Thursday, October 2, 2003 2:46 AM CDT
By: Gary DeVaul
Isabel did her thing the other day. Way up here in Maine we got just the edge of her wrath, lots of rain. I took a trip to the crash site in one of her more lavish downpours. As the fringe of her gray robe brushed across York County, Maine, I found that indeed the place where the truck lost traction had ample water to hydroplane. The tire marks that indicated where the 4-runner left the road, crossed the grass, and connected with the guardrail had grown over as a result of nature's healing. As I write, I know that that the little pieces of plastic tape the nurse put over Mark's scars when he removed the staples are dissolving and falling away, as they are meant to do. Soon the scars will fade and blend and Mark's shoulder will not be hard to look at. Oh, there's still a small remnant of glass swept into a pile at the base of one of the pillars that supports the guardrail, but even that's diminishing. The signs of the truck's green paint are difficult to find. Pretty soon most of the physical indications of the wreck that changed Mark's life will have fled the scene of the crime. But there will still be questions. And the questions are more important than the answers.
There are questions regarding the physical aspects of the accident. Why would the State of Maine allow the drainage to be so inadequate at this important and dangerous turn in the road? Why would brand new Michelin tires, engineered for snow and rain, lose their grip? The accident report and diagram are before me as I write. The vehicle slid sideways into the guardrail. Yet the whole frame and steal cage protecting the driver, door and all, were shoved into the driver's seat, moving the seat over until it rested up against the gearshift, bending the steering wheel, bowing the dashboard into a half moon, and popping out the speedometer, leaving it perched on the post of the steering wheel. How can the impact be so great as to break most of the windows; tossing the car over the rail into oncoming traffic? What could cause the truck to land with such force that it broke the rear axle, sending the right rear wheel into orbit? How can a seat belt made to protect, tear off someone's arm severing it in three different places? The belt was cut in the attempt to retrieve the driver, but it was fastened. I saw the beltless latch engaged with my own eyes! And finally, how can most of the windows, including the sunroof and windshield, shatter without leaving a mark, not one cut on the driver, save his severed left arm?
Even if Mark was driving too fast for the weather conditions, the police said he was not exceeding the posted speed limit. There are loads of questions regarding the physical aspects of the crash. And then, there is the really difficult spiritual question that tramps across every mind, and trumps all the other questions - the question no one wants to ask.
This is the question that is more important than the answer!
But we don't feel at all comfortable asking it, and it is because we don't want to struggle with it - that we must. Do the possibilities frighten us? Or, are we too lazy to work, and think, and pray, and meditate on it? Maybe it's just easier to chalk it up to "God's will" and hustle back to some safe place in our head?
Remember, God is revealing Himself to us everyday. We see his face in scripture, in nature, in science, in the world around us, as well as the accidents that befall us. His natural, continuous, revelation didn't stop with the invention of the printing press. His language is not limited to sixteenth century syntax, or the King James Version of the Bible. All indications are that He is alive and well and completely engaged in our universe, and in our very lives! So the question is this...
Why did God allow this to happen?
Well, there are all kinds of answers. But know this. I don't pretend to have them. Nevertheless, all followers of Jesus have the right - indeed obligation - to ask the question. We need to probe in prayer and scour the scripture to read the thoughts of others who also work and struggle with this question. Why? Because it's in the asking, in questioning, in the engagement of the intellectual powers that He gave us that God is blessed. Why? Because it is in this way that we get to know Him better. It's in struggle and strife that spiritual growth takes place. That is why the questions are more important than the answers. We want our children to question, to learn and grow, and hound us for answers. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't mean we go merrily on our passive way, accepting all that happens to others and us without storming the gates of Heaven. To say, "well I'll have plenty of questions to ask when I get to heaven", is to imply that God's not speaking to us today.
We have a big God. Divinity is not insulted by inquiry. He doesn't get His feelings hurt because we want to understand. He's not angered by our honest concerns. He's the God of the universe; He can handle it.
Years ago I was helping a Lutheran Minister teach a Pastor's Class of people who wished to join the church. A man asked an age-old question. "Pastor" he said, "Why does God let some people go to hell?" And the minister replied, "That's not the right question to ask." And then he went on to answer a related question that he could answer, with ease and confidence. I almost fell out of my chair. After the class I went to the minister and said "How dare you tell that man he was asking the wrong question? How dare you imply you know the right question? Is it too difficult to say, I don't know the answer, but let's talk about it together?" Needless to say I was never invited to help him teach Pastor's Classes again. Ha. Good thing!
Every one of us has the right to ask God why this horrible accident happened to Mark. And every one of us need also remember that Mark was not cut, he was not bruised, or blinded, or killed. Angels again? You bet.
If we don't get the answers we pray for and we get angry with God and lie on the floor of the temple and bang our fist on the altar. If we holler at God, like David did when he was losing his baby son. Don't worry about it. God can handle it; He understands our pain, anger, and our frustration. Our God is no sissy. We will get our answer. Be patient. Be persistent. It will come. Time will bring a fresh flush of perspective. When God hears our prayers and senses our frustration, it means something to Him. I'll bet He feels just as I do when my boys demand answers of me. It makes Him proud of His children, proud that they care about their brothers and sisters, proud that they are concerned about justice, proud that they're not intellectually lazy. Proud that they feel they have a close enough relationship to ask the hard questions.
Do you think Mark hasn't asked the question? Well, he has. Something else I'll tell you about Mark. He knows his Heavenly Father loves him. He knows that he was not alone in the truck that night. He knows God has called him by name, and that all the waves in neither the world, nor all the fires of fear, nor all the accidents conceivable can amputate the Spirit that lives within him. He knows that God never promised life would be fair. But he also knows that through the act on the cross Jesus proved that He was with us. With us through hell unto heaven, and for us always, even unto the ends of the earth, and beyond!
When I left the crash site, I turned on the CD player in my car and guess who was playing? I had forgotten that Mark left the recording of the Twentieth Anniversary Concert, of the Hazel Wright Organ, at the Crystal Cathedral, in the player before he left. Many of our great friends were performing in that concert. Every one of them is a genius in his own right. Frederick Swann, Richard Umfried, J. Christopher Pardini, and who did they choose to open and close the concert? Thallander, of course! What an honor, although he would never claim to be in their league, he rose to the occasion.
Listening again to Mark play his arrangement of Hymn to Joy, I was reminded of something one of those men said to me thirty years ago, when I was a young man in ministry at Garden Grove.
As a music lover, I used to schedule my breaks so I could listen to Richard Umfried practice for the Sunday services. I'm sure I was a pest, but he never let on. One day Richard was registering the organ for a great piece that everyone knew. It was the Bach Toccata and fugue in D minor. He called it the "old war horse" and he wanted to make it a unique performance and register the new Ruffatti a bit differently. In the process, I had the opportunity to hear all kinds of pipes make all kinds of sounds. I heard harsh biting reeds, booming trumpets, and all kinds of stuff that alone might not necessarily be kind to one's ear. Then Richard put them all together and I was stunned! I'd never heard such wonderful sounds in my life. How many times have you watched your mother cook a meal, crinkle up your nose at the fixin's and say, do you have to put that in there? Looking back, how many meals did she prepare that you didn't like?
Well, I don't know half the answers, but this I know. Umfried didn't make those pipes. He took what he had to work with and made music with it, and it was marvelous to the ear and soul. God didn't make that car crash. But he did send angels to gather up the remnants like so many leftover pieces of bread at Galilee. And from the leftovers of Mark's life, the world will be fed and blessed and better for it. As we remain faithful to God and our questions, we will grow. The answers will unfold in space and time before us, and the angels? Oh, they'll continue to thoughtfully thrive in the tension between questions and answers. They will learn and grow in their faith and support Mark's recovery and ministry, won't you, Angels all?