When Time and Chance Happen to You

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When Time and Chance Happen to You

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It was a warm, summer morning in New Bedford, Ohio. Soft breezes gently swayed the leaves on the maple tree in the front yard of our home. It was July 17, 1986. I had the day off work. It was promising to be an enjoyable one with my family.

The children were up out of bed, and Jonathan, our 1-year-old, was bouncing on my knee.

My wife enjoyed one of those peak moments of life that morning: Jonathan said “Mama” for the first time.

Later that same morning Daniel and Mary Ann, our two older children, watched as I adjusted the brakes on our Pontiac. In spite of busy fingers, dirty faces and countless questions, I completed the job in record time.

Then the children stepped back so I could test the brakes. I got in the car, shifted to reverse and slowly began to back up when I felt an abrupt and unexpected bump.

The children screamed.

What toy had I run over? I wondered.

So I continued to back up, expecting to see a smashed little red wagon. Instead I saw, there in the driveway, the lifeless body of Jonathan.

I jumped out of the car, and as I ran to my youngest son many questions raced through my mind. How could this have happened? How did he get under the car without my seeing him? I thought Jonathan was still in the house! How would I tell my wife? How could I comfort the children when I had just killed their brother?

My wife came running as the children looked on stunned. We stood there, numb in shock and grief, as we realized Jonathan was dead. What could we do? Where could we go for help?

Seek God, I thought. But then I wondered, Will God support me when I have just killed my son?

We called paramedics and accompanied our children into the house. A day that had begun so pleasantly had become a nightmare.

Tragedy Becomes Real

We live in a world of tragedies. We read of them in the newspaper and see them on television. We think they happen to other people but not to us. I know now, as the police reminded me that awful day, that these things can happen to anyone. The grim reality is that, even as you are reading this article, someone somewhere is experiencing a tragedy similar to ours.

How can we deal with such devastating circumstances? How do you pull through without your life disintegrating? Can you ever again enjoy life after such a tragedy, or are you doomed to suffer through an endless series of nightmares?

From experience I can say that, yes, you can eventually enjoy life, even after the worst of tragedies. Eventually the pain subsides. If handled properly, the memory of the tragedy can serve as a motivation that will bring positive changes to your life.

Perhaps this article—a message from one who has been there—will bring hope and encouragement to people who have experienced similar trials.

Time and Chance

The first thing that comes to mind in the aftermath of a tragedy is the big question why. Why did this happen? Why did it happen to me? Why did it happen to my loved one?

On the heels of those thoughts and emotions come the if-onlies. If only I had done this or not done that. If only I had known my baby was under the car.

But the reality is that I did not know. If I had known, the accident would not have occurred.

King Solomon pondered these questions when he set his heart “to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 1:13 Ecclesiastes 1:13And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail has God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.
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). After his study of the vagaries and uncertainties of human experience, he concluded that “time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11 Ecclesiastes 9:11I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
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).

Time and chance had paid us a visit. Jonathan, whom I had last seen as a bouncing baby in the house, was lured by curiosity to creep underneath the car. Why didn’t he come to the side of the car where I was working so I would have been aware he was there? Why did he crawl beneath the car where I couldn’t see him? How did he get there in the first place? Why did he have to be positioned in the path of the tire the moment I backed up?

God intervenes powerfully for His people on many occasions. But, as Solomon pointed out, time and chance affect us all.

Help is Promised

When time and chance happen to His people, God sometimes chooses not to intervene when He sees that His intervention would not work to our ultimate good. Nevertheless, He promises that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
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).

Furthermore, God promises we will not suffer anything that is not common to man or more than we can bear. Most important, God always provides a way of escape to endure such trials (1 Corinthians 10:13 1 Corinthians 10:13There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
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).

These promises are certain, and my family found great comfort in them. Yes, God allows trials for our ultimate good, but He always provides a way out. Often in the aftermath of a tragedy we find ourselves in a state of shock. We need something as solid as a rock to anchor to—and that rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4 1 Corinthians 10:4And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
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). Friends can help, but ultimately God is the One who sees us through and heals our wounds.

Jesus Christ knows that a natural human emotion is grief. We mourn when a loved one dies, especially when one dies unexpectedly. In the hours just before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples He would “go away”; He would die. “But because I have said these things to you,” He said, “sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away …” (John 16:5-7 John 16:5-7 5 But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asks me, Where go you? 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you.
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).

Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when they heard their Leader say this? But then He gave the key to overcoming tragedy and overcoming long-term mental and emotional distress: “. . . For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send [it] to you” (John 16:7 John 16:7Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you.
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).

Jesus was sending help, and that help would guide, strengthen, comfort and empower His people at all times, especially when they were in trouble. This helper is none other than the very power of God, the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:19 Romans 15:19Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about to Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
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).

Luke wrote that the brethren in the early Church, after experiencing great persecution and witnessing the martyrdom of Stephen, “had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31 Acts 9:31Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
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; see also Acts 4:1-31 Acts 4:1-31 1 And as they spoke to the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came on them, 2 Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold to the next day: for it was now eventide. 4 However, many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. 5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, 6 And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set them in the middle, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have you done this? 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said to them, You rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, 9 If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the weak man, by what means he is made whole; 10 Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him does this man stand here before you whole. 11 This is the stone which was set at nothing of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. 14 And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle has been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. 17 But that it spread no further among the people, let us straightly threaten them, that they speak from now on to no man in this name. 18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, judge you. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. 22 For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was showed. 23 And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, you are God, which have made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: 25 Who by the mouth of your servant David have said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 27 For of a truth against your holy child Jesus, whom you have anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28 For to do whatever your hand and your counsel determined before to be done. 29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant to your servants, that with all boldness they may speak your word, 30 By stretching forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of your holy child Jesus. 31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
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; 5:17-42; 6:8-15; 7:1-60).

Paul wrote to Timothy to urge him “to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7 2 Timothy 1:6-7 6 Why I put you in remembrance that you stir up the gift of God, which is in you by the putting on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
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).

During a time of tragedy, more than anything else we need love, comfort and a strong, sound mind filled with wisdom to maneuver through the emotional jungle. Such help is readily available. God promises His Spirit and a liberal supply of wisdom to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13 Luke 11:13If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
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; James 1:5 James 1:5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him.
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).

Accepting Reality

The first step toward a healthy recovery from debilitating tragedy is to accept the reality of what happened. This is a necessary step, even though it may seem easier, at first, not to face it.

Reality can be excruciating, even nightmarish, but it is necessary to deal openly with events and discuss them, especially with your immediate family and close friends. You need not be ashamed of your emotions.

I remember recounting the event to a close friend and finding great comfort in doing so.

In our case the whole family was at the scene of the accident. Two of our children saw their beloved younger brother die. The experience was traumatic for them, but children have an amazing ability to come to grips with abnormal circumstances if they are simply told the truth. They accept reality and God’s promises with an inspiring innocent faith that adults would do well to develop.

Our children immediately accepted and were soothed by God’s promise of a future resurrection for their little brother.

Knowing the truth about life after death was of great comfort to us and gave us hope. We knew our son would live again. This reassuring knowledge helped us accept the reality of what had happened.

Pitfalls to Avoid

In charting your way through the maze of emotions, you need to avoid certain things. Otherwise you may cause yourself much additional pain.

The first thing our pastor told my family when he arrived at our home was, “Whatever you do, don’t start blaming each other or God.” I will be forever grateful for this wise counsel. It helped us avoid many pitfalls.

It is only natural to want to blame something or someone for what happened, but that is a useless, unproductive waste of time. No matter how much blame or accusation is leveled against something or someone, it will not change the reality of what occurred. It will only extend the emotional anguish and prolong the process of accepting what happened.

This, of course, does not mean that if criminal activity were involved appropriate legal action should not be pursued, but leave that to the lawyers and courts. Don’t allow a court of accusers to convene in your mind. It will only perpetuate the misery.

It is especially important not to accuse or lay blame if a member of the family appears to have been the cause of the accident. In our situation this was the case. This could have been fertile ground for accusations, blame and hurtful arguments. However, we realized we needed each other’s encouragement and comfort, not accusations. This realization saved us untold grief and greatly strengthened our relationship.

The grim reality was that our situation was exactly as Solomon described—a product of time and chance. As the police officer told me that day, sometimes no matter how careful you are accidents will happen.

Dealing with Emotions

At times like this many strong emotions come forth, ranging from anger to guilt, from anxiety to utter despair. These are entirely normal during bereavement. It is important to bring and keep them out in the open until the healing is complete. Make sure communication stays strong in the family. Discuss the tragedy as often as necessary to allow each family member to come to terms with it.

This is especially important with children. They may be little, but their minds hold an amazing capacity to discern fact from fiction. They find comfort in facts but feel insecure and distressed when they hear vague answers.

Emotions are a natural reaction to human experience. They help us develop sensitivity and compassion for others. We begin to understand why and how God is sensitive to our needs.

Allowing Tragedy to Change You

After you have accepted the reality of what has occurred, it is important to ask yourself some questions: How can this help me make positive changes in my life? What can I possibly learn from this experience that will improve my life and the lives of others? What could be the reasons God allowed me to suffer like this?

Notice the words of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3 2 Corinthians 1:3Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
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). This is an apt description of God, and in the next verse the apostle gives one reason God allows us to suffer: He “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.
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These are insightful words indeed! God expects us to use our experiences to comfort others in the same way He comforts us. In the process of doing so we find the greatest comfort of all—joy. You will find joy as you reach out to others, comforting and encouraging them with the sensitivity you have to their circumstance because of your own experience.

The amazing thing is that you will find this will speed your healing process like ointment in a wound. This is why Paul could say: “I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 7:4 2 Corinthians 7:4Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.
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The second great benefit that can come from a tragic experience is an unrelenting motivation to enter God’s Kingdom. The death of a loved one should naturally fill us with a sense of obligation and responsibility to seek that Kingdom—if not for our own benefit, certainly for the benefit of the deceased.

For me, the death of our son has served as the single biggest motivation in my life. It has helped me focus on what is most important: seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
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). When we seek the Kingdom of God, He promises us an abundant life (John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
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). A better and more meaningful family life is sure to result when you focus on the Kingdom of God and use your experiences to help others by showing compassion and encouraging them.

Looking Forward

The final step is to look to the future. The Bible is replete with promises of a future life for the deceased. Jesus himself said, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” and that “the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 11:25 John 11:25Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
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; 5:28-29). The prophet Ezekiel saw the resurrection of the dead in a vision from God and graphically recorded it for us in Ezekiel 37.

I remember my first thought when I saw my son dead in the driveway: He will live again. He will be resurrected to life.

It is important to talk about the deceased as years go by, to keep them a part of the family. We have had many inspiring discussions with our children about our son and their brother and what things will be like in the new life. They know and understand God’s promise of a better life in this world to come.

Zechariah prophesied a time when “old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:4-5 Zechariah 8:4-5 4 Thus said the LORD of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. 5 And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.
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).

This is most assuredly not a description of Jerusalem today, but it is the sure reality of the world tomorrow.

Time and chance are a reality we face. They are simply a part of life. But, with God’s loving help, His healing comfort, tragic experiences can motivate us to a more positive and abundant life, one that is focused on the Kingdom of God. GN

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