Meet Andrea. A beautiful, vibrant, pleasant 21 year old – full of promise.
I preached her funeral yesterday.
This last Friday morning (June 23rd), in the wee hours, she had a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer and was instantly killed. Andrea was struggling in life. And her tragic death placed within the context of those struggles leaves us with many unanswered questions. How are we deal with those Biblically? Let me talk to you about how I am.
Andrea was raised by loving, Christian parents who sacrificed much to do all they could to give her a stable, Christ-honoring home. The second oldest of 6 children (one older brother and four younger sisters) she was home-schooled, but not cloistered. She made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior at an early age. And for all intents and purposes, Andrea lived the life of a normal Christian kid – until about two years ago. Myself being a child of the manse, I know well both the peculiar blessings of being raised by committed parents, and the unspoken difficulty of finding your place in the world when you aren’t really supposed to be a part of it, and yet are intrigued and want to investigate and experience things. I identify with her.
The World is a sparkling place, full of empty, deadly, and only temporarily thrilling promises. Fun and excitement are the number one ways of masking the internal struggles of insecurity for young men and women. For some, the simple pain of adolescent confusion is profound enough – without the additional peculiarities of spiritual reality added in. That is not bad mind you – but probably something we don’t talk enough about – especially to them. And yes, the remnants of Adam’s rebellion still lives in our hearts. We are truly (as Luther said) “simul iustis et peccator” – simultaneously saint and sinner. So for most of us who make early professions of faith, that faith gets sorely tried. A friend of mine recently reminded me (as I asked his counsel in a struggle I was going through) “don’t forget, the Devil doesn’t care who he hurts or how badly.” I fear we forget this not only in regard to ourselves, but especially considering the younger among us. Would I trade those hard places now? No. They helped form a foundation for spiritual maturity that I wouldn’t give up for the world – now that I’m older. But then?
Back to Andrea.
When we come to times and places like the tragic death of this blossoming young woman, we are so often caught in the whirlpool of trying to answer questions we cannot. It is natural to search out the physical details. It isn’t wrong to piece together the events as they unfolded, to get as accurate a picture as we can of the facts. However, the inevitable and ubiquitous question of WHY? tends to overshadow everything else, and “the answer” hides elusively behind every missing piece, no matter how many we eventually overturn. In this endless, sucking eddy which threatens take us under, we can find safety only in letting go of what we cannot know, and clinging with all of our might to only that which we truly can know. The importance of this cannot be overstressed, in the case of Prodigals. I’ll try to explain.
Here’s how we sort through some of what we do, and do not know, and here is where we point parents, others and ourselves in such hours. I’ll use Andrea personally as I walk through it.
Some things we know for certain:
1. We know God. We know Him as good; as full of mercy and grace. Yes, as righteous, inviolably holy, just and the Judge of all. And, as magnificently patient, kind and forgiving. We know God.
2. we know Andrea made a profession of faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ at Calvary. And, that by all accounts she lived consciously as a Christian from that time till about 2 years ago – when she entered college.
3. We know that Prodigals exist. Jesus Himself shows us the particulars of one case in Luke 15.
4. We know the Father’s love is not diminished for such stray souls. (How well I know this in my own life).
5. We know that by grace, Prodigals awaken to their condition and begin to formulate their way home.
6. We know that Andrea had begun to shows such signs of returning in the few months preceding her death. She moved back home after being very humbled and impacted by an arrest. We saw her intent (articulated on her blog and to others) to leave the crowd she had been “partying” with, to return to college, to restore her life. We saw her beginning to mend the relationship with her own father – for the first time ever, buying him a Father’s Day card, expressing her gratitude for his love and steadfast care. We saw her begin to forge new relationships with her sisters. We saw her begin to attend bible studies.
7. We know she continued to struggle with sinful habits she had taken on.
8. We know Phil. 1:6 is true: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
9. We know that the Father, receives His Prodigals with all acceptance.
10. We know many others who followed similar patterns, and how they have been fully restored.
11. We know the face-to-face triple denial of a Peter, followed by his subsequent denial of salvation by faith alone in later years by action in Antioch; and the defection of John Mark from the mission field, are not the end of God’s grace. (Not to mention the very graphic history of Israel’s ups and downs, defections and recommitments)
12. Thus we know God’s great restorative tendency.
Some things we do not and CANNOT know for certain:
1. We do not and cannot know (until the Resurrection) if Andrea’s profession of faith was real.
2. We do not and cannot know (until the Resurrection) if Andrea was really a returning Prodigal or not.
So where does that leaves us? Hope. True, genuine, Christian hope.
Based upon what we DO know, we hope. We do not live in what we DON’T know. This is vitally important. We have sound, solid, Biblical reason to hope. In Andrea? No – In God. This, beloved, is true, sound, Christian, Christ honoring hope. The hope He leads us to trust the God we do know, in the face of facts we cannot. Hope in Christ’s keeping, loving, patient, preserving, longsuffering, glorious, grace-filled goodness. Hope in Him and Him alone. Hope based upon God our Father as expressed throughout the pages of His Word in places like the following:
Ps 33:18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
Ps 33:22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
Ps 38:15 But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
Ps 39:7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.
Ps 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation
Ps 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Ps 43:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Ps 71:5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
Ps 71:14 But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.
Ps 78:7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
Ps 119:49 Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.
Ps 119:81 My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word.
Ps 119:114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.
Ps 119:116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
Ps 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
Ps 130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
Ps 131:3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.
Ps 146:5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,
Ps 147:11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Rom. 5:5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
In closing, let me counsel:
a. That we are cautious never to offer false hope, or make statements of certainty which we can base on nothing more than feelings, good wishes and desires to comfort. They are damaging, hollow and empty. They do not actually comfort, they lie.
b. That we be quick to offer hope in profuse amounts where we have evidential and Biblical warrant. Let us be quick to point men to God and to His unfathomable goodness, love and grace. Let us never hesitate to assume the best, when we know so little of the facts. Love demands that we “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7) Where we don’t know, we love – and hope. We assume the best until incontrovertibly contradicted by the facts. We are hope givers, because of the great hope we have in our Beloved Savior, who meted out unspeakable grace on His most wicked, weak and opposing enemies – you and me.
My earnest hope and expectation is, that at the Resurrection, Andrea and I will dance in joy around the Throne together as we worship the King who justifies and keeps the ungodly by faith. I’ve got Biblical warrant to hope thus in my God. As do her parents, and all others. And in that hope, I , we, will stand.