This article originally appeared in print journal Jan./Feb. 2002.
Early one morning my wife and I awoke, eager to spend a leisurely day together celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. But our milestone was to correspond with another momentous occurrence in history. September 11 is our special day no more. From now on, we’ll have to share it with an entire nation.
Like our anniversary, our son’s birthday will never be without a shadow of sadness. On the night Jason was born 17 years ago, had I sidetracked through a nearby subdivision instead of coming directly home from the hospital, I might’ve been able to prevent a high school junior from hanging himself from his basketball hoop. This kid was from my Campus Life club, and just two months earlier, he had sat in my family room and told me that he wasn’t ready to offer his life to Jesus because he “wasn’t sure his friends would accept him.” This was the kid who wrote in his short suicide note that he “had no friends.”
Senseless tragedies. Most of us can point to scars in our psyches left from pain so severe as to be incomprehensible. Mirroring these scars, the question “why?” often billboards through the highways of our minds.
When we direct this question at God, it sounds like an accusation. “Why did you allow those evil men to crash planes into our lives?” “Why couldn’t you have helped Rod find a true friend?” Our cries are all derivations of the same central question: “Why—if you love us so much—did you allow this to happen?”
The “don’t you care?” variation of this question was leveled at a sleeping Jesus when a furious squall came up on the Sea of Galilee (
The truth is, deep inside we aren’t really asking for an answer to that question. If God delivered a 23-page document fully explaining why we just experienced a particular tragedy, our pain wouldn’t go away. If Jesus awoke from his nap in the stern of the boat only to smile knowingly at the boys, give them hugs, and answer their question directly (“Of course I care, you sillies! Now just let me finish sleeping for a while.”), the disciples wouldn’t have been very comforted.
I’m glad God knows what’s really bothering me when troubling questions escape from my aching heart and bounce around in my mind. I’m glad God knows I need the certainty of reassurance. In my limited understanding I’ve reasoned incorrectly that if I could just understand why life is going wrong, I could figure out what to do to fix the hurt. Sort of like knowing why my computer freezes up. If I just knew why, I could avoid the aggravation.
Life doesn’t work that way, and God knows it. That’s why, when we beg for answers, God gives us grace. Undeserved, unasked for, and surprisingly invisible, God’s grace works like a miracle drug. First, it numbs us to the unbearable pain. Next, it energizes us to do what we’re sure we don’t have the strength to do. Grace soothes the wounds in our hearts, minds, and souls. Grace lives in the gaps of our understanding, in the brokenness of our hopes. And we make it through.
We may not soar like eagles or run without getting weary, but somehow we stagger through each day without fainting. God’s grace makes such impossible perseverance possible.
What’s more, we’re taught that the certainty of God’s presence in our lives is infinitely more restorative than the certainty any answers could bring. Because Jesus didn’t even qualify for the weekly rate in his burial tomb, the concept of hopelessness can be retired. Jesus, God’s gift to us, walks with us through the minefields of life. Grace is the messenger through which we receive Jesus himself—a sort of heavenly FedEx operation.
It’s right for us to stand amazed in the presence of such grace. We know we don’t deserve God’s goodness, rescue, or comfort. So when God’s delivery package arrives, we should find our humility and gratitude fighting over which response will be greater. The crazy thing is that even our expression of thanksgiving is evidence of God’s grace at work in us.
While in Jamaica a few years ago, I introduced some of my college students to a young friend of mine who was dying from lupus. After sharing her story, Charmaigne realized how grief-stricken we were about the tragedy of her life. She practically attacked us with the ferocity of her conviction. “I thank God every day for my disease! I know that I would not know how much he loves me without it.” Hardly makes sense, does it? But don’t overlook the brilliance of God’s workings. God answers the senselessness of life’s tragedies with the senselessness of grace and love.
As we benefit from this lavish love, God asks us to live as open endorsements of this grace. That’s how we reveal Jesus in our world, and the potential for glorifying him is never so great as when life’s circumstances are at their most crushing. Jesus’ words seem almost routine: love your enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, that sort of stuff. His grace at work in us gently steers us away from the empty pursuit of “why?” and into the fruitfulness of a life of faith.
Terrorists brought a diabolical evil upon us on September 11, wreaking a damage that was nearly incomprehensible. My mournful “why?” quickly gave way to a jaw-clenching resolve and what I thought was righteous anger. I believed that those responsible must pay and pay dearly. Everything in me affirmed that when caught they deserved swift and severe punishment. Anything less would be senseless.
But that’s when it hit me. Senseless. Like God’s grace. t