The Hope of Tragedy
The accelerator was slammed hard against the floor. With one hand I gripped the wheel and with the other I tightly clutched the hand of my tearful wife. Only moments before, she had bled significantly. Having buried our first born son only two months earlier, we thought that these frantic last few minutes foretold calamity. Our wearied souls which seemed to be only loosely held together by the glue of hope were now bracing for the smashing blow of a miscarriage. And as we raced toward the hospital amidst a flurry of cellphone activity, I looked at my sweet wife and said, “It seems we are cursed.”
I had sunk to this state as I examined the irony of our despair. I am a children’s pastor. I have even dedicated my ministry to “reaching the next generation for Christ.” Pictures of a little stick figure family were on my business cards and scattered all throughout my church’s children’s ministry. Yet, our home’s tranquil silence has never interrupted by the cry of an infant. My wife and I had no little ones to great us with a “Hi daddy” or “I love you mommy” when we walked in the door. Twice we had prayed specifically for children. And twice God had blessed us with babies in the womb. And now it seemed God would take both of our children prematurely. My heart was crushed by grief. I truly wondered if God knew how much I could handle (I Cor. 10:13).
But God had not failed me. Somewhere during the process of grieving for my firstborn son and celebrating the conception of my second child, I had made this new baby my hope. I had convinced myself that I could keep ministering to families because I would soon have a family. I could handle the despair of leaving a maternity ward without a baby because I had the promise of walking out with a baby strapped into a car seat. I could deal with the empty cradle because it would have a new occupant in about eight months.
By making the baby my hope, I had taken my eyes off of Christ. I had made a created thing my hope. Consequently, I could find only despair. The Psalmist warns: we are not to “trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation” (Ps 146:3). No baby, youth, teenager, or grown child can give us joy everlasting. Because they are infected with a sin nature, they will die, they will make foolish choices, and they will leave us hurting, unfulfilled, and hopeless. But as I remembered later that night via the Holy Spirit, all believers still very much have hope!
As believers, we always have the good and loving comfort of our heavenly father! I felt cursed because I had left Christ. But God never left me, and he will never forsake any of his children (Deut. 31:6). When children die, or declare that they are not Christians, or brazenly reject the word of God to embrace sin, we should utter the words of Lamentations 3:19-24:
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Yes, we have grief. Yes, we join with the cries of “Come, Lord Jesus!” But we have hope. God’s love does not leave us in the midst of suffering. No, it encompasses us through scripture and the ministry of others. We can have hope because God’s character does not change with our circumstances. He is still good, merciful, compassionate, just, and long suffering even when we lose everything that is dear to our souls. God will uphold us through every trial. “Remember child of God, you are a sheep that can never lose its Shepherd, a child that can never lose its Father” (Spurgeon, p. 156).
Moreover as believers, we have the hope that everything including the death of a baby and the foolish actions a rebellious teenager are under his control. And all of these events are planned by God to benefit us, the people of God. Even the hardest most unwanted trial is for our benefit so that we may be perfect and complete. Romans 8:28 makes this truth every so clear. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “This is the best promise of life” (p. 242) And no matter how many children we lose to death or to sin, we still know that we have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” As Spurgeon notes, “our highest, best, and most vital interests are beyond even the shadow of harm” (p. 216).
Now some might question if God really does use evil to accomplish his loving will. I simply direct you to the cross. Can we think of anything more horrific than killing the son of God? Yet, God used this most evil act to save you, me, and every believer. The wickedest act of all time accomplished the greatest good for humanity (I Peter 2:24). If God can use the vilest event in history for our good, he can and does use our specific sufferings for our good! We can join with Joseph declaring, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20).
That frantic night, I was not cursed. My idol was smashed by the realities of a cruel world, but God had remained true to his word. Several hours later because of God’s mercy and compassion, I repented of my false hope. Over the next three weeks, my wife and I made several frightful trips to our doctor’s office with no assurance of the baby’s survival. Thankfully by God’s grace, our second child appears to be healthy growing in the womb. But, this baby can never be our hope. Regardless of how long this baby lives and regardless of whether it becomes a corrupt politician or a revered saint, we will always have hope and joy because of who our God is.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and righteousness!”