“Whiplash” often describes the emotions I go through as a pastor. Recently, I experienced a whiplash day. Let me give a little back-story to help you understand.
Over the course of the past two years, Brandi and I have had two sets of friends who experienced the loss of a baby. Todd and Angie Smith, who lost their baby after two hours of life, and Mike and Holly Phelps, who lost their baby late in their first pregnancy.
I can’t even begin to imagine the heavy heartache and deep loss they felt. And while getting pregnant again doesn’t take a way that pain, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that both couples were once again pregnant. While each couple faced their own unique challenges, they were both on track to have healthy babies. I couldn’t help but think of what a bittersweet experience it would be for both of them – a glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkness.
In the early morning hours, in hospitals just two blocks away from each other, both couples had a pre-term delivery. That morning I walked into two different hospital rooms. Both scenes could not have been more similar and yet more different. Both rooms had moms who were laying in hospital beds. Both rooms had dads who were right by the bed holding and rocking a tiny infant. However, the similarities end there.
One baby was breathing and the other was not.
Todd and Angie’s room was full of prayers, crying and pure joy. There was life. Mike and Holly’s room was full of prayers and crying, but no joy. No life.
The whole way to the Phelps’ room I cried. I knew the situation I was walking into. I cried out to God, “How could this happen to them again? Why God, would you allow this family to endure this pain yet again? Haven’t they been through enough? Why God?”
As long as we live on this earth, we may walk around with some huge unanswered questions. God simply doesn’t answer many of these questions for us. What we come up with are basically guesses, attempts to get our minds around the unanswerable, and efforts to reach out and help each other.
If you are a Christian, you may already know all this. If you’re a Christian, you’re accustomed to holding two seemingly contradictory realities together in your mind and heart. Some days you may hold them together more easily than others.
One reality is God’s love and care for us in every aspect of our lives, which we know is real from scripture and from our own personal experience. You can probably recount times when God showed his love to you through his faithfulness and kindness. I know I can.
But the second reality we must balance is disappointment, heartache and pain. You’ve experienced this in your own life, seen it in the lives of friends and witnessed national and global disasters.
Hardly a day goes by without a collision between these two realities. How can we reconcile these two unmixable components: a God of love who is all-powerful and the universal experience of tragedy and suffering?
This, my friends is an enormous puzzle, and I can’t solve it for you. I can’t solve it for myself, either. I can’t fully answer this question because I don’t believe God fully answers that question. He provides lots of evidence, but no definitive answers. I’m not sure our finite minds could comprehend the real answer to that question.
Instead of an answer, God offers something better. He offers us a solution. He offers us the cross.
Ever since the fall, we’ve had this problem with sin and evil. This world is broken and stained with sin and not the way it’s supposed to be. Bad things happen to good people. Good people do bad things. Lots of people suffer in ways far out of proportion to what they have done. But immediately after the fall, God went to work on a plan to bring redemption to each of us. He gathered a people and taught them about himself. He showed them his faithfulness and mercy, punished and forgave them, taught them who he is and how to live together. And then, when the time was right, he sent his Son, Jesus, who conquered the sin and death that originated through the fall.
Because of Jesus, suffering is never the last word. If we will put our trust in him, we are promised a day when he “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.” (Rev. 21:4)
There’s a big difference between trust and understanding. They say trust is what we need when we don’t have understanding. Today, I’m praying for trust. A big, huge, helping of trust.
I’m also asking you to trust that one day faith will win over doubt, that light will win over darkness, love will win over hate, and all things will one day be redeemed. I’m asking you, right in the middle of your pain, to trust this process that is going on in your life.
Pete Wilson is a pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville and author of Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up the Way You Thought He Would? His blog is at withoutwax.tv.