Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. – Colossians 3:2
I read the prayer request, marked “URGENT!” A little girl was missing. Immediately my heart went out to the parents who didn’t know where their daughter was. I have experienced that panic on occasion, but never for more than an hour. I prayed for “peace that surpasses understanding” for them, protection and rescue for their little girl, and for the angels of heaven to surround her.
That night, waking up every couple of hours, my mind went back to the situation … “Lord, please protect her … Surround her with Your angels … Rescue her…” before drifting back to sleep.
The next day I got another email from the church. The little girl’s body had been found.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it – What went wrong? Were we not praying hard enough? Was there something else that could have been done? How —?
But no answers came.
That night we went with our daughter’s family to a Christmas festival, part of which was music being performed all evening in one of the old churches.
The huge sanctuary has a massive dome overhead that resembles an expanse of sky as much as anything can without being actual sky. Painted everywhere against the backdrop of blue are angels holding out scrolls with words of Scripture on them. A tier of them encircling the dome hold the names of the fruits of the Spirit and other biblical virtues, another tier holding scrolls with the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc.) Stained glass windows depict scenes from the life of Christ, and the entire decor is more ornate than any other church I’ve ever seen in this country.
If the purpose of all this is to turn our thoughts toward heaven – mission accomplished. The moment one steps into this house of worship, the visual is overwhelming enough. But we arrived just as the choir and full orchestra were performing the Halleluia Chorus from Handel’s Messiah in the balcony, and the effect was breathtaking. We were too close to the back to see them, so it was easy to imagine that the song was coming from heaven itself as it bounced off the painted angels. As I sang along, gazing at the celestial scenery surrounding us, I felt as though we were getting a small taste of what it must be like in heaven itself – in the presence of God in all His glory.
“King of kings! And Lord of lords!” we sang. “And He shall reign forever and ever!“
Then suddenly my mind turned to darker things, and since He knows my thoughts anyway, I asked the Lord a blunt question.
If You’re the King of kings and Lord of lords, WHY did You let that happen to that little girl?
He didn’t strike me dead with lightning for questioning His ways. He knew I wasn’t trying to be a brat. I recognized His greatness and knew that if anyone had the answer, He did. I just wanted so desperately to understand and to know that He can still be trusted.
The man Job, who possibly went through more pain and loss than any other human being, asked the LORD similar questions and waited a long time before God finally showed up. And the answer came in a long series of questions, starting with, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)
I think I got a similar answer, although I didn’t hear specific words. I only heard the singing get more magnificent, the sense of His presence more overwhelming. … I knew He was reminding me: He’s God. I’m not.
But I still wondered, WHY??? …
Then, it struck me.
While this brief moment in time was a taste of heaven for us – that little girl is experiencing the real thing. She’s in the presence of God – forever. And from there she is seeing things far differently from the way we see them.
We prayed she’d be rescued – She was.
We prayed she’d be surrounded by angels – She is.
We prayed she’d be protected – She is. No evil person or thing will ever be able to touch her again.
Whatever she went through, she’s not going through it now. As horrific as it was, and though it was pure evil that we may never understand it in this life, it’s over. She’s home free. And although we will weep for her family in the agonizing days and years ahead, we shouldn’t weep for her. She is better off than any of us who are here.
She won’t ever have her teenaged heart broken, or feel the stress of being unemployed, injured or diseased. She’ll never suffer widowhood, natural disasters, betrayals of friends, miserable consequences of bad choices, watching her aging body deteriorate, and every other experience that makes us long for heaven while we’re in these finite bodies. She’s skipped all that. (I could almost envy her.)
Of course, life doesn’t consist of just pain. It also contains many joys and pleasures – friends, music, good food, the beauty of nature, marriage, and having children and grandchildren. We tend to weep for those who will miss out on those things. And yet every good thing in this life is a mere shadow of what awaits us in heaven, which they’re already enjoying.
If you’ve lost someone you love, especially if it was in horrific circumstances, I don’t expect these words to change your feelings. And I know I can’t begin to know what you’re going through. I do know pain has a way of screaming at us at full volume, threatening to drown out the truth. But we must hold onto that truth. If we don’t, nothing will make sense, our lives will be hopeless, and the enemy will have won.
But in the end, he loses. GOD WINS.
Prayer: O Lord, I don’t know why You showed me what You did the other night. I am not the one who needed it. I haven’t lost a child, and I have no way of truly knowing how it feels. I feel presumptuous even speaking of such things. Please comfort those who are experiencing excruciating, unspeakable grief. The rest of us want to help, but You are the only One who has the power to cure the incurable. We can only offer our prayers, and for what it’s worth, we do that now. In Jesus’ name, amen.