Yesterday, I learned that a college classmate of mine, Melissa Ketunuti, was brutally murdered in her home. Melissa and I were not close friends in college, but our social circles sometimes overlapped. So, we spent time together on occasion, whether at college parties or during meals at our college cafeteria. She was a brilliant, beautiful, and incredibly warm-hearted person.
When I learned of her death, I was sitting in my parked minivan, feeding my three-month-old his late afternoon bottle, listening to my three-year old son playing in the back seat, and waiting to pick up my daughter at her bus stop. For a moment, as I sat in the car with two of my four beautiful children, the news of Melissa’s tragic death was inconceivable. But as I imagined what her final moments on this earth may have been like, and her family’s tremendous grief, the reality that she indeed was gone pierced through my self-protective denial. As I sat in my car, praying for her and her family, I returned to questions I have asked God countless times, in the midst of tragedy and suffering: Why? Why, Lord, do you allow death to stalk and claim the life of every living thing? Why, Heavenly Father, do you allow such rampant evil in this world?
How could God, who is Himself the fullness of all that is holy and good, allow a beautiful person like Melissa to suffer such a brutal and senseless death? Of course, as a minister, I knew all the theological answers to those questions. But those answers offered little comfort, because the questions I was asking were not academic, they were personal -- deeply personal. I was not a student catechizing his teacher on an esoteric subject. I was a child crying out to my Heavenly Father, demanding an explanation that would make sense of an incomprehensible tragedy.
With all the violence, murder, and suffering in this world, it may seem rather puzzling that I do not bring these cries to our Creator more often. But I discerned something yesterday that I previously had not consciously recognized. I realized that throughout my life, I have had an unspoken, subconscious pact with death and tragedy: I will pretend they do not exist and will live my life in willful denial of their existence, so long as they pretend I do not exist and their shadows do not darken my sunny skies. It is, admittedly, a selfish and naive artificial construct, a fabricated detente. But it has been my way of insulating myself from the grief that I fear would consume me if I truly took the time to absorb and contemplate the tremendous agony and suffering so many people face every day. Invariably, however, death and tragedy break our little “pact.” And, as I was yesterday, I am once again compelled to grapple with the cruel and recondite contrast between the reality that I live in a broken and suffering world, and my faith in a good, perfect, just, and loving God who created it.
I know God is aware of every single detail of every single event of every person’s life on this planet. Indeed, Jesus Himself said that our Heavenly Father even knows the number of hairs on our heads: “[T]he very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7) (NIV). And, as the Apostle Paul wrote, God knows that His “creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together[.]” (Romans 8:22) (NASB).
And so, last night, I returned to asking God those vexing questions I previously managed to suppress, until death and tragedy found Melissa.
. . . But God was silent! And in that silence, as I reflected on how much I hate suffering, death and evil, I was filled with an intoxicating, self-righteous and prideful indignation at the thought that perhaps God does not hate those things as much as I do. It was in that moment that God finally answered my questions. But He answered with a few of His own:
Niki, do you hate death so much that you would be willing to sacrifice your own life to end death for everyone else? Do you hate evil so much that you would be willing to suffer the guilt and consequence of every sin that has ever been (or ever will be) committed, in order to save humanity and redeem creation? Would you be willing to suffer the agony of crucifixion?
With those gentle, convicting questions, the Lord gave me the personal answers I had sought in my prayers: He hates sin and death so much that He died on our behalf, taking upon Himself the guilt and consequence of every sin and evil that has ever been committed or ever will be, including Melissa’s tragic murder. (Cf. Isaiah 53:4-6; John 3:16; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21). He hates murder far more than I ever will. And having been murdered Himself, He understands its pain, agony, and ugliness far more than I ever could.
I mourn Melissa’s tragic death. She will be missed greatly by all who knew her, and by every life she touched and blessed with her kindness, compassion, and warmth. But I take comfort in the knowledge that God is good, that He remains sovereign over the affairs of Man, and that He grieves with all of us who knew her. And I find hope in my faith that our Heavenly Father does indeed hear creation’s “groans,” including yours and mine, and is actively in the process of “making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) (NASB).