This Lord’s Day, coming home from church, we drove north along Highway 153 and came upon the Wal-Mart. Opposite the the entrance, on the left, stood a circle of a dozen people surrounding a cross.
They were marking the death of April Dawn Fryar, 29, in a car crash in front of the shopping center. The family members and friends had come from Mrs. Fryar’s graveside services earlier in the afternoon. Her death Wednesday leaves motherless two boys, C.J. and Brendan. The day their mom was killed, I had been running errands in Hixson and had passed the accident scene. Later, when I passed through the intersection coming out of the Wal-Mart, glass glittered on the tarmac though normal traffic flow had resumed.
What to make of trouble afflicting the Fryar family? What to make of much slighter distress in my own life? How do Christian people account for distress? What does Christianity — with its claim to enable a personal relationship between God and man — really promise?
Helpful hints from Proverbs
King Solomon in the third chapter of Proverbs offers a wide variety of good advice — he urges his listeners to trust in the Lord, to not be wise in their own eyes, to “honor the Lord with your possessions,” and to make good use of troubles.
Troubles are promised. So is grace under them. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest his correction. For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights,” Proverbs 3:11.
Matthew Henry says even slight troubles are to viewed as valuable nudges from God. “We must conduct ourselves aright under our afflictions. *** We must not despise an affliction, be it ever so light and short, as if it were not worth taking notice of, or as if it were not sent on an errand and therefore required no answer. We must not be stocks, stones, and stoics, under our afflictions, hardening ourselves under them, and concluding we can easily get through them without God. *** A fatherly correction comes not from his vindictive justice as a Judge, but his wise affection as a Father. The father corrects the son whom he loves, nay, and because he loves him and desires he may be wise and good” (italics added).
When distress overwhelms
Christianity emphasizes the purposefulness of life. Charles Murray, the sociologist, writing in Human Accomplishment : The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (2004), says the agnostic and atheist have a distinct disadvantage in making measurable accomplishments like those of Mozart or Shakespeare. Their problem is that it is difficult to accomplish much without a purpose. Religion is connected with purpose, and Dr. Murray traces the huge number of the 5,000 or so people who have contributed meta-inventions to humanity as coming out of Christianity and Judaism, faiths given to the service of God of Genesis.
Having life purpose is important in dealing with the minor woes to which the Rev. Henry alludes, but also disaster, distress and agony. “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one,” St. Paul recounts in his second letter to the Corinthians (chapter 11). “Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day have I been in the deep.” Job, a wealthy and virtuous man, suffered grievously as God removed hedges of protection around Job to see whether he would continue to love Him. Christ yielded His life on the cross to save His enemies from eternal damnation. Purpose in service to God gives strength and resolution.
As the Fryar family suffers the death of Mrs. Fryar, how does Christianity promise the person of God as their only comfort, in life and death? Consider an answer from the time of the protestant Reformation. “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, (b),” says Heidelberg Catechism at its first question, “but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; (c) who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, (d) and delivered me from all the power of the devil; (e) and so preserves me (f) that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; (g) yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, (h) and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, (i) and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.” (j)
Reading headlines, thinking of eternal things
The Lord Jesus warns his listeners not to make use of great suffering to censure the sufferers as if they are great sinners. Jesus is answering a question about a malicious slaying by Pilate of Galileans, whose deaths are referred to with what Rev. Henry calls “spiteful innuendo.” “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no;but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Christ puts a good construction on that story by bringing up another instance of sudden death. The collapse of the tower at Siloam. He goes on to ask: “Or these eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless repent you will all likewise perish” Luke 13:2-5.
Matthew Henry, that master of summary, offers a sobering analysis.
“We cannot judge of men’s sins by their sufferings in this world; for many are thrown into the furnace as gold to be purified, not as dross and chaff to be consumed. We must therefore not be harsh in our censures of those that are afflicted more than their neighbors, lest we add sorrow to the sorrowful,” as do Job’s friends in trying to assist him. “If we will be judging, we have enough to do judge ourselves.”
Christ bids everyone repent. Christ’s call for repentance “intimates that we all deserve to perish as much as they did. It must moderate our censures, not only that we are sinners, but that we are as great sinners as they, have as much sin to repent of as they had to suffer for.”
Christianity gives high purpose to a man, and a claim upon God. Old Scottish preachers like to tell of a woman known in her village for an abiding faith in Christ. With poor health gaining upon her, she speaks to a young guest who likes to quiz her about questions pertaining to the sovereignty of God. “Suppose after your long life of serving God, and all of your praying and trusting — suppose that when you die, God sends you off to hell to suffer there forever?”
“Don’t you know your Bible better than that?” the woman fires back. “If that were to happen, God would lose more than I would lose. I would lose my soul, which would indeed be terrible. But God would lose His honor. He has made precious promises to me. If He should fail to be faithful to His promises, His Word would be proven untrue. And the universe would end up in ruins.”
The comforting God of the scriptures is divinely sovereign in all things. And he is also faithful, and grants perseverance.
Richard J. Mouw, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004), p. 37
A copy of the Hiedelberg Catechism is at reformed.org. While not as magisterial as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Hiedelberg gives an excellent summary of the claims of Christianity on every member of the human race. A good catechism will come with scripture proofs. Here are biblical evidences for the passage quoted above.
(a) Rom. 14:7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. Rom. 14:8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
(b) 1 Cor. 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
(c) 1 Cor. 3:23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. Tit. 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
(d) 1 Pet.1:18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 1 Pet.1:19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.
(e) Heb.2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 1 John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. John 8:35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
(f) John 6:39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. John 10:28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 2 Thess. 3:3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. 1 Pet. 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(g) Matt. 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. Matt. 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Matt. 10:31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 21: 18 But there shall not an hair of your head perish.
(h) Rom. 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
(i) 2 Cor. 1:20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. 2 Cor. 1:21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; 2 Cor. 1:22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. 2 Cor. 5:5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Eph. 1:13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Eph. 1:14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Rom. 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
(j) Rom. 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 1 John 3:3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.