Personal calamity can challenge faith and belief. When you face loss and grief what can you do and to whom should you turn?
When tragedy strikes all kinds of questions go through a person’s mind. No family should ever have to deal with the tragedy of the loss of a child. On today’s program, we’re going to talk with a family who did lose a child, right here on this driveway. Stay with us, on today’s program as we deal with the subject, “Moving Beyond Tragedy.”
Join our host, Darris McNeely and his guests, as they help you understand your future on Beyond Today!
When tragedy strikes your life, everything changes. For John and Susan Miller a midsummer day forever changed their lives. Their story of how they dealt with the death of their son is one of acceptance, recovery and moving beyond tragedy into a life they would never have imagined.
We traveled to their home in northeast Ohio to bring their story to you.
The Millers went back over that day many years ago when their son was killed in a tragic accident. They tell how they felt and how they handled the immediate aftermath. We visited Jonathan’s grave and talked about the hope of one day seeing their son again.
Whether you have endured similar loss, or know someone who has, you will find the courage of the Millers a help in understanding how the truth of Scripture, God’s revealed Word, gives hope and comfort.
It was a normal morning–started out good enough. I had the day off work and came out here right to the, just to my left. At that time I owned a brown Pontiac Phoenix car and I had replaced the brakes a number of weeks ago and I wanted to do some adjustments. I took my two older children, Daniel and Mary Ann with me and you know, kids like to be with Dad when they’re, when you’re doing something like that. So we worked on the car; jacked it up, did the normal things. And, then afterwards I wanted to check the brakes. Of course I didn’t know that Susan had brought Jonathan, our youngest out, and set him off to the side.
Now you had just come out of the house in the morning and were walking out toward the barn at that time.
Well I was coming out to finish up the chores so I brought him out and what I didn’t realize is that John did not see me put him down, with the other children. So I put him down and proceeded out to the barn to finish my chores, and in the meantime he started crawling after me and had crawled around the bend in the driveway enough that John didn’t see him.
That was on the other side of the car right…
The car was sitting practically right where we’re standing now. And I had worked on all four tires, or four brakes, but at the last 10 or 15 minutes I spent in the driver’s side checking all of that out and then I had asked Daniel and Mary Ann to step aside. They were four and two at the time. So I mean a lot of questions…
They stepped aside to back off a little…
They stepped back to that side. I got in on the driver’s side, didn’t realize that he was nearby and then started backing up because I wanted to, actually I wanted to back all the way out to the street and test the brakes. And after going about 10 feet, I felt this bump. And of course the kids screamed at the time because they were standing in front and saw what happened.
And in my mind I thought, I must have run over a toy. And then I backed up and to my shock and dismay, my son was laying in the driveway and of course at that time was lifeless…
The Millers received some invaluable counsel after their son’s death. They were told not to blame each other and not to blame God.
We were given some very good advice on that morning within, say about an hour of the accident happening. Our pastor came out and he was a man of few words. What he told us has proven, not only for us, but others and I’ve given the same advice too.
He said John, Susan. Whatever you do, don’t blame God and don’t blame each other.
And that proved to be very effective because, I could have easily blamed Susan for not having told me that she dropped the baby off on her way to the barn to take care of some livestock. And of course she could have easily blamed me for not having been more careful–both of which were true. But, having that discussion, or the blame game, certainly wasn’t going to help anything or change the fact that he died. We needed to and did focus on that time on supporting each other to get through it.
It was the hope of the resurrection from the dead that helped them get through this unbearable tragedy.
The words of Jesus Christ came to me where Christ said, the hour is coming in which all who are in the grave will hear His voice and come forth and that was no longer a theological concept or interesting truth, although it’s both that. It became my date with destiny. At which time I would meet again Jonathan who had died that morning tragically. And that hope, the hope of the resurrection, the truth of the resurrection and all that that means, not only for us but all of mankind, became a huge motivating force for us in the years that followed.
Jonathan was buried in the local cemetery. The small stone marks his grave. Like all parents, John and Susan visit the site and remember. But always their thoughts look forward to the time when the graves will open and the dead, including their son, will live again.
We sat next to Jonathan’s grave and talked about the truth of the resurrection…
One of the first thoughts I had were the words of Jesus Christ where He said, the hour is coming in which all of those in the graves will hear his voice and come forth. And of course, even in that context in the book of John, it talks about multiple resurrections. And of course that was something that was very comforting. It was a hope for me on that fateful day. And of course Susan and I have come here many times. The most recent time was on his 25th birthday. It was quiet evening and we came here to ponder what might have been.
Both of our children are grown now and of course we love them dearly. Both of them have been very successful and as the old saying goes: the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. So, you know you wonder what he might have been. Daniel is a brilliant engineer. Mary Ann has an unbelievable capacity to want to help people and has found a job in which she is able to do that.
So you wondered, or I pondered that evening, what might he have been. But those are questions that I think parents ponder and we did that evening. And I’ve written it in an article that I hope to share with people at some point, because maybe it’s encouraging for somebody.
I think the hope that you understand from the Scriptures is that Jonathan will have an opportunity to live out and achieve his potential. To rise to the destiny that God has for him and for all of mankind and what might have been, and as you put it in your own words, something that will be in a better world and a better time and place.
Well it’s been the “what shall be.” Not only for him, and this is not about us. This is about the hope for all mankind and it’s not widely understood. People have vague notions about the afterlife, about a resurrection perhaps. For us it’s been a very definite thing and the Bible talks about it in very definitive terms.
One of my favorite passages to ponder in this connection has been Ezekiel 37. It’s probably a passage not many people are aware of, but it’s in the Bible none the less and it describes in vivid detail a resurrection to life–a resurrection to physical life. It talks about bone and flesh coming together with the specific purpose of getting to know and understanding God.
And therein the Bible gives hope for all those that didn’t have an opportunity. That didn’t know Christ in this life. And it’s a powerful hope. It’s something that for our family has kept us going. We talked about this many times as a family and as our kids were growing up. What will yet be? And that’s something that we still look forward to very much because we know that Christ’s words are true. That this grave is going to open.
You mentioned Ezekiel 37 and that certainly ties in with what Revelation 20 talks about.
Well Revelation 20, I think around about verse 5, talks about the fact that when Christ returns, those that are His are resurrected. They rule 1000 years on the earth. But a very definitive statement is made that the rest of the dead, meaning those that did not know Christ, did not live again until the 1000 years were finished. And then it goes on to describe a huge resurrection, in which books are opened. And of course, this is a topic that’s near and dear to me, so I have studied it and the books that are referred to are the books of the Bible. Books will be opened. People will have the opportunity to know Christ and make a decision.
It’s a great, and then again as I told you before I could talk about this for hours because, it’s the only rational explanation that allows for both a perfectly just and a perfectly merciful God. And when God says that He wants all to come to salvation, and that it is not His will that any should perish, the Bible reveals a plan that makes that possible.
And that resurrection, John and Susan, really fulfills some of the other statements Jesus made. Not only about the resurrection there in John but where He talked about other groups of people, those of Sodom, for instance, coming back to life in a day, in a time of judgment. And it is a period of judgment when, as you say, the books will be opened to those that come up in that resurrection and they will have their opportunity to have their name written into the Book of Life.
That’s true. And like the Scriptures you’ve referred to, Jesus Christ refers on a number of occasions where He talks about those from Tyre and Sidon, and then connects it back to those of His generation, and referring to the fact that it will be more tolerable for them than those that obviously knew Christ in a very personal way. So Christ refers to it in a very tangible way, the fact that peoples from, that lived thousands of years apart, are coming up in a resurrection altogether to face judgment.
And that’s something that’s not widely understood and it’s a great hope because as I said before, God is just, but He’s also extraordinarily merciful. And the only way to God is Jesus Christ and everybody will have an opportunity, a real opportunity to either acknowledge or reject the salvation that’s offered through Jesus Christ. And that’s what I really like to, you know people that are listening to this, I want to express as someone that’s been there. This is a real and tangible hope that you can count on. You can take it to the bank.
The resurrection is the hope of the dead and the living. It is a key teaching of your Bible. We want you to understand this teaching and we have a booklet, which is one of our most popular offerings today, What Happens After Death?
The booklet takes you through a thorough biblical study of what the Bible teaches about death. Does one go to an afterlife in heaven or to hell? What about those who have no faith, or do not accept Christ as Savior? Is there hope for an atheist or an agnostic? How about the non-Christian world? And what about infant children who die with no knowledge or understanding of God? All these questions are answered in this free booklet: What Happens After Death?
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The understanding that the graves will open and the dead will live again reveals that God is just and merciful. He does not wish that any should perish. The Bible teaches that all will have a chance to know the true God and His son Jesus Christ. Even infant children like Jonathan, will have the chance to live out a full life and come to know the truth of God and the opportunity for salvation.
God is not unjust and He will bring from the graves all who’ve ever lived. We continued to talk of this with the Millers.
Others have had similar situations or matters far beyond their control as well, where people have died and there seems to be no justice. And it is that hope, that resurrection specifically spoken of there by Christ in the book of Revelation, that enables God to kind of wrap things all up in, at that period of time. And His Word is true that there is a time of justice, there is a hope of the resurrection. They will see their loved ones just as you anticipate seeing your son once again and watching him live out his life. Others will have that for their loved ones as well who were taken prematurely from them in a time of a resurrection.
That is correct. And it’s also correct that this understanding of the Scriptures was foundational in us being able to get beyond the tragedy that occurred–knowing that God is faithful in His promise, knowing that He will deliver on His promise of a resurrection. And we had the opportunity, frankly, by reading some of the material that you offer on the program, and I’d encourage people to… I mean this is real! This is not something that is a, an advertising scheme. It’s real life. It works. Jesus Christ will deliver.
You know when, whenever I come here, it’s just very painful for me. I think I just need to tell and I do, I tell him I’m sorry every time I come here. So it’s very painful but, I also want to say, it’s okay for a mother to understand that she will never forget. A mother will never forget a child. I say that in that yes, as time passes and the hurt is not as acute anymore, you move on to other things, but that is always in the background. And that’s okay.
You know, when the loss is so severe, you don’t want to forget. You would feel guilty if you would do that. And just to encourage everybody to cling to the promises of God–that someday this grave will open and he will come forth. And it is also a great motivator for me to stay faithful so that I am there when that happens.
And you’ll have that opportunity to hold your son once again…
Yep. I look forward to that very much. Actually I think about it. He’d be 25 years old but in my mind he’s still a one year old. And when I see little boys, my mind frequently still goes back to, that could be Jonathan.
For me it’s been, I disappointed him once. Or I failed him once. I don’t want to fail him again, by not being there when he’s resurrected.
How does a mother deal with the death of a child? Susan takes us through her thoughts and how she was able to cope.
Well I must say initially it is just completely overwhelming, to have the thought that, yes I will see our son again, but not for a long time. And we don’t know how long that time will be. But that is something that is very, actually difficult to deal with at the time because when you lose a loved one that is so close as a child–and I’m sure it’s the same way if you lose a spouse or some other family member–the pain of the loss is so intense. You get so homesick for that person that you think, yes there is a promise but how am I going to get there? And you’re not sure how you’re going to get through that.
It is a day to day, sometimes hour by hour struggle, to try to get yourself to believe it and to just move on in life. And it is difficult to do that, but the support that we get from our families that at that time we got, you know, from each other. We supported each other through that–the times of grieving.
You didn’t blame each other.
We didn’t blame each other and I thank God for that, and also because the accident was caused by us. We had a great fear of God. And we really didn’t go to ask God the question, why did You let this happen, because He…I guess I heard His voice say, it was you who did it. So, we just really never went there. But I would just like to acknowledge the fact that it is very difficult to get beyond the initial pain, to really grasp and claim the promise of a resurrection–even though it helps a great deal at the time. And I would say, one of the major things that helps at a time like that is the prayers of others. That is huge! You can actually feel it!
In fact, just in the last, probably two months ago, I had a conversation with a lady in our church that I had not known. I had not met, until recently. And she brought up this accident in just casual conversation. And I looked at her and I said, do you remember when this happened? And she said, yes I do. And I asked her, did you pray for us? And she said, yes I did. I was very concerned for you at the time. And you know, with tears in my eyes, I thanked her for her prayers and told her how much of a difference that made for us at that time.
The Millers have reached out to many other families who have suffered similar tragedies. They feel compelled to go to the emergency rooms and to the sides of hurting people. By doing so, they fulfill a key scriptural teaching.
One of the Scriptures that has helped me a great deal over the years is in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He writes,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…”
Describes God in a very real terms as I have come to know Him. But what’s, what has been helpful to me is what he says, wrote to the Corinthians in the next verse,
“who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in
any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4 2 Corinthians 1:4Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.
American King James Version×).
And one of the things, one of the keys to getting over this is to reach out to other people. And we have had the opportunity to do that, on a number of occasions. And it’s, what I’ve learned is it’s not so much what you say as it is having somebody there that’s been there. So, we’ve tried to. And one of the reasons we’re on this program is to hopefully reach out to some people that are in despair and show them, tell them that, no you can go on with God’s help. And God is a God of mercy and comfort and He expects us to reach out to other people in time of need.
I know you’ve done that quite often, with people who have gone through very similar situations with small children, teenage children. What do you say to them?
That’s a good question. It is very difficult for me personally. The emotions just all come up again because I feel their pain. And so sometimes it’s not as much as what you say, as just being there. Being there and offering hope, yes you can get through this. Yes it’s very painful but you know, keep going. Hang in there.
The Bible holds a little known truth that God will give to all an opportunity for eternal life. Not everyone will accept that chance. But a just and merciful God knows all who have lived and offers the opportunity for eternal life. We spoke of this in the cemetery and continue again in their home.
From my perspective, I have never seen any other religious teaching, any other philosophy that measures up to the hope and the comfort that is given in that scripture in Revelation 20. Where it says the rest of the dead will live–after a period of time beyond the return of Jesus Christ–and have what is in reality described, an opportunity to come to know God, and to understand their purpose in life, and to complete their life and to have justice, true justice, rendered in their life and for all people. It’s such a comforting and encouraging teaching of the Scripture that is offered in no other source I have ever found.
It is the only rational explanation that I have found that allows God to both be perfectly just and perfect in mercy; because He has outlined in His Scriptures, the truth of the fact that He will give all men and women that ever lived an opportunity to have salvation and eternal life. So, it answers the big questions in life. We just have to believe it.
When Jesus Christ said you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, that is one of the most profound things I think that He said as, you know, we go through life. Human tendencies are to live in denial. We lie to ourselves. And yet, Christ said it’s the truth that sets you free. In our case, no matter how painful, no matter how difficult truth might be, unless you deal at truth, or with the truth, nothing can be reconciled or fixed. That’s actually a principle that applies much more broadly whether in business or just being successful in life. You cannot fix something unless you know what actually is wrong.
The Millers have spent many years reliving the events of that day back in 1986. It is a truth of life that no parent should ever have to bury a child. No parent ever really gets over such a loss.
From their own words, we have heard how they have managed this loss and moved on to create successful and meaningful lives. Susan and John have worked together in church ministry in Germany and today operate a thriving manufacturing business. Their son Daniel works in the family business as an engineer. Their daughter Mary Ann lives and works on the East Coast.
God’s Word tells them Jonathan will one day rise from the grave in a resurrection and have his time to experience a full life. The Miller family lives with this hope and know the words of Christ are true.
Those words say, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live… the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth…to the resurrection of life (John 5:25 John 5:25Truly, truly, I say to you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
American King James Version×, 29).
The God who allows us to suffer, comforts us with the truth and hope of a resurrection. Christ holds the keys to life and the grave. He is not blind to our suffering or deaf to our cries. He holds out the hope of a future life through a resurrection. This truth helps the Miller family live with loss in the hope of a future with their son. This same truth can anchor your life. It can give you reason, meaning and hope to work through suffering and loss and move on with your life.
Take hope in God’s promise. It is how we understand that we can move beyond tragedy.
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For Beyond Today, I’m Darris McNeely. Thanks for watching.