Last night I had the privilege of leading a Bible study in our church on the book of Job. I must say that my comprehension of this book is much different than a few weeks ago. While in Montana at the end of June, I developed an abscess on a tooth that became very uncomfortable. I received antibiotics and hoped they would solve the problem. A few weeks later I made it to the dentist only to find out the tooth needed to be extracted surgically. The only problem was that the surgeons in the area did not have openings for 2 weeks and I had to deal with significant pain. I must admit, however, that I do not view this pain as suffering or even a trial, but rather an inconvenience. It pales in comparison to what my dear friends, the Phelps family, are currently going through.
On July 27, the Lord translated four of his own children directly to his throne room through a bus accident that has now become national news. I had the blessing of knowing and watching Chad Phelps grow and mature right before my eyes. I taught his high school Bible class for a year and watched God stir an incredible gift within him that is very rare, a pastor’s heart. Chad, with his zany sense of humor, was also an encourager. Often times while we have been church planting in NH, he sent me notes of edification, theological debate, or just the assurance that he was praying for me. This man, 13 years my younger, was a sweet friend and brother. He promised to preach for our church next time he was in NH.
My first reaction when I heard that Chad, his wife, his unborn daughter, and a fellow church member had lost their lives was that this is just not fair! After studying Job for the last few weeks, I must confess that I am in no position to tell God what is fair or unfair. Romans 5:3-5 is very clear. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
When studying the book of Job, it is important to have a proper viewpoint. Upon first glimpse, Job seems to be the helpless victim of suffering and oppression initiated by Satan with a surprise attack coming before the throne of God. Even though the book is named after Job, he is NOT the main character. The whole essence of the book revolves around the sufficiency of God. God is the main character. Job is not the book of suffering, it is the book of God’s sufficiency. As humans, we tend to associate ourselves with Job as a helpless victim in a horrible set of circumstances just trying to hang on for dear life. Job is not helpless at all. He was in the hands of a sovereign, sufficient God who orchestrated certain events to reform and mold Job into the man God desired. The book of Job wrestles with the age-old question, “Why do righteous men suffer if God is a God of love and mercy?” God’s sovereignty is sufficient for man’s inadequacy. God’s purpose, therefore, was to strip away all of Job’s self-righteousness and to bring him to the place of complete trust and reliance.
When a Christian cries out, “It’s not fair!” he is authorizing his own finite perception to determine the justice of an infinite, omnipotent, sovereign God. This is self-righteousness. Theologically, the Christian’s life is very unfair. In total depravity, man deserves eternal damnation. What was “fair” about Christ living a sinless life and sacrificing himself on a cruel cross as a substitution for sin? Life is not fair! But God is just. We need to let God be God.
Why did God translate these four wonderful souls to heaven? I do not know. My heart is broken because of it. As Pastor Phelps and Linda clearly expressed in the press conference yesterday, God has chosen to glorify himself through the death of these dear saints. It may not be our choice, but God is good. I have already heard of multiple people accepting Christ as Savior as a result of this accident. I have no doubt there will be many more. This is God’s beauty through the ashes. I love you Chad, and cannot wait to feast with you and your family at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.