You may know the story of a Michigan family who lived on a houseboat on the Amazon. The boat was their home base to share the gospel with villagers who lived along the river.
One day the family (Veronica “Roni” Bowers and her infant daughter Charity, husband Jim, and six-year-old son Cory) boarded a small plane, a Cessna, for Peru. Unbeknownst to them, they were being followed by a United States CIA observation plane. The CIA contacted the Peruvian Air Force because they believed the small plane was carrying drugs out of the country. They alerted the Peruvians for a possible shoot down if necessary. A Peruvian Air Force fighter jet met the Cessna in the air and tried to make radio contact but since the passenger plane was on different radio frequency confusion between the CIA and Peruvian Air force ensued as to what to do. In the confusion the fighter pilot let loose over 50 rounds. Roni took a bullet to her heart and her seven-month-old adopted daughter, Charity, took a bullet to the head. Both were killed. The Cessna pilot, Kevin Donaldson, was shot in the leg but managed to crash land in a river. Roni’s husband and her son were not injured.
At the funeral, the husband, Jim Bowers, told how his wife had been killed by “a sovereign bullet, fired by the King.”
The missionary husband could have said a harsh word about that Peruvian pilot who pressed the trigger, taking the life of his wife and daughter, mistaking them all for drug smugglers. Instead, the surviving husband spoke nobly.
Most followers of Jesus believe that God is in control of this universe that he has made. Believing that, do you agree with Mr. Bowers that God fired the bullet?
Did God, in all his sovereignty, essentially fire the rounds that killed his people? Are we to believe that this is the most solid Christian doctrine? Is this how you understand God’s sovereignty—that if it happened, God did it?
I know other missionaries who have died. I know one American who in China was given a lethal dose of rat poison in his tea because he would not stop sharing the gospel at the school where he taught.
Was that man killed by a pot of sovereign rat poison, poured by the King? Is this the full Christian view of martyrdom and death? To me, in a word, no. At least I don’t think so.
A story is told of Francis Schaeffer who founded L’Abri in Switzerland. Schaeffer had a friend whose son had been killed in a cycling accident in France. At the funeral the father preached with immense hope and courage. He spoke with great assurance from Romans 8 which says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28).”
People who heard the father’s sermon said that they were struck by his unflinching public hope in the face of what could have been an occasion to exhibit despair. Schaeffer said, however, “I hope he felt the same inside.”
A few weeks later the father called Mr. Schaeffer and asked if he could come by for a talk. The two met. Os Guiness, a member of The Falls Church Anglican, in Virginia, happened to be in a room next door and through the thin Swiss walls heard some of that conversation.
Mr. Guiness said the father’s words were dark. His previous package of hope publicly opened at the funeral was now rewrapped in despair. Inside the father was wanting to know, why had God done this? Was God a monster for taking his son?
Out of respect, Os Guiness then left the room not wanting to overhear another private word.
Later, Schaeffer spoke about that meeting and said that this is how he answered the man. He said, I took him to John 11, where Jesus is at the tomb of his good friend Lazarus. Schaeffer said, many good English readers only see the famous shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” But they miss the other expression of incredibly deep emotion. Three times it says that Jesus was “furiously indignant.”
That expression, Mr. Schaeffer said, comes from a Greek word to describe war horses that rear on their hind legs ready to charge into battle. Right before they do they snort through their nostrils. And that word of snorting came to mean a deep human expression of furious indignation.
This is the exact word used of Jesus. He doesn’t thank God that Lazarus was struck by a sovereign disease sent by the King. Jesus doesn’t thank God for the glorious and noble death of his friend.
Instead, Jesus, the one who had made the world beautiful and unbroken, acknowledges through his tears and deep “snorting,” that his planet is now marred and splintered.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept (John 11:33-35).
It was as though it was never meant to be.
Jesus was God’s son incarnate. But, here Jesus weeps like the rest of us. Why didn’t he just say, “Well, all things work for good for those who love the Lord”?
So, how do you wrestle with this issue?
When a child of God dies, even taken in violence, do you think they just took a silver bullet, fired by the King? Or, as Jesus did, can you simply weep?
Our God reigns, and our God cries. Somehow, I think that’s something to celebrate.