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Making sense of suffering

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Aurora Colorado District 1 Commander Kevin Flynn looks at the memorial for the victims of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, July 25, 2012 (Credit: Reuters / Rick Wilking)

New technology sounds an alarm when sensors recognize components in the room common to all bullets.  This morning’s USA Today website tells us that the company manufacturing this technology has been contacted by numerous movie theaters in recent days.  Two weeks ago, who would have thought that such security would be necessary?

It’s been a tough week.  Yesterday afternoon, Janet and I attended a funeral I could not have imagined a week ago.  Dr. Brian Newman was the 51-year-old Minister of Married Adults at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas.  During the years I served there as senior pastor, he was one of my favorite staff colleagues and a dear friend.  Last Saturday he collapsed at home with bleeding in his brain and never regained consciousness; he died the following Monday morning.  I still cannot believe he is gone.

Brian’s death follows on the heels of a terrible accident last weekend involving a very dear friend of mine and his nine-month-old son.  My friend will be hospitalized for some time to come, recovering from numerous fractures; his son suffered a skull fracture but should recover fully.

Innocent suffering has dominated the news recently, from the Aurora shootings, to the drought devastating farmers across the country, to the Syrian conflict that is killing thousands of bystanders.  If a godly servant like Brian Newman isn’t safe today, who is?  If a healthy father and son can be severely injured in the space of two seconds, who of us is immune from tragedy?  When unexpected and undeserved suffering finds us, who of us doesn’t turn to God and ask why?

Let’s consider a statement by “Stonewall” Jackson, one of the greatest military leaders in American history.  His first wife died giving birth to a stillborn son.  His second wife bore him a daughter who died within a month.  Jackson died of battlefield injuries on May 2, 1863.  His last words: “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”  Soon he had crossed over that last river and now rests in the shade of God’s throne and grace.

A devout Christian, Jackson once testified: “My religious belief leads me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.”  He was right.  I have no idea why the Lord allowed Brian Newman to die so young and permitted my dear friend to suffer such a terrible accident.  I don’t understand why he allowed the Aurora shooting or permits war.  But I do know Jesus’ promise: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

The worst that can come to God’s children leads to the best, as we step from death into life and from time into eternal reward.  In battle or in bed, you are safe in the omnipotent hands of your Savior.  Why do you need that assurance today?