"Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)
"Where is it written that 'life is fair'?"
During the many years I pastored at First Assembly of God of Framingham (MA) that line was spoken countless times by Claire, the church's volunteer secretary. Please don't misunderstand. She had great faith in God and had a wonderful disposition, but (like most of us) she sometimes had difficulty processing life's disappointments, challenges, and heartaches.
Canton, Massachusetts, the community in which I was raised, is currently trying to come to grips with two devastating accidental deaths. Not one, but two people in Canton have been killed by falling tree limbs. A six-year-old girl, Kaleigh Kenyon, died on Friday, February 5 and a forty-eight-year-old man, Thomas Gunning, died on Saturday, February 6. The heavy, wet snow which fell on Friday [much more than had been forecasted] brought down some trees and a number of large limbs. Mr. Gunning was a well known and very well liked and admired hockey coach in town. He was clearing off a hockey rink located in his back yard when the terrible accident happened. Little Kaleigh had gone out to do what countless New England children do every winter day- play in the snow, when she was knocked down by a huge limb.
My sister Dianne has been deeply affected by little Kaleigh's death. The child attended church where Dianne worships each Sunday morning: Faith Baptist Church in Stoughton [just over the Canton line]. Kaleigh's aunt had been bringing her to worship services for several months. Dianne says she particularly noticed little Kaleigh each week, admiring her beautiful red hair and blue eyes, and appreciating the child's cheerful demeanor. The church's pastor has recently been preaching a series of sermons from the Gospel of Luke. Last Sunday's passage happened to be from Luke chapter eighteen verses sixteen and seventeen. Ironically, that's the famous, "Let the little children come to me...for of such is the kingdom of God," passage. The wise pastor tied in the passage with the devastating loss of little Kaleigh, reminding the tearful church family that she's now in Heaven with the Lord.
Claire was right. Unexpected, accidental deaths such as happened in Canton this past week are very difficult to accept and to understand. There are no adequate words to describe the grief the families and close friends of Kaleigh Kenyon and Thomas Gunning are walking through. About a year ago, I was called upon the conduct the funeral service of a two-month-old baby who had passed away from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I haven't actively pastored a church for several years, so I felt "rusty" as I prepared for that service. I admit to having felt nervous and overwhelmed as I stood before the mourners. I opened with a story I'd heard my Uncle Raymond tell. It was the story of his seven-year-old sister Irene's funeral procession in 1915. The little casket was on a horse-drawn hearse. Uncle Raymond remembered his father [my grandfather] grief-stricken and sobbing. I commented that the world of today is so much more technologically sophisticated and advanced that that of a hundred years ago, but that processing the loss of a little child is not any easier.
Claire the volunteer secretary is still living, but frankly facing some very "unfair" challenges and difficulties of her own at this time. I had lunch with a friend last Thursday who has walked through several difficult years, as have I. We shared our hope for God to work things out in our lives and for things to ultimately get better. I know that for many people, the concept of putting one's faith and trust in God, even when life doesn't make sense, is considered "pie in the sky" and foolishness. But for me, my faith in God and in His Word is the only thing that keeps me sane and pressing on through difficult times.
I've seen and experienced great miracles from God and wonderful answers to prayer in my life. I've also experienced times when God seemed to be a billion miles away, circumstances were dark and confusing, and seemingly nothing made sense. I wish life consisted of just one miraculous answer to prayer after another! I "wouldn't sign up for" (to use a friend's expression) those horrific experiences that bring great pain and make no sense. I hate those things. But they're part of life, and no matter how hard I try, I can't run away from them.
The Apostle Paul wrote the following while serving time in prison:
"I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." (Philippians 4:12)
In other words, "No matter what happens I'm perfectly content and fully trusting in God". Wow. I'm frequently not "there", but I want to be! One more "very real" verse from the Bible says:
"...Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." (from Mark 9:24)
No, from our point of view, life definitely isn't fair. But one hundred years from today, for probably everyone who reads this; this life will be over; but if we've walked and talked with the Lord, and trusted Him with our hearts and lives, we'll be with Him forever and our joy will be eternally full.
In closing, I want to extend my sincere condolences to the families of Kaleigh Kenyon and Thomas Gunning. I say to them and to the people of Canton, please look to the Lord. In Him, there really is hope.