By David Tulis
It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and a fire races through a small house at 220 Houser St. in north Chattanooga. Three children spill into the yard. But inside, a mother and father are unable to escape the tongues of flame.
Candy Lockhart, 35, perishes a few hours later at a Erlanger hospital. Her husband, Randall, 41, is helicoptered to the burn unit at Vanderbilt Medical Center, and dies five days later.
Lurking in the minds of people reading the story on Page 1 of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and watching reports on TV3 is a brooding question in the direction of “Why?” Its power, momentarily, is laid aside amid an outpouring of charitable giving and expressions of consolation.
Mercy of friends, strangers
The mercies of people for the surviving gradeschool-age children — Haley, Mark, Rebecca — create the brooding question — and also begin to answer it. The family’s church, One Accord Community, took in-kind goods and now favors cash. Firefighters opened a donation fund at a bank.
David Carroll, a TV reporter, writes about the fire of which he is eyewitness. “I snapped a couple of photos, and as I was walking back to my car, I heard a man say, ‘We couldn’t get ‘em out.’ I asked him, ‘Are there people in there?’ He fought back tears and said, “Yes, sir.” I got back in my car, and was about to call the newsroom, when our crew arrived to film the scene.” Mr. Carroll discovered the man who died had been an acquaintance
“Thanks to loving grandparents and caring neighbors, Randall and Candy’s children are in good hands. I saw Rebecca, Haley and Mark at their grandparents’ home on Friday. *** I can only imagine the horrible sights and sounds they experienced last Wednesday morning. *** [I]t is likely that Candy and Randall sacrificed their own lives to ensure their children made it out safely. The children escaped with minor, almost unnoticeable physical injuries.”
Mr. Lockhart had recently been seriously ill and suffered limited power of movement. “He was a working man, a loving husband, a devoted dad,” Mr. Carroll says. “He and his wife tried very hard, and in the end, they did what parents are supposed to do. They did everything humanly possible to keep their children safe.”
Providence and purpose
The dark question about God’s purposes comes to fore, the answer having been suggested already in the outpourings of care for the Lockhart survivors.
Grace of strangers, church members and family will assist the orphaned children today, and probably well into the future. That is the practical outworking of the doctrine of grace, which starts with a view of a holy God.
God in His providence has taken from their children a man and a woman who worshiped at His house on the Lord’s day. By scorning caution do sinful mortals pry into the counsels of God. By unholy boldness do they demand of Him a justification for ordaining an end to the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Lockhart. Who are the vessels of clay to demand a reason from the potter for His purpose in giving life long to one and brief to another, in making one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
That every man dies is a certainty. Death was threatened as the wages of sin, and in Adam our first father we are all appointed to die, for all of sinned. Why are not the righteous spared death, seeing that their sins are forgiven? Or maybe there is no such thing as forgiveness, one might propose, or even such a category.
The promise of the Christian faith to which the Lockharts adhered is that the righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day. And even in death in a burn unit, the souls of the righteous are delivered from the sting of death. Death frees a man from sin and misery, and if he has been given grace to believe unto salvation, he is made “capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which [he] then enter[s] upon,” as one Christian confession of faith tells it.
Of great comfort to Christians is the idea of God’s sovereignty and, flowing from that, His providence and complete government. In the shrouds of mystery stands the assurance of a completely self-directed God from whom nothing escapes and apart from whose will nothing takes place.
Counsels of God’s will
“God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
The sovereignty of God is a teaching that comforts those in the Christian church. It also requires earthly potentates and great ones to submit to God’s law and government, whether they love Him or not. In the elegant brief of the Westminster assembly: “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.” In other words, God for His own secret purposes saves some men by His free grace. God’s people are chosen by Him, not He by them.
So if the Lockhart’s are members not just of the visible church, but the church invisible, why are their lives seized? Did God ordain their deaths for His glory, or merely acquiesce in them?
God is the creator, Christianity teaches, and upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures. He governs all their actions and all things, from the greatest to the smallest. He does it by what people like the Lockharts believe is a most wise and holy providence, according to God’s infallible foreknowledge and the “free and immutable counsel” of His will.
No doubt most events occur well apart from miraculous interventions from on high. “Yet,” the Westminster confession says, “by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.” God is the great first cause, and from Him cascade lesser and remoter causes and results. Floods, avalanches, wars, assassinations, death by house fire — all come to pass immutably and infallibly, according to His will.
God is not bound by our expectations. Ordinarily He makes the use of means. But He is free to work “without, above, and against them” at His pleasure.
The providence of God is to be understood as being accomplished each hour. That is why people who profess a connection to God are urged to thank God for His mercy not just in tribulation, but for it.
— David Tulis hosts Nooganomics.com 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays at Hot News Talk Radio, covering local economy in Chattanooga and beyond.
Sources: David Carroll, “A Chattanooga family tragedy: Angels among us,” Chattanoogaradiotv.com, Dec. 2, 12014.
Kendi Anderson “After losing everything in North Chattanooga fire, kids rely on community for support,” Chattanooga Times Free Press website, Dec. 3, 2014