These questions are legitimate ones. What can we learn as a profession from these unspeakable tragedies (and others like it)? Many continue to ask, "Where was God at Lakewood?" In Dallas? Why did He allow the deaths or our brethren? We can ask the same question about many other tragedies that have occurred both before and since (see again last week's Bible study -- "
An Officer's Last Sermon
" on the
of slain Officer
). In re-sharing a message by my friend Major
Law Officer Magazine
, I hope to provide
God's own answer
this timeless question while also creating a path for a creating an eternal legacy in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.
I am a Police Captain [MC: now Major] for a major police department in Oklahoma and I have done this job since 1993. Before that, I grew up with my father who retired after doing the same job for 27 years. As a police officer, I am keenly aware that every day of the year will be the worst day of someone's life.
I have in my lifetime up until now seen first hand as a police officer what tragedy does to those in our profession and the impact it has on the families of those officers.
I was just five years old on September 24, 1976, but I remember my father weeping when he found out his good friend and co-worker was brutally murdered when he stopped a man that was wanted for murder. Fort Smith Patrol
Officer Randy Basnett
died that day. He left behind a pregnant wife, parents and siblings.
Almost two years later, May 26, 1978, my wife was just four years old and she has similar memories when her father, Oklahoma Highway Patrol
Lieutenant James Pat Grimes
was ambushed by two cowards with a rifle. He died that day and left behind his daughter, wife, parents and siblings. We are reminded daily of the pain and struggle that tragedy has caused.
And on June 10, 1996, I was a 24 year old Tulsa Police Officer and was less than one mile away when
Senior Patrol Officer Dick Hobson
was shot and killed by a robbery suspect. I helped load Dick into an ambulance that night and several hours later he was pronounced dead. I collapsed and wept.
Then on Sunday, November 29, 2009, I was made aware of the
tragedy in the State of Washington
. Four officers from the Lakewood Police Department, a 100 member force, were sitting in a coffee shop doing paperwork on their laptops (something I have done many times, something that probably you have done, whether in law enforcement or not).
A man entered the coffee house and brutally murdered all four officers. Early reports revealed that while two of the officers were likely killed instantly, the other two may have fought back and returned fire (as we all know, the suspect was engaged and put down by a Seattle officer during the manhunt that followed).
The four officers killed that day --
Sergeant Mark Renninger
-- left behind multiple children, spouses, parents, siblings and a community and country in mourning. It was the fourth multiple officer fatality by gunfire that year alone and the second ambush in the Seattle area in the previous thirty days.
It is unimaginable tragedy and it is in this tragedy that one may ask
where was God?
Why did it have to happen?
Why does God permit suffering and tragedy?
These are all valid and legitimate questions and quite frankly our minds simply cannot grasp all of these answers. It is OK to say "I don't know" but to say "I don't know" does not mean that God is not present, that He is not completely sovereign in everything.
Hebrews 1:3 tells us that God "
upholds the universe by the word of His power." The Greek word for "upholds" means "to carry".
This concept of "carry" brings the concept of movement or progress. Jesus Christ is directing and carrying all things towards His sovereign purpose. God carries and is responsible for the entire universe.
Book of Job gives us the ultimate lesson in regards to tragedy and God's Sovereignty. Here we have Job, who was held in high esteem for his righteousness and was even compared to Noah and Daniel and here he is going through unimaginable suffering and it is God who is doing it.
Job 23:13-14, says:
"But He is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What He desires, that He does. For He will complete what He appoints for me, and many such things are in His mind."
There it is, "
What He desires, He does."
God does exactly what He desires.
Psalm 22:28 says, "
For kingship belongs to the LORD, and He rules over the nations."
Isaiah 46:10 says that God declares "
the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose."
God is in control. He always has been and He always will be. He is in control on your best days, your bad days and your worst day.
God does permit tragedy and the tragedy that morning....yes, He was in control.
Now, this may not be comfortable to you. You may say "I don't want that God. I want nothing to do with a God that would permit this sort of tragedy, this sort of pain."
Let me be clear about this. You have no choice. This is indeed the God of the Bible, the Only God, The God that came to earth, lived a perfect life, was crucified and rose on the third day. You may say that you don't want that God but there is no other God. A rejection of this God means punishment in hell, an eternity separated without Him.
John Stott, a highly respected Christian author, said this about suffering:
"The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can be reconciled with God's Justice and love."
It is true; it will not take you long when talking to an unbeliever for the issue of evil and suffering to be brought up. It has been described as the "Ultimate Trump Card."
Evil, some will say, is absolute proof that God does not exist. Atheists grab on to it. Agnostics grab on to it and for the professing Christian, suffering will test whether you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior or whether you are simply a religious or moral person. You see religion and morality will not sustain you in the midst of trials, pain and suffering. Only Christ will. Jesus Christ is the only one that can sustain you.
Pastor John Piper says that "Wimpy Christians won't survive the days ahead."
Of course there is no such thing as a wimpy Christian. He is referring to those that claimthe Christian faith but do not have Jesus as their Lord. He is not the center of their life but rather merely a "Genie" in a bottle that they bring out when they decide He is needed. This is not saving faith!
Now that we know that God does indeed permit tragedy, why does He allow it to occur?
Romans 8:28 is our model for this question. It says "
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Now here is the Apostle Paul saying essentially that all things that occur are working together for good. Paul was keenly aware of tragedy and suffering. Prison, shipwrecks, beatings, hunger and eventual martyrdom. This was Paul's life.
Surely he can't mean tragedies such as the one in Lakewood? How else should you interpret the word "All." I am not a theologian but I know what that word means. It means everything that happens and, in this context of scripture, it means that everything that happens will be for the good for those that are chosen to be saved by God.
Could that mean God's children could suffer? Could that mean His people could die? Could lose love ones? Could suffer enormous pain? Yes, that is what "All" means.
From that morning's incident, what is or will be working together for good?
It is ok to say "I don't know" here. We don't always know. What good came out of the death of my dad's partner? What about my wife losing her father at the age of four? What good could come out of the tragedy that morning?
It isn't always clear to us and God owes us no explanation. On the other hand, sometimes it is clear.
On May 8, 2006, Fairfax County, Virginia Police
Detective Vicky Armel
was just 40 years old when she was gunned down in the parking lot of her police station.
Master Police Officer Michael Garbarino
was killed in the same incident.
Vicki left behind a son, a daughter and a husband. And just like that morning in Lakewood, you may ask, "Why?".
And our God, in the most gracious manner showed us a little of
Romans 8 in this incident.
Vicky's funeral occurred during National Police Week in Washington D.C. Once a year, in the Month of May, thousands of police officers gather in Washington D.C. to pay tribute to the fallen officers from the previous year. In May 2010, we paid tribute to the four officers that paid the ultimate sacrifice for their community that morning in Lakewood.
I was there that year, in 2006. I knew officers that actually went to Vicky's funeral. Because Fairfax County was so close to Washington D.C., thousands of officers from around the world went to Vicky's funeral and that testimony she gave a few years earlier was played back for thousands of officers to hear. [MC: click on
The Vicky Armel Story
(may not load on a cell phone) or see
Witnessing at Her Own Funeral
Thousands of officers heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the mouth of a slain police detective that day. At that very moment, Vicky was in Heaven with her Savior and Lord while thousands here on Earth heard her share the Gospel!
Vicky's death was tragic but God in His love, mercy and kindness, works all things together for good.
Now these "
all things" that the Apostle Paul discusses includes evil things and that brings us to the final question: Why does evil persist and why does God permit this evil to affect so many lives?
Evil is anything that violates God's moral will. The first human evil occurred when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden and that original sin is passed down to all of us. Indeed,
Romans 3:10-12 says that "
no one is righteous, no one seeks for God, no one does good." Verse 12 finishes with these words, "
not even one."
Now that is hard to take isn't it? No one, not even one is good. That includes me and you.
While our evil will likely not manifest into the actions of the coward that morning in the State of Washington, we are indeed evil. It is our nature.
Jeremiah 17:9 says that "
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
We are quick to see what happened that morning and say that it was evil...that it was pure evil.
But do we see that evil in ourselves? We minimize our sin because unlike that morning, we don't actually see the pain that it causes. It is easy to see this or another tragedy and identify the behavior as evil but our actions, our behaviors, while not as high profile or outrageous to the world, they are absolutely an abomination to a Holy God.
Anything that violates God's nature is evil and that includes our sin. Now some of us, including me, have committed sins that have hurt others, hurt those we love and we see very clearly the evil that we do but we must understand that whether we see the results of our sin in others or not, our sin is an outrage to God.
Now we can't afford to get this wrong and trust me, there are many, many that have this wrong. Just about anyone you ask will tell you that they are basically a good person. Millions are walking the earth thinking that if they do more good than bad, they will find favor with God. This is not true and these false beliefs will damn more to hell than all the bars in this world combined.
Do you still think you are a good person? Let's take a look at just some of God's standards.
Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever used God's name in vain? Have you always honored your parents? Jesus said that if you look with lust, you have committed adultery in your heart (
Matthew 5:28) and he elevates anger to murder (
The point here is that you are evil. I am evil and while your evil may not manifest itself into suffering that you can see, it is nevertheless hated by God and will be punished by God.
At the age of 25, in the year 1750, John Newton was the commander of an English slave ship. He anchored his ship off of the African coast and purchased slaves. As many as 600 slaves would lay down like logs at the bottom of his ship as they would sail to the Caribbean and sell the slaves.
John Newton raped female slaves, he permitted his employees to rape them. Hundreds would die in the journey and John Newton reveled in hating God and everything He stood for. That is of course until he experienced a conversion to Christ. God radically changed his heart and saved him for the judgment that was awaiting him for his evil deeds. Newton spent the last half of his life pastoring a church and speaking out against the slave trade.
Just before his death, at the age of 82, Newton said this: "My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior."
You may recognize the famous hymn written by John Newton:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I'm found, Was blind but now I see.
What about you? Are you blind? Are you lost or can you see?
If you can see the evil and the sin that you are guilty of, then God is working in you. He has made you aware of your need of a Savior. Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation and He saves wretches like John Newton, like me and like you.
This incident that fateful morning in Washington was horrible. It was tragic. It was unthinkable and while we may search for answers, there really is only one answer.
His name is Jesus Christ. He is the sovereign God over all of the Universe and he came to earth on a mission. To save sinners and to redeem our evil deeds. He was perfect, spotless and he was slain on a tree.
Jesus, the God Man, rose from the grave three days later and today He sits at the right hand of the Father and is calling for you to repent, turn from your sins and believe in Him. To trust Him.
Call on the Lord Jesus Christ. Call on Him to save you and follow Him the rest of your days, during the good times and the bad.
Well said Travis! In light of his message, consider now the title I gave for this study: "Legacy Through Tragedy." Because Vicky Armel (for example) surrendered her life to Christ as Lord and Savior (and then shared her salvation testimony that has inspired others to do repent and come to a genuine saving faith in Christ), she has left a lasting LEGACY in the midst of TRAGEDY. And while I don't know where our slain Lakewood brethren stood with Christ, their deaths can still be a source of lasting (the eternal kind) legacy for the living if they inspire them to "repent and believe" (see below) in Christ alone for their salvation.
So where then do you stand today? What will be your legacy? If you died today, do you KNOW where you will spend eternity (no "second chances" once this life ends -- Hebrews 9:27-28)? If you don't know or are unsure, I implore you to consider both Travis' message and the following with a prayer that you will choose wisely (your eternal destiny depends on it)!