This week’s blog is personal to a large extent. I’m basing it on a personal event, along with some other events, and it’s difficult to write. It involves a personal story that I have been thinking about for almost a year as I write this. It concerns the one question most people have about God and His relationship to Christians: Why do bad things happen to us? Doesn’t God take care of His own? The answer is yes, He does take care of His own. I’m sure of that from my own life. But sometimes it seems like He has forgotten someone, or forgotten me. That’s not the case, of course. Looking at events from a worldly perspective it would seem as if He let things happen that should not happen. Here is my story and answer to that question. It involves a little personal history that is relevant to the question, so please bear with me.
I married Carolyn in 1967, at the same time I enlisted in the Army. That was a mistake. New marriages and the Army don’t work well together, because both demand a lot of time from whichever partner is in the military. As it was, I moved around every three to six months. It wasn’t feasible for us to pack up and move that often, so Carolyn stayed at my family’s ranch in Colorado while I was moved around the country. This obviously didn’t work well. And Carolyn did not get along with my mother, so she moved out about a year after moving to the ranch. Mom would not tell me where Carolyn was, even though she knew where Carolyn was living, and Mom told Carolyn she didn’t know where I was. Carolyn divorced me in 1969, and I didn’t find her or hear from her again. I never remarried. I found out later that Carolyn remarried twice.
In 2014, now divorced again, Carolyn decided to find me. She located me where I was living and wrote me a letter, which was a surprise to me! We started writing, talking on the phone and she visited once for a day, as she had to get home again due to responsibilities there. We decided to get remarried last year, and I thought it would be great if we would remarry on what would have been our fiftieth anniversary in September of 2017. I would be free of my obligations where I was working and living and it was also a good time for her. She liked the idea of remarrying on the anniversary of our first marriage.
Carolyn got a call from her doctor the day after a checkup. Her blood sugar was at 900, which should have killed her or at least put her in the hospital. She did have a short stay in the hospital, and had to start taking insulin for her diabetes. Shortly after that she had a heart attack, and was again hospitalized for a short time. In phone calls and letters I urged her to watch her diet and keep up with her doctor on a regular basis. Also, Carolyn had custody of her granddaughter. I asked her to watch over grandma and make sure she ate something on a regular basis, as Carolyn had a habit of ignoring food when she was busy.
Carolyn had been brought up Catholic and had attended a Catholic high school, but didn’t understand that salvation was by grace through faith. She held the common misconception that because she was a good person, believed in God and came from a God-fearing family that she would go to heaven when she died. I explained salvation and the Christian life to her in letters and over the phone. She made a commitment to Christ after receiving one of my letters. About that time a local Baptist pastor stopped by her apartment early one Sunday morning and invited her granddaughter to Sunday school. She went, and Carolyn went to church. The pastor told Carolyn, “I don’t know why, but I had a feeling I should stop here first today”. Both Carolyn and her granddaughter made an alter call a few weeks later and were baptized. I continued to write and call Carolyn and her granddaughter and explain Christianity to them, and address biblical answers to problems her granddaughter was having ( what 13-year old girl doesn’t have problems).
I was making arrangements to move to New Mexico where Carolyn was living when I was contacted by her best friend. Carolyn was in the hospital to have her leg amputated, and had suffered a heart attack. She was o life support. Before I could leave to go to her, her granddaughter and best friend both contacted me to tell me Carolyn had died. That was quite a shock, even though I realized it was a possibility. I didn’t think she would die when we had so many plans for our life together. My focus was on the future, and now there was not mutual future for us. Her dying left me disoriented and lost. It didn’t seem fair. I didn’t think God would allow her to die when everything was going so well for us. Why would He allow this to happen?
I have thought and prayed about this for the last year, and have come to some conclusions. First, God knew she was going to die, and for His reasons He allowed it to happen. I’m sure it was the Holy Spirit’s influence that had her contact me and hear the way to salvation, and for her granddaughter to hear also. She was a Christian when she died, and I’m positive she is in heaven today. God made sure of that. Apparently, it was her time to die. God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t always tell us why things happen the way they do, or why He does what He does. He did make sure she was born again before she died, because He wanted her with Him in heaven. I’m thankful for that.
Second, it’s mistake to believe that everything that happens in the world is caused by God. That simply isn’t the case. Random accidents happen, people get sick and die, and other events happen in our lives He does not control. If He did control every thing in our lives we would be no more than puppets. Free will wouldn’t exist, and free will is necessary for salvation. We have to come to Christ on our own, He does not force anyone to be a Christian, though the Holy Spirit does coerce and influence people to lead them to making a decision for Christ. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have ever lasting life”. He could control everything, but He doesn’t, because then there would be no salvation. And, what father controls everything their child does? Children need to make their own mistakes and find thing out for themselves. Certainly good parents protect their children from harm, and they should. But things do happen to children that are beyond the parents’ control. God does have control, but He does allow us to make our own mistakes because we grow in Him by learning from them. And things happen to Christians that we, in our earthly orientation, don’t think should happen, and maybe they should not have happened the way the did, but God made the best of a bad situation that we created on our own without His help. And sometimes bad things are just the luck of the draw, as the expression goes.
Jennifer Reardon, a Wells Fargo Bank employee, traded her seat on an airliner with another passenger who was a Wells Fargo customer so that the customer would have a better seat. That’s just the kind of person she was. Wells Fargo employees have told me she would step in front of a bullet if she knew she could save someone else. She did save someone else, and maybe everyone on the plane. A fan blade broke off and flew through Mrs. Reardon’s window, killing her. She was sucked part way out the window, which temporarily partially sealed the opening, which slowed down the decompression of the passenger compartment, and probably of the cockpit where the pilot and copilot were. That helped the crew and passengers get their air masks on while there was still a little air to breathe. So, Mrs. Reardon saved one life at the expense of her own, and maybe many more.
That fan blade from the engine could have flown off in any one of 360 degrees of rotation. But it broke off at precisely the right instant to be blown back by the 600 mile per hour wind and crash through a window. If the blade had to break, why did God not cause it to break a fraction of a second earlier or later, and send it flying away from the plane? Mrs. Reardon was a Christian. Why did she have to die? For that matter, why did Carolyn have to die? It doesn’t seem fair. The answer to those questions is that I do not know. No one on earth can adequately answer the question of why things happen the way they do. We just have to accept these things. And, it’s not fair to blame God for everything that happens to us or our loved ones. Nothing that happened to Mrs. Reardon that day was her fault. An argument could be made that Carolyn was responsible for her own death by not heeding medical advice and ignoring her food requirements. Maybe so, maybe not. I don’t know. I do know that the Holy Spirit is responsible for orchestrating her all the people who led her to Christ to work in harmony to accomplish that goal even though they didn’t even know each other. I just have to accept that God knows best what should have happened with Carolyn. In one sense, the pain I still feel from her death is selfish: Carolyn is in heaven, a much better place than earth, and I’m thankful for that. Paul said that to die is gain, and for Christians it is gain. Perhaps that’s the answer to why deaths like these happen. God is taking them to a better place. But I can’t say that’s a definitive answer, and neither can anyone else. We just have to trust God and keep following Him in our own lives.