Last Wednesday morning one of the wisest and most gracious Pastors in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland collapsed and died suddenly and unexpectedly. Rev Knox Hyndman had retired after a long and productive 42 year ministry, and during his retirement he had helped to plant a new congregation in East Belfast, preaching and pastoring a small group of saints for five years. He leaves behind his wife, three children and three grandchildren, and countless grieving friends who are devastated by the loss of this ‘prince in Israel’.
A young woman who used to belong to our congregation has been told she has only a short time left to live, humanly speaking, as cancer races to every part of her body. She and her husband have four children under the age of 6, the youngest just born a couple of months ago.
On Wednesday of this week Nikolas Cruz walked into his former high school in Parkland, Florida, and began shooting students and teachers indiscriminately. He left at least 17 dead in the sixth school shooting incident this year that has either wounded or killed students.
How do we respond to tragedies like these as Christians? Of course there are many things we should do and say, and Jared’s post yesterday is a terrific example of the kind of thing we need to say as believers. But I want to focus on our disposition in the face of these things. As Christians we are called to live by faith (Hab 2.4; Rom 1.17; Gal 2.20). One of the things this means is that we keep trusting God when terrible and tragic things happen.
Heb 11.1 tells us that faith is the conviction of things not seen. Faith is all about trusting God when we don’t see the whole picture. When we don’t have all the answers – or any answers. When we don’t understand what God is doing. When we can’t even begin to imagine how something as horrific as this could possibly lead to the good of those who love the Lord (Rom 8.28). Faith means trusting that God knows what he is doing. Faith only makes sense when we don’t understand. If we could see everything God was doing, if we had all the answers, it wouldn’t be faith. One day we will walk by sight, not by faith, but for now we are called to trust the Lord.
If a child is stuck in a tree and can’t see his father underneath and doesn’t know how far it is to the ground, he needs to exercise faith when his father says, ‘Trust me – let go and I’ll catch you. I can see you – you will be OK.’ All the child can see from where he is is the leaves and branches of the tree. All he can feel is the pain of holding on tightly and the growing fear inside him as he feels his strength beginning to give out. He needs to trust his father. If he could see him there wouldn’t be any need for faith.
So with us and our Heavenly Father. We can’t see the whole picture. And even if we could our tiny, finite minds couldn’t take it all in and understand it properly. And so we are called to live by faith, to trust God when we can’t see how it all works together for good.
Isn’t this blind faith though? Isn’t this the lazy refuge of the religious?
Not for the Christian; because we know the character of our God. The child in the tree lets go and falls because he knows his father – all his experience reassures him that his father does not wish him harm but good. If a stranger calls us and asks for our bank details we don’t give them, because we don’t know anything about the person – he has no right to our trust.
God is not some anonymous stranger – he is our Heavenly Father who has loved us from eternity and demonstrated that love for us by giving his Son to die to save us. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Every good and perfect gift comes from him. He is infinitely wise and loving. He is worthy of our trust. He is the only person in the universe we can completely trust.
So when tragedy invades our lives we can hold on to our God. He knows what is best and knows the best way to bring about what is best. That may not be what you and I would do if we were running the universe, but we are not qualified to run a universe. Only he can do that because he alone knows the end from the beginning. Our part is to trust him.
And there is such relief that comes from submitting to the will of our heavenly Father. A family in Northern Ireland lost their only child in a cruel traffic accident at the age of 12 – a child they didn’t think they would ever have. Their response? The notice of his death they placed in the newspaper finished with these words, ‘As for God, his ways are perfect.’ Strong faith? Absolutely. Blind faith? Not in the least.