“How could God let this happen?”
Nearly eight hours earlier in the day, I had been told that my Dad was gone. Just like that. A victim of suicide. I sat on my bed, completely exasperated—full of pain, and full of unanswered questions. Across my darkened bedroom sat my pastor, Reverend Harville Duncan. He sat in a chair, looking directly at me, shoulders hung low with a face full of sympathy. This was the man who had dedicated me as a baby. This was the man who had baptized me as a young believer. This was the man who had led me through so many spiritual battles and questions.
Now would come one of his tougher tests.
Reverend Duncan has been in the ministry longer than I’ve been alive. He has more spiritual knowledge in his thumb than I have in my entire body. He has probably read thousands of books on God and Christianity throughout his life. He has earned multiple degrees and has studied theology with reputable Christian scholars. He has done everything he could to position himself to answer life’s toughest questions.
But as I looked at him across that room, I could tell that he was at a loss for answers just as much as I was.
Just like I tried to do in the aftermath of Dad’s death, I’ve tried to get out of writing on this topic. In all honesty, I’ve avoided writing this post and put it off until the last minute because I don’t enjoy facing these questions. I don’t enjoy facing them because I don’t have answers for any of it.
Ever since my Dad died, I’ve been flooded with questions big and small. They come in waves, but they come every day. And it’s rare that I’m able to provide an answer to many of them.
The death of a loved one, especially a parent, is a pivotal juncture in one’s life journey, particularly as it pertains to spiritual matters. When that innocence is shattered and when that familiar protector and provider is no longer there, it creates serious unrest in the lives of those left behind. How will I survive without that person? Why did this have to happen? What will life look like without the joy that person brought into it?
Suicide, however, adds and additional layer of questions that I never expected I would have to deal with. How could my Dad think that life wasn’t worth living? Could I have done more to convince him that this wasn’t the end? What factors made him think that life was unlivable? How could God let one of his believers, a man who lived the truth of the Gospel, meet such an untimely end?
I don’t know that these questions will ever cease. I don’t know that they’ll ever disappear from my life, because the pain of losing my Dad will always be there. Even though life has had it’s wonderful and bright moments since we lost my Dad, there’s been a dullness that sort of clouds every good thing that happens to me.
I have so many questions for my Dad; but I have so many more for God.
When you start to question God in front of a veteran minister, you wonder what kind of reaction they will have. I don’t remember all of the particular details of my conversation with Reverend Duncan on that day. But I do remember this—at no point did Reverend Duncan try and make me feel like I was a bad person for questioning why God would let something so tragic happen to my family. At no point did he belittle me, make me feel inferior, or try to minimize my pain.
We sat together in that darkened room for nearly an hour. Reverend Duncan mostly talking, and me mostly listening. I could tell that on a different level, Reverend Duncan was heartbroken. My Dad had been one of the original congregation members at our church when Reverend Duncan began his ministry there over thirty years ago. He enjoyed my Dad’s company, and my Dad enjoyed his.
In a way only he could do, Reverend Duncan assured me that the pain I felt was real. We talked about bad things happening to good people. We talked about God’s ability to take something bad and make it into something great. We talked about suffering and the pain my Dad must have felt trying to combat his depression on a daily basis.
And Reverend Duncan assured me that both my Dad and my God still loved me dearly.
But Reverend Duncan did something really unique on that day that has set the stage for so much of my healing. He let me ask questions, and he didn’t pretend to have all the answers.
Yes, a studied and learned member of the religious clergy told me that, together, we were going to encounter many questions on this side of eternity that we would never have an answer for. We would probably never know why my Dad did what he did. We would probably never know why God allowed him to suffer. We would probably never know why God allows something as horrific as suicide to weave into his master plan for our lives. We would probably never know why God thought we were all strong enough to live life without my Dad.
Together, there in that room, Reverend Duncan prayed over me—one of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a private and unbelievably special moment that I’ll remember forever. I don’t know that I’ll remember the words or the phrases he spoke, but I remember a feeling of God being there with us in that room. And just like Reverend Duncan, he wasn’t mad that I had questions.
I don’t know if this is theologically correct or sound, but I’m of the mind that God is completely okay with us asking him questions.
Let me explain what I mean before I start getting messages from people who might cringe when they read that statement.
There is a difference between questioning God and asking Him questions.
When we question God, we are essentially telling Him that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. We are telling Him that we know better and could figure this out our own. When we question God, we are practically telling Him that His ways are wrong and our ways are right. This type of questioning comes from a deeply-rooted proclivity for disobedience. Questioning God means you doubt whether the promises He delivers through the Bible are actually true and actually accurate. Instead of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” it’s “Jesus, I’m So Sick of Being a Passenger Because You Drive Like a Maniac” (doubt she would have won a Grammy on that one…).
But when we ask God questions, we are doing something entirely different. We are coming to Him as humble servants. We are expressing, honestly, the innermost workings of our hearts and minds to the one who already knows them.
When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He exists. Would you ever ask a question to someone who didn’t actually exist? You could, but it would probably be a pretty quick conversation. When we ask God a question, we validate that He is there with us. But more importantly…
When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He’s in control. Even if we don’t understand what He’s doing. Would you ask a question if you already knew the answer? Most likely not. When we ask God a question and are legitimately seeking answers for the tragic things that happen to us in our lives, we aren’t doubting God. In fact, we are doing exactly what He commands us to do. We are submitting to Him and saying “God I don’t have any idea why you would let this happen. I don’t know how to reconcile this with the truths of your Word. Help me understand.” We are recognizing that God knows more than we do or ever could, and that only He can provide answers to the questions we have. And…
When we ask God questions, we are drawn into a closer relationship with Him. Let’s face it! If you’re having questions, God already knows them. Psalm 139:4 says “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (NIV). In even simpler terms? “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord” (NLT). If you’re feeling guilty because you have questions for God about the things that are happening in your life, don’t feel that way or don’t try to hide them. He knows you inside and out, and He’s known you forever, and even though He knew that you would have all these questions about how he can grow love in a darkened life, He still sent His Son to the cross to die for you.
When I was little, my Dad always loved it when I would ask him questions. Whether it was about a game or a car or something completely irrelevant on television, my Dad never tired of giving me answers. He never once told me to be quiet and quit asking him questions. When I asked him those questions, I acknowledged that he was important to me and that he knew more than I did. And I think that made him feel loved, and important, and worthy.
I imagine our Heavenly Father has that same smile on His face when we ask questions.
I definitely know this part isn’t theologically sound, but I’ve often envisioned my first days in heaven as an episode of Gruden’s QB Camp (except God will be nothing like Jon Gruden…I think?). I imagine that God is going to take me into a small film room, just me and Him, and he’s going to hit play on the tape reel that sits in the table between us. Then, the two of us will sit and watch my life play out in front of me. We will see all the bright moments, and all the moments of defeat.
But then, the tape will get to July 24, 2013. We will watch the heartache of losing my Dad. We will experience the moments of shock and horror that accompanied his death. And then, I’ll slowly reach across the table and pause the tape. I’ll look at God, not with accusation but with a desperate longing for wisdom, and say “Can you explain what you were doing there?”
I imagine that God is going to come around the other side of the table. He’s going to put His arm around me. He’s going to embrace me in a way that only a loving Father could. And He’s going to explain how my Dad’s death fit into His ultimate master plan.
And I’ll finally have answers to the questions that plague me.
But to get to that point, I’ve got to trust that He has the answers. I’ve got to trust that the questions I’m facing now will be answered eventually, but not on this side of the grave. I’ve got to find comfort and solace in the fact that, in the times where life seems to be bursting apart at the seams, God is there to stitch everything back into place.
I’ll live my entire life with questions about my Dad and why he had to leave us so soon. But I’ll live in heaven knowing that my Father knows them all and loves me still.
Dad, There are so many days where I can’t get the questions about your death out of my mind. There are moments where the questions are so tense and overwhelming that I can’t seem to let them go. The more that the days go by since losing you, the more unanswered questions I seem to have. But I know that you’ve found peace in Heaven. I know that you’ve found comfort in the arms of God. I know that each day, I am one step closer to seeing you again and having those questions answered. Until that day, I’ll rest easy in the fact that God knows exactly what He’s doing. And until that day, seeya Bub.
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 (GW)