The television news crew was broadcasting breaking “live at ten” news on a dark street with red lights flashing in the background. A compact car had been demolished. Broadsided by a drunk driver who ran a red light while traveling at high speed, all three passengers in the small car were dead. The names of those killed had not yet been released, the reporter said.
I prayed for the unknown families that were being notified of their loss. How quickly their lives world change completely. Since I cross that same intersection often, the thought came that it could have been me or a member of my family in that accident.
By the next day, names and details of the accident emerged. The car which was hit carried a 19-year-old young man, his mother, and his 16-year-old girlfriend. The girl had been at her boyfriend’s house for dinner and was being taken back home. The boy’s mother was driving the car because he had a cast on his leg. For me, the story suddenly became more than just a headline on the news—a sad story about unknown people—when I discovered I was acquainted with the woman in the car. She had been my roommate at woman’s retreat several years before.
The television news showed a picture of the 18-year-old driver of the car which hit them, as he was being charged in the police station. He had a bloody nose. It was his second arrest for drunk driving in a period of eight days. The reporter interviewed a friend of his who said that he was not normally a drinker, but his mother had died two weeks before and he had taken it hard.
One death had triggered a drinking binge that resulted in three more deaths. A young girl from one family and a mother and son from another were killed. But the double death wasn’t the end of the second family’s troubles. After the funeral, a daughter returned home to find that her house had burned to the ground.
Why do bad things happen to the innocent? Why does suffering come in such intense ways and often in tandem (or as my mother-in-law used to say “in threes”)? We can’t help but ask ourselves the reason when adversity strikes.
The writer of Psalm 77, when he was in distress, also asked questions: “Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful?” (vs. 2, 8 NIV)
A popular poem is seen in gift shops everywhere. It says that in a dream two pairs of footprints were visible in the sand on the beach. The writer says she took that to mean that the Lord was walking with her. Then great difficulties came into the writer’s life, and she dreamed of that beach again. But now there was only one set of footprints. The writer cried out to the Lord, asking why she was deserted at the point of her greatest need. It was revealed that when there was only one set of footprints, the reason was that the Lord had been carrying her.
It’s a lovely story and means a lot to many people, but in real life the psalmist’s view is often more accurate. In times of distress we cry out to God, “Why?” No answer comes and “your footprints were not seen” (Ps. 77:19). We aren’t given an explanation.
Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India who saw incredible suffering, wrote: “I have been thinking of how many unexplained things there are in life. Our Lord Jesus, who could have explained everything, explained nothing. He said there would be tribulation, but He never said why. Sometimes He spoke of suffering being to the glory of God, but He never said how. All through the Scriptures, it is the same. I cannot recall a single explanation of trial. Can you? We are trusted with the unexplained.”
When bad things happen—as they often do—consider this: He once again is trusting us to trust Him with the unexplained.