be the divine purpose in their lives being taken? When the question is asked in this latter form it leads to some of the most offensive statements, at least offensive to this grieving father.
- God just needed him up there more than we need him down here.
- Someday we will know God’s divine plan for taking him now.
- God is using Mack’s death to ________ (fill in the gap: spread the Gospel, demonstrate his love through your grief, draw the community together, etc.)
These are all offensive to me for the same reason that have led many to throw off their belief in God entirely. They imply or state that God, with great intentionality, determined to take Mack now. This sort of belief is comforting when it happens in a positive way, “It was an amazing car crash, but somehow God’s angels protected me and saved me!” but carry that logic out and it means that God took our healthy boy because… well, there can be no reason. Because if we DO assume that God foreordains every action and reaction then God is culpable for not just the capricious taking of our son’s life, but all evil. Furthermore, this brings no comfort to this grieving man, does it comfort anyone else?
As I have said before, the only theology that I think accommodates the senseless suffering and death is the broken nature of this world. Gen. 3 is the nub and not without its own issues (see my previous posts on this elsewhere on my blog), but it shows us well enough two vital truths
- This world and we were not created to suffer this way. It was, originally, “very good.” Suffering and illness, maliciousness and harm were not part of our original condition.
- Sin entered the world and what had been perfect is now broken. Broken in a way that so often, like Mack’s illness, takes something that otherwise and in other contexts might be good and twisted becomes the source of pain and death.
So I do not believe that God “took” Mack at this time for some specific reason. He didn’t “need” him (what can God “need”?) and the manner of his death can not be construed as a punishment for the sin of his parents (he was not killed in a car crash while I was driving recklessly away from a botched bank robbery to pay for my meth habit). I do continue to believe that God is sovereign and that ultimately he will bring all things back into his order. Mack is safe with Christ and we will share with him in that eternal life.
Last Advent I wrote about the Peace of Christ and noted that this peace is not the cessation of violence that the UN seeks to negotiate. Rather, the peace that God offers us is the deep knowledge and confidence that He has conquered sin and death and that while suffering and hardship continue to reign in this world, we can trust in his love and justice. This is the peace we seek now.