God in control in the midst of horrendous pain
Jon F. Claudle Jr.
July 1, 2003
FAIR GROVE — I started hearing the reports on Monday morning, June 16. A van heading for Wyoming, carrying teens and others on a mission trip, blew a tire and crashed. Rebecca Keathley, 30, wife of Matt Keathley, associate pastor of Main Street Baptist Church, Greenfield, died at the scene. Several days later, one of the teens, 17-year-old Andrew Maxwell of Greenfield, died at the hospital to which he’d been taken.
I began to grieve for Andrew’s parents and friends, as I remembered June 16 seven years previous. I had spent that afternoon making funeral arrangements for my own son.
I soon learned that Andrew was the son of friends whom I hadn’t seen in decades. I lost track of a lot of folks when our family left Missouri, as my dad became a church planter in West Virginia. Several years ago, I moved back into the state, one county away. Yet I seldom had the occasion to return to my old hometown. However, I recently did to see Andrew’s family at the funeral home and to attend the funeral at the local high school.
What could the preacher say to the family at a time like this? I wondered. I knew what I would say. But what would this preacher say?
He talked about Andrew and his family. His parents, I learned, had built their lives around the Word of God, the God of the Word, and His church. (I wasn’t surprised since I had known them.) The mission trip on which Andrew lost his life was his third, and his mother’s testimony was that Andrew would have gone, even had he known the outcome beforehand because he thought it vital that unreached children learn about Jesus. He knew God; he loved God; he trusted God; he wanted others to know this God that he knew.
Though I had never known Andrew, I began to get a feel for the magnificent work God had done in his life.
Yes, the preacher talked about Andrew. But he also talked about God. He read the Scripture that the family had requested: Psalm 34. It starts like this:
"I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears."
Now I knew what it was that made Andrew what he was. First, it was a great God. Second, it was parents who continue to place their trust and hope in their great God. And finally, Andrew followed their godly example. Parents and son became mutual encouragements to one another, loving and trusting God.
This preacher preached the message that needs to thunder forth from the pulpits of America. God is great! God is good! God is, indeed, in control of all things, including the tragedies that come into our lives. We may not figure these things out for "His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts." But He is in control and the horrendous pain that we are sometimes called to bear is consistent with both his total control of all events and his immense love for his people.
The musicians at the funeral knew this, too. Less than two years ago, their three-year-old son died. I know, too. My son was not quite three when he was taken from us.
Were God an impotent Deity, powerless to stop tragedy, we would be without hope in this world (or the next), no matter how much affection He may have for us. But the Biblical God, who lays claim to the control of every atom (and sub-atomic particle) in the universe — and yet who designs tragedy to mold and shape his children for their ultimate good and eternal happiness — is the source of immense comfort.
Such tragedies are certainly not painless. Indeed, one feels as if his very heart is being wrenched from his body. But God is a shield. Our faith, weak and miniscule as it may be, is in a very Great God. And He sustains us, even amid the tragedies which shape us.
Learn from Andrew’s parents, and teach this to your children: God is great, and God is good. Psalm 34 and Romans 8:28-39 are good starting points. Your children will need to be certain of this when God uses tragedy in their lives.
Also, please pray for my friends, Angela Joy and Dallas Maxwell. It will be a year or two before things even begin to feel normal again. But God is pleased to respond to the prayers of the saints, and carry his children through the fire. Finally, remember to pray for your acquaintances that are likewise tested.