It was a normal morning, one like many moms have experienced. She grabbed her keys, ran out the door, made sure her five-year-old son was buckled in the front seat, put the keys in the ignition and prepared to leave. Suddenly, she realized she'd forgotten her purse, so she ran back into the house. The intrusion of an unwanted phone call stopped her in her tracks. "I can make it quick," she must have reasoned, and ended the call as soon as possible.
Running back outside, she was horrified to discover that her son had been run over by the car. Apparently, he had managed to unbuckle himself; get into the drivers seat and start the car. When it began to roll, he must have panicked and jumped out. She called for help immediately, but it was too late. The next few days seemed like an unending nightmare to this bereaved mother as she worked through her shock.
The finality of it all seemed to mock her pain. Would she ever heal from such a permanent wound?
In his book, "The Healing Path," Christian counselor Dan Allender finishes the story: "Two years after the accident the woman was doing much better, but she still suffered waves of nausea and guilt that threatened to drown her. Her marriage was in great danger, and she continued to take medication for depression. Her story and the sorrow embedded in her eyes shook me. But one comment in particular unnerved me.
"Thank you,' she said, 'for letting me know it is not wrong to suffer.' Every one else wanted her to be 'fine,' she explained. They wanted her to move on with her life. She said she used to have similar sentiments toward those who suffered tragic losses; she hadn't understood the depth of pain with which they wrestled. Now she did. Wistfully she commented, 'I simply never thought that tragedy could really, I mean really, come to my door.'"
Many times during such unexpected tragedies we wonder, Where is God in all this? In mass tragedies, such as earthquakes or other calamities, God gets the blame and little credit. Natural disasters are termed "acts of God." Miraculous stories of survival are credited to "good luck."
It isn't god's fault
But this is not really the truth. God never planned for His children to suffer when He created life on Earth. Death and suffering were introduced to humanity when Adam and Eve accepted an enemy's offer of a so-called better life (see Genesis 3:1-19). Even though the wages of sin brought death as the ultimate fate of every human being, God introduced eternal life again through the sacrifice of His Son. His plan would ensure stability forever by eradicating sin and completely protecting His children from Satan, the author of sin and death (see Romans 6:23; Nahum 1:9).
God knew that in order for the universe to be forever free of rebellion against His laws, Satan would need time to demonstrate just how terrible rebellion is and what results it brings. Then, when the children of earth are finally redeemed, they will never want to try the awful experiment called sin again.
So it's important to understand that, while there's a reason for the suffering and death we endure, it isn't God's fault. The good news is that God is with us through these difficult circumstances. We never plan for sorrow to come home, but when it does, we have a Savior who is capable of understanding the great loss of death. He longs to comfort and sustain us even in the midst of I the waves of pain that threatens to engulf us (John 14:18). The Bible tells us that, "Jesus wept" when he lost a friend (John 11:35). Even though he planned to raise Lazarus to life again, the one who was called the life and the resurrection cried before he performed a resurrection. He took time to grieve the wrongness of death.
Your loved ones are sleeping
Looking a little closer, we see something else very striking about the story of Lazarus's death. Jesus knew that His friend was sick for several days before he actually died, yet Jesus kept healing others. The disciples became concerned and doubted the sincerity of Jesus' love for his friend. That's why it came as a surprise to them that Lazarus' death was what finally motivated Jesus to action.
The Bible says that when Jesus "heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, 'Let us go back to Judea.'" Jesus explained to His disciples that "'our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am there to wake him up. His disciples replied,” Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better”...So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:6,7, 11:14).
And this is not the only time Jesus compared death to sleep. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of another resurrection Jesus performed. This time the man named Jairus had a 12-year-old daughter who was gravely ill. He came to Jesus as a last-ditch effort, and Jesus agreed to accompany Jairus to his home. However, the crowd of people seeking healing impeded their progress, and moving towards the home of Jairus became an infuriatingly slow journey.
Finally, a messenger came with the heart-sickening news, "Don't bother the Master, it's too late, your daughter is dead" (see Mark 5:35). In spite of the pressing crowd, Jesus made eye contact with Jairus, saying, "Don't be afraid; just believe" (verse 36). Jesus had a plan.
These so-called friends, who pretended to mourn, actually laughed at Jesus. They laughed because they could see whether the vital signs of life were present or not. They knew death from life. But they missed the greater comfort in Jesus' words. The Bible tells us that "the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and that the very day that they die, their "thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:4, KJV).
Jesus reveals to us through these two stories the symbolism of sleep that death is just a peaceful unconscious waiting for resurrection. The Bible also tells us that some people will be raised in the first resurrection unto life and some will face judgment in the second (see Revelation 20:6). But thankfully, that decision is up to a merciful God who is not eager to see any perish (see 2 Peter 3:9).
Only He can read the heart in the last moments of a person's life. We can't judge—even when a person seemed to live totally outside God's will. What a comfort to know that our loved ones are not burning in hell—or enjoying the bliss of heaven while watching us continue to suffer through life on earth without them. They are simply resting until God gives them His final call.
You'll meet again
Jesus has proven that He is a life-giver. We know that He loves to restore the dead to their families and friends. Therefore, we can cherish the hope that we will be reunited with our loved ones one day—even though we are called to wait in faith for God's final victory over death.
Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman knows the pain of loss and the hope of reunion. A few years ago he lost his five-year-old daughter Maria in a tragic accident. Apparently as a teenager backed out of his driveway in an SUV, he didn't see the child playing. This tragedy came in spite of the fact that the Chapmans had done missionary work in orphanages overseas. How can it be fair that those who were helping other peoples' children should lose a child? It seemed so wrong. How could something evil like this happen to good people? Chapman and his wife must have been numb with grief, just like that mother who never thought such a tragedy would come to her door until she lost her son in a similar accident.
Yet the Chapmans chose to place their trust in God, even when they didn't understand. Shortly after this terrible loss, Chapman composed the song "Beauty Will Rise," which is poignant and shows the deep longing of the soul for the day of reunion with loved ones. As Chapman worked his way through the raw emotions of that experience, I'm sure it influenced the urgency of his hope of seeing that precious little girl again. He says, "Out of these ashes . . .beauty will rise. For we know, joy is coming in the morning... in the morning."
Yes, the Bible says, "Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). This night of agony will end for you one day—the blessed morning of the resurrection will come. And when God restores beauty and joy to us as we receive our loved ones, we'll be going to a place where we'll never experience the pain of death again. He has promised that God will " wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'" (Revelation 21:4). At that time God will finally destroy sin, Satan, and the last enemy—death—will be no more (see 1 Corinthians 15:25, 26). God's goodness will have the complete victory over evil. The shout will ascend, " 'Where, Oh death, is your, victory? Where, O death, where is your sting?'" (verse 55).
What a wonderful morning that will be.
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times magazine, May, 2010.