Explore: When tragedy hits home

• The Explore the Bible lesson for June 22 focuses on Ezekiel 24:15-27.

Recently, a young mother was grieving aloud to me. Her husband has been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor. Her grief was being compounded by what Christian people presumed to say to her in this time of grief, about how God is in control and God must have a purpose in the suffering of her loved one. Well-intentioned people who presume to speak for God are complicating the grief she is experiencing at the impending loss of her husband.

Tragic loss divides into two parts—what happens and why it happens. We can see what happens, but we should be very cautious about presuming to know why things happen the way they do. We also should be extremely cautious about presuming to speak for God as though we have an inside track on what God is up to and why.

We don't always know why bad things happen

Bad things happen for all kinds of reasons. We are fallible human beings. There is evil at work. Sometimes, we inflict pain on ourselves. We simply do not always know why bad things happen.

To attempt to comfort people by reassuring them, “God is in control,” runs the risk of asking people to believe God’s control led to their loved one’s suffering. As seen in this passage in Ezekiel, God intends to use the death of Ezekiel’s wife as an instrument to speak to the people of Israel. Still, that leaves no human in the position of speaking for God as though any human knows the mind of God.

God’s ways are mysterious. We trust God is all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful. However, none of those tenets of our faith equates to a suffering-proof life. Our faith in God, more often than not, complicates the mystery of life and rarely solves it.

The New Testament speaks of the “mystery” of the gospel. In this particular case, the “mystery” is not a puzzle to be solved but a reality to be celebrated. We don’t know why tragedy strikes. What we do know is that God is at work in all that happens to reveal God’s redemptive purpose.

God is not in control in the sense that all that happens is the result of the direct action of God. God is in control in the sense that God can and does take all that happens, even the worst, and transforms it into an instrument of redemptive grace (Romans 8).

The story is told of an elderly pastor of a tiny rural congregation. He and his wife had been married for decades. They had been each other’s best friends. She had stood by him and with him in all the challenges ministry brought into their lives.

The bottom is rock solid

One day, the pastor’s wife grew seriously ill and died shortly thereafter. That next Sunday, no one expected the pastor to show up for worship. No one would have blamed him for staying silent for an extended period of grief.

However, when the hour of worship drew near, people were shocked to look up and see the elderly pastor making his way to the pulpit. As he stood in the pulpit, he was silent for a long moment before saying a word. When he did speak, his sermon was very brief.

“Dear people, this past week, I touched bottom. I am here to report to you that the bottom is rock solid.” That was it, the total extent of his sermon.

The pastor didn’t try to explain the mystery of his wife’s death or how God was in control. He simply went to church to report that, in the worst moment of his life, God had taken control of the worst and transformed it into a witness of God’s undying faithfulness, love and presence.

Ezekiel suffered one of the worst losses any human can know. He chose to use that event in this life as a means of communicating the greater purpose of God’s redemption for all mankind.

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