Amos 3:6 Or shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people be not afraid? or shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?
Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
For a short season of my life I worked for a Funeral Home in Charlotte. I did it to earn a little extra cash on the side. The people in the Funeral Home were pleasant people but I eventually had to quit because the Funeral Sermons I was hearing in the Churches were so hopeless. There was the time when a Pastor quoted John 14,
2 In my Father’s house are many dwelling places: if it were not so, I would have told you: I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there may ye be also.
At this point the Pastor referred to the deceased and began to talk about how the many dwelling places was a metaphor for the deceased’s many interests. With that lead in he began to talk about the many hats the deceased person wore. A third time was a high Eastern Orthodox funeral service. There was so much smoke from the burning incense and so much water being splashed around from all the sprinkling I began to wonder if I would die of smoke inhalation first or of drowning. At another time the Pastor spent the Funeral sermon talking about the deceased’s interest in Rush Limbaugh. One would have thought that Limbaugh had died. What all the Funeral sermons had in common was the lack of Christ in the message.
One particular Funeral sermon however took the first place award in the, “I can’t believe the Pastor just said that” awards. This Funeral was a situation where the deceased had perished in a particularly violent auto accident. That kind of death can be hard on the loved ones that remains because it so sudden and so violent. No time to say good byes. No time to make amends for harsh words perhaps recently said.
At this particular service the Pastor mounted the pulpit and the first words out of his mouth were,
“I want everyone here to know that God had nothing to do with this. This was not God’s will.”
I was so shocked that I instinctively was looking for a rewind button so as to replay what I just heard to confirm I had indeed heard it. Later I did confirm it with my co-workers. All these years later I still can’t believe the Pastor actually said that.
Of course the Pastor was (I think) trying to defend God. (As if God needs defense.) And the Pastor was probably trying to bring some kind of comfort to the family in the thought that a loving God would never have anything to do with such a tragic happening. Maybe the Pastor reasoned that as Jesus came to defeat death, death was not God’s will?
But really, if you think about it, where was the comfort in being told that God had nothing to do with the auto accident? Will the family leave comforted knowing that God didn’t want that accident and death to happen, but darn it, there is only so much a Deity can do. After all, God can’t always get what He wants. Where is the comfort in knowing that there are some matters that God is not sovereign over and so we are left to … to what exactly?
When deaths happen that God doesn’t will does that mean when it comes to death we are up against time plus chance plus circumstance instead? When deaths happen that God doesn’t will does that mean when it comes to death we are up against the sovereignty of King Devil? Where is the comfort in knowing that tragic death visits us for no reason or for unknowable mystery as opposed to being confident that even tragic death is the will of a Sovereign and merciful God who is working out His all knowing purpose and plan?
And if you think about it, since the death of the Lord Christ was about as tragic and undeserved as is possible to arrive at are we to conclude that the death of the Lord Christ wasn’t the will of the Father either? I wonder how it is that we can talk about God’s will in the death of the Lord Christ and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the death of the innocent Lord Christ was a part of God’s plan and not at the same time comfort ourselves in the face of other less tragic deaths with the thought that God never willed it and had nothing to do with it?
I know the death of loved ones is difficult but I would suggest that we only make it more difficult when we tell people “it wasn’t God’s will.”
As a minister I’ve conducted services for death by suicide. I’ve conducted service for babies who were battered or shaken to death. I’ve conducted services for those who have died of grisly and long wasting cancers. I’ve conducted services of those who have died in accidents. Speaking only of myself, I am certain I could not have ever had the composure to conduct those services if I did not believe behind each of them and all of them there ran the inscrutable will of a God who, as Job teaches us, has reasons that cannot be demanded of us in all He does.
As a minister, I understand, that some truths need to be delivered at their appropriate times. I understand that for those who are grieving it is probably not best to go into a long explanation on the decretive will of God. I understand that when folks are drowned in grief for a loved one that it isn’t perhaps the time to cheerily put forth how “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” People need time to grieve. They need time even perhaps to be angry with God. They need time to sort out their flooding emotions.
However, something else they don’t need is for members of the clergy to tell them, “God had nothing to do with this. This was not God’s will.” We must keep before ourselves as Ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that which we intone at every graveside service,
“The Lord Giveth, The Lord Taketh Away, Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord.”