The Dark Moment of Life

Dr. Brian Allison

EgyptAir flight 990 mysteriously crashed off the east coast of the United States. I knew a couple on that flight, Shaline and Salah Adam, whose picture graced the front page of our national newspapers. They were on their way to Sudan to attend the wedding of Salah's sister. They perished in the Atlantic Ocean, along with their two children – Joshua, 4 years old, and Rebecca, 17 months old. Such tragedies disturb us deeply, especially when young lives are involved. Many children – like those who were slaughtered by the child molester, Thomas Hamilton, in Dunblane, Scotland – will never have the opportunity to enjoy and experience the various satisfactions of life. They will never know the thrill of a first date, nor the excitement of a graduation, nor the joy of owning their first car, nor the happiness of getting married and having children. Such thoughts make me melancholic.

Some view human suffering and death, especially premature death, as a mystery. How does one really explain it? Charles Lamb (1775-1835), the English essayist and critic, called premature death the "riddle of destiny." In his poem, "On an Infant Dying, as Soon as Born," he writes:

I saw wherein the shroud did lurk

A curious frame of Nature's work;

A flow'ret crushed in the bud,

A nameless piece of babyhood,

Was in her cradle-coffin lying;

Extinct, with scarce the sense of dying:

So soon to exchange the imprisoning womb

For darker closets of the tomb!

She did but ope an eye, and put

A clear beam forth, then straight up shut

For the long dark: ne'er more to see

Through glasses of mortality.

Riddle of destiny, who can show

What thy short visit meant, or know

What thy errand here below?

Life entails seemingly meaningless, dark moments which evoke the question: 'Why?' Have you asked yourself that question? The Columbine massacre will always remain a wretched blotch on the pages of human history. Why did it happen? The teenage Kip Kinkel calmly and calculatingly murdered his parents and two school mates. Why? An innocent mother was shot down in her own drive way with her child witnessing – in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why? An eighteen year old man was shot to death because someone wanted his wallet. Why? A thirty six year old executive, being faced with the possible charge of extortion, committed suicide. Why? A young girl ate under – cooked hamburger and contracted a chronic kidney disease. Why? Life consists of seemingly meaningless, dark moments.

God orders the dark moments of life

Behind the dark moments of life lies the inscrutable will and wisdom of God. Behind the senseless suffering and death of this life, there is a mysterious divine providence. The Scripture reads that the Lord God says, "I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these" (Isa. 45:6b,7). God orders the good, as well as the evil (i.e., destruction and tragedy). He ordains prosperity, as well as brings about misfortune. He is the God of providence. He superintends all the affairs of life, though He uses means. The providence of God clearly has a dark, and even morbid, side.

A number of years ago, my wife was carrying our first child. We were ecstatic. When she moved into her second trimester, she experienced complications, and as a result we lost the child; that was a difficult experience. My wife understandably became depressed; and yet we realized and acknowledged at that time (although we did not fully understand) that everything happens according to the will and plan of God. Even in our confusion, we realized that God is sovereign; as the Scripture says, "For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'...Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it" (Isa. 46:9ff.). My wife and I realized that God orders affairs according to the good pleasure of His will and that our response must be one of silence and faith, knowing that He ever remains God.

God is indeed a God of the dark moments of life – "creating the darkness...creating calamity." Thus, the Scripture reads, "If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?" (Am. 3:6). When rough times or stressful times come, there may be a tendency to say, "Well, it is just bad luck" or "It is the cruel finger of fate." However, the rough times and the stressful times are not the result of bad luck, nor the result of the cruel finger of fate; nor are these times necessarily an expression of God's punishment for our personal sin and immorality. Rather, God has His plan and His purposes which will be fulfilled; and God is not obligated to provide an answer for His actions...because He is God.

The Biblical perspective on human calamities and misfortunes – which comprise much of the fabric of life – is that they are the result of God's wise and inscrutable will. The brothers of the Biblical character, Joseph, sold him into slavery. He was then taken to a foreign land, Egypt, by strangers. While serving in Egypt, he was thrown into jail on trumped up charges. If you had been Joseph, how would you have explained all these bad things that were happening to you? How did Joseph explain them? Joseph had the right perspective. In explaining to his brothers why these apparently bad things happened to him, he said (now having been appointed a ruler in charge of the food supply during the famine in Egypt), "And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here [by selling me into bondage], but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and Lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt" (Gn. 45:7,8). Again, Joseph explained (attempting to allay his brothers' fears of reprisal), "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid" (Gn. 50:20,21a). Yet, we are confronted with the disturbing question: Why is God pleased to use evil in order to achieve His purposes? I am not sure, but He does. Sometimes faith must bow to the mysteries of the divine. God has His reasons which are known only to Himself. The Scripture reads, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law" (Dt. 29:29).

The paradox of the dark moments of life

God is not the author of sin or evil. However, He uses sinful people, as well as evil acts and events, to fulfil His purposes, though God is not personally and directly involved in those acts or events. He uses the evil which is already evident in His fallen creation to fulfil His plan. By nature, He cannot perform moral evil; yet He superintends the whole of history, in its manifold aspects, according to His infinitely wise, and ultimately inscrutable, ways, by interweaving and interconnecting the various aspects of His fallen creation in order to achieve His perfect will. Again, with the fact that God uses evil for holy designs, we are faced with a mystery. (The standing-room-only memorial service of the Adam family transformed lives. They may have positively touched more people on the occasion of their death than by the acts in their lives.) On the one hand, we have divine providence and, on the other hand, we have human responsibility. The two truths seem in conflict – an uncomfortable paradox.

This paradox is even seen in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter pronounced, "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst just as you yourselves know – this Man, you delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men, put Him to death" (Acts 2:22f.). Men killed Jesus Christ according to God's sovereign plan, and yet they were still fully responsible for their actions; this is a paradox. We must hold these two truths in tension: the providence of God in ordering all things, and the moral responsibility of people who act and choose in the free exercise of their wills. It is like two railroad tracks running parallel beside each other. Theoretically, they do not converge; but from one perspective, standing in between them and looking into the distance, they seem to converge. Similarly, these two truths converge – and are reconciled – in the mind of God.

In knowing that God sovereignly reigns, we need to bow to the dark providence of God, whatever that dark providence may be – whether terminal cancer, or the loss of a child, or the persistent torment of mind. We must neither defiantly challenge God, nor faithlessly question Him, nor angrily react to Him. Our response should be one of humble acceptance and trust. Yet, we must maturely respond. We should do everything humanly possible to address and resolve the situation. The providence of God does not mean that we must be fatalists. Yet, having done all that we can humanly do, we must then entrust ourselves to God, declaring that He is God.

Reactions to God's dark moments of life

At this juncture, at least two concerns may arise. First, this view of the providence of God seems to make God unjust, cruel, and insensitive. I remember the violent reaction of one young man, "If the Christian God is this kind of a God, if He ordains and allows circumstantial evil; if He allows millions of children to starve, hundreds of thousands of fetuses to be aborted, and innumerable injustices to be committed against the homeless and the oppressed, then I want nothing to do with this God." Yet, the divine response in the Scriptures is, "Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker – an earthenware vessel among the vessels of the earth! Will the clay say to the potter, 'What are you doing?' Or the thing you are making say, 'He has no hands'?" (Isa. 45:9). We need to be very careful that we neither evaluate and judge God according to limited, faulty, and tainted reasoning, nor place demands and expectations upon Him to conform to personal standards.

Second, this view of the providence of God seems to deny the truth that God is a God of love. Doesn't God care for people? Doesn't He care that innocent people are being killed in Sri Lanka and Chechnya? Doesn't He care that children are starving in various parts of Africa? Couldn't He have prevented the thousands from perishing in Turkey's earthquakes and India's cyclones? Doesn't the Christian Bible teach that God is a God of love? In response, love does not necessarily exclude the allowance of suffering. Love is often severe. Parents sometimes must exercise discipline, and sometimes harsh discipline, not because they hate their children, but because they love them and want the best for them. We must believe that God's allowance of suffering also has a redeeming, and even beneficial, aspect to it, though currently unfathomable to us. Moreover, much human suffering results from the evil consequences of human depravity. We reap what we sow. God forebearingly allows us to behave and act according to our depravity, in the full integrity of the free exercise of our wills; but we must believe that God, who by nature is good, will eventually right the wrongs. Finally, God is the righteous Judge who frowns on sin and punishes wrongdoing, which may appear to touch innocent lives – an unsettling conundrum, to be sure.

Accepting the dark moments of life

Consider your work situation, or your family situation, or your relational situation, or your financial situation. Is the situation a bit rough right now? Bad times do not necessarily mean that God is not listening to your prayers or that He does not care. It is in the midst of our pain and suffering that we come to acknowledge that God is the sovereign Lord. When everything in our world seems to argue against any humble and accepting response to the calamities of life, but rather encourages us to raise a defiant fist to heaven and to ask God to give an answer; and yet, in spite of the dark providence, we can still bow the knee and acknowledge Him to be God, then at that point we have entered into the reality of faith and of worship; and not only do we have God, but God has us. William Cowper (1731-1800), penned the following words which sum up well this dark side of divine providence. He writes:

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright designs,

And works His sovereign will.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,

And scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter,

And He will make it plain.

As we look at our world, we realize that it has 'gone mad.' It has become chaotic, and yet behind all the chaos, and confusion, God is fulfilling His inscrutable plan and purposes. Our confidence and consolation is this: "I am the LORD, and there is no other. The One forming the light and creating the darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity. I am the LORD who does all these." (Isa. 45:6b,7).