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Accidental Death and a Sovereign God

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I hate traffic, especially drug traffic, but also the congested, automobile variety. Today I was held up by a vast, right-lane conspiracy of cars blocking the road by driving so slow they seemed to be going somewhere between 10 mph and reverse. I angrily imagined my vehicle fitted with sidewinders and me pressing a button, saying, “fox 1, away!” and “fox 2, away!” Just like in Iron Eagle, or whatever.

Calming down, I listened to the cheerful chirrups of Jason Gray and wished that the sadness of being stuck in traffic would come untrue.

I wondered if it was God’s will that I be late for work. Why would it be? How is that good? Why doesn’t my vehicle have side-winder missiles? You know, the big questions.

Mostly I pondered sovereignty. I thought of how often I’ve heard people thankfully say that they were saved from a terrible wreck because of some irritating delay. A child couldn’t find his shoes and we were delayed. If we’d been on time…. A wrong turn. Delayed by a storm. We’d have been right in the middle of that terrible accident.

Accident?

The unifying element in these tales is thankfulness to God for rescuing the teller from what was very close by and terrifying. I’ve been impressed and conversely distressed at hearing these reports. Part of me is eager to embrace them, to say: “Good, see the hand of God in all things and be grateful for mercy.” Another part of me says, “Would we be giving thanks if the delay had caused the wreck? Or would we still attribute the calamity to God’s hand?”

These questions, these kinds of puzzles, are what keeps the wise-as-serpents part of our minds busy while we go hunting for the innocence of doves.

But I know why bad things happen. It’s because of rebellion.

I’ve been studying the Pentateuch, particularly Genesis, for the past several months. The beginning of Genesis is so profoundly instructive, as well as being a deeply moving story, teeming with pathos. In chapter three we see the attempted de-Godding of God by the first parents.

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The heartbreaking results follow fast. In chapters four and five the hearts stop, the blood runs, the refrain echos out: “And he died…and he died…and he died…and he died…” Etc. On and on the deaths pile up, a grotesque contrast to the unfallen before.

In the acrid air of usurpation our first parents got new clothes, a sacrifice to cover their naked shame. A hint of resolution, restoration brewing.

God is still sovereign. Even in suffering. Happier still, he is merciful down deep, slow to anger and abounding in love. He offers rebellious, treasonous mankind a great exchange, our sin for the righteousness of Christ. We can be acceptable to the Father again, by the mercy of God in Christ.

I don’t know how traffic jams and wrecks work out for God’s glory and the good of his children. I know, in the short run, it often feels terribly wrong.

But death feels wrong because it is. It isn’t natural, isn’t the way things ought to be. It’s a fearful, final foe. But one which will be defeated by the victorious King Jesus.

I don’t know how sovereignty works out. My father, quoting Walter Staton, always said, “God is sovereign and man is responsible.” That helps me.

People say, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” I am always tempted to blurt out, “and sometimes he knocks the house over on the people.”

God isn’t safe.

So do we give credit to God for deaths in traffic as well as praise for when we are saved from the same by lost shoes or a bad sense of direction?

When we read the Bible, we see pretty fast that God kills people, sometimes in large groups all at once. This may bother us, but we can’t pretend it isn’t so. Wrestling with this is fine, even appropriate. But this reminds me of what Jared C. Wilson said.

“It’s okay to wrestle with a biblical text, so long as at the end it masters you and not the other way around.”

It’s popular to say that doubt is humble and certainty is arrogance. This depends, of course, on what we’re certain of and what we’re doubting. There can never be enough of doubting God and his Word to please an entrenched rebel in his pride. If we doubt ourselves, however, we may be on to something (this is humility). If we habitually doubt the faithfulness of God, this is no poetic virtue; it’s called unbelief. Who of us hasn’t prayed, “Lord I believe, please help my unbelief?” But let us keep on praying it and not surrender to our proud misgivings. Keep on fighting, keep on praying. Doubt is a thin shield, a hollow creed.

So, brothers and sisters, let us struggle and lose. Let’s understand that God isn’t simply responsible for the deaths of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, or the many who worshiped the golden calf, but of Moses too. In fact he isn’t caught off guard by any death. He is sovereign over all, never asleep, feckless, or disinterested. We are responsible. We chose and go, drive and die, but God works his will over all.

Whether I am spared death (for now), or meet my end today, I am glad. I’m thankful. Uncertainty about how it all works out abounds, as well as doubt in my own ability. But let me be certain of him and his Word. He is good. He is just. He is merciful. The Story is true.

At his right hand are pleasures, evermore.

This post was first published at The Rabbit Room.

6 Comments

  1. The allusion is, as you probably know, to Lewis’ saying, in the mouth of Mr. Beaver (I believe) about Aslan…

    “Safe? No, he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

    (That’s from memory, but it’s the right idea.)

    What I mean by that is what I said in my reflexive proverb, that sometimes when God closes a door, he opens a window, but sometimes he kills everyone in the house. I mean that he is not tame and predictable. He is not the Precious Moments God of Christian bookstore kitch and inspirational posters and out-of-context Scripture.

    He kills people. Sometimes it’s the best people. It often doesn’t seem fair to us.

    You risk martyrdom when you follow Jesus, and countless of us have died for Christ. –Heb 11.

    What I’m getting at is that I don’t know enough to understand, am not wise enough to perceive why God does what he does with apparent accidents and “untimely” deaths.

    I believe that he is trustworthy, and predictable in the sense that he is faithful to his promise. But not safe and predictable in the sense of being tame.

    He is a flaming fire, a glorious, deep fountain. A warrior.

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