Josh hopped onto our bed late last Wednesday night. He had a question. “Why does God allow someone so young to die?” We’ve had these discussions before with our kids. I’ve had them numerous times over the years with other kids who have lost young family members or friends in tragic, unexpected ways. This time it was a 22-year-old high school classmate of Josh’s, Matt Garber, who had drowned in Costa Rica while spending his summer doing missions work.
Matt was one of four kids in a local family we’ve gotten to know over the years. Our kids are all close in age, and Matt’s three siblings have all been classmates, teammates, and friends with my kids. Matt was looking forward to starting a career in nursing in just over a month. . . . once he returned from his missions trip.
My discussion with Josh on the bed took the usual course. I explained that there are many things that happen in life that we just can’t understand or explain. When those times come, I hold on to the things I know (my list of “This I know’s”). I believe in God’s love, grace, mercy, and sovereignty. I also know that our world is polluted by sin. I know that God has begun and will finish his plan to undo all that’s been done.
As you can imagine, Matt Garber’s death is the big news in our town. Sadly, the Garber family has in one month gone from the joy of celebrating Matt’s older brother’s selection in the major league baseball draft and Matt’s college graduation, to coming together for a funeral. All last week we prayed for the Garbers. We prayed that eventually Matt’s body would be found so that some small sense of closure could come.
On Saturday morning, I went for a bike ride on a local trail. As I oftentimes do, I was praying while riding. This time, I spent time praying for the Garbers. Not coincidentally, I was a mile from the end of my ride when I skidded to a stop to talk with a jogger. It was Matt’s younger sister Janelle. She’s a good friend of my daughter Bethany. I said her name and she looked at me bewildered, not sure who it was who was stopping to chat with her. Once I took off my sunglasses and unbuckled my helmet she recognized me. It was an emotional moment as I asked her, “Janelle, how are you doing?” We stood there together and talked for a long time. We talked about what had happened to her brother. She told me they had just found his body. She spoke about her brother’s faith in Christ. She talked about how she was doing. When I finally rode away, I had been ministered to by a young lady whose deep pain, hurt, and grief were being experienced in the context of her deep faith in Christ.
Without the “This I know’s,” I’m not sure how people get through tragedy. It is a mystery of grace, but it is a reality. Last week in worship I reached into the hymnal rack and pulled out a little supplemental book of hymns written by the late Dr. James Boice. I’ve grown to love the words of #5. . . . and I think the text of this simply titled “Hallelujah” brings great light and hope in the midst of grief and questions.
What can separate my soul
From the God who made me whole
Wrote my name in heaven’s scroll?
Trouble, hardship, danger, sword
Brought by those who hate my Lord?
Slander here? Or no reward?
Angels, demons, now or then?
Wickedness dreamed up by men?
Persecutions come again?
Victors we’re ordained to be
By the God who set us free
What can therefore conquer me?
We face death for God each day
What can pluck us from his way?
Let God’s people every say