A God of Deliverance

wreck 1 by you.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the death of a family friend in a car accident, recalling a conversation at our dinner table later, during which one of my daughters asked, “Mom, why didn’t God save her?” I told her at the time that I didn’t know if or how God was involved in car wrecks, that I’d have to think about it and would try to give a Biblical answer later.

Since this tragedy, I’ve thought a great deal about tragedies and what a person of faith can rely upon in a fallen world. I know that I can rely on God’s love and care in the worst of circumstances. On this, the anniversary of my daughter’s death, I know about God’s sustenance and His faithfulness. I know, too, that I am not immune to tragedy just because I pray or hold faith in my heart.

But last night I was reminded of another perspective from many years ago, when my younger brother nearly died in an accident and I grappled with what and how to pray for him. That year, pregnant with my first child, I read Psalm 68:20, which says “God is to us a God of deliverance; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death.” At the time I couldn’t fathom how prayer worked, or why it worked for some and not for others; why some people’s brothers, sisters, mothers, or daughters died, and why others lived. But I did know that the psalmist wrote that escapes from death belong to the Lord. I felt, after reading this, that when an escape from death did occur, I could breathe a prayer of thanksgiving–yes, even though when an escape did not occur, I would wonder, just as my little girl wondered, “Why didn’t God save her?”

wreck 2 by you.

I was reminded of Psalm 68 last night because two of my children escaped death in the accident you see in these two photos above. My daughter, Fern, had gone to pick up my 16-year-old son, River, from the movies around 9:00 p.m. Earlier, as River waited with friends for the movie to start, he sent me a characteristic text message: “Oi, mum, I love you more than ice cream.”

Later, as we waited in the ER to have both kids checked out, he commented that it could have been the last message I’d ever received from him. “I know,” I replied soberly, “I know.”

iphone by you.

The next call I received from him was, of course, about the accident. One of the police officers called me after my son did, cautioning me not to “freak out when you see the car; it’s bad.” And it was, as you can see yourselves. There wasn’t even six inches of clearance between the roof and the seat where my son was sitting. “I knew we were wrecking,” he explained, “and I leaned over and lay down on the seat next to her, because I saw the telephone pole coming, and we were rolling.” The driver’s side fared no better, and it was impossible to see how my daughter had survived, either.

One of the EMSA workers at the scene–the one wearing a black t-shirt on the right, in the second photo–told me that they work hundreds of wrecks like this and have never seen one so bad that had no fatality or critical injury. “If you’re not a church goer,” he said, “I hope you go to church and thank God, because this is a miracle.” Still weak-kneed from the sight of the vehicle, I said, “I do thank God.”

All the way to the emergency room, I felt emotionally and mentally numb. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I couldn’t believe that I could have lost one or both of my children last night. I couldn’t believe that I might have been clinging to the last message my son had sent me, “Oi, mum I love you more than ice cream.” I tried not to imagine burying two more children.

My daughter’s little dog was with them and was thrown out of the vehicle. Our daughter Ivy and son-in-law, Ethan, took him to the veterinarian ER while we went to the human one. The dog was dazed, shocked, and bruised on one side, but he seems to be OK, too. A three pound chihuahua was tossed around a vehicle and then thrown outside it to the side of the road, and even he walked away. How does one account for that, if one wants to?

ico1 by you.

Yesterday afternoon, as I worked on the final article in my series about Olivia’s death, I sat in front of my computer feeling all the same feelings I’d felt the day she died. Suddenly, blood-curdling screams broke out! I sprang from my chair and rushed downstairs, only to find our resident drama queen, 9-year-old Juniper, screaming bloody murder because River was in the process of throwing her into the pool. I stomped outside, heart pounding, knees weak from the prospect of some critical injury involving gushing blood or protruding bones, and gave my two teenage boys a sound scolding.

“I want a 24-hour reprieve from all adolescent hijinks and shenanigans involving blood-curdling screams and possible emergency room visits, do you hear me?”

“Yes, mom,” they replied with barely-suppressed laughter.

“I mean it, boys! No more traumas for 24 hours!”

And in less than five hours I was, in fact, sitting in the emergency room.

I don’t know why my children escaped death last night and why somewhere, another mother’s child did not. I don’t know the theology of these things, but I do know that Psalm 119:68 has it right when it says of God, “Thou art good, and Thou doest good.” This was the first Bible verse I ever taught my children, because it speaks to the most foundational questions about God: What is God? What does God do? What is His character? I know that God is not the author of evil, and that God is good and full of mercy and lovingkindness, and that his energy causes everything in the universe to conspire and work for good. That’s all I know at the moment; and I know that today as I think of Olivia from time to time, I’ll think too of how different my life might be right now, had my children died in that accident last night.

17 responses

  1. Late in commenting (as usual, I think!) but wanted to say I’m so thankful your children were spared.

    Of course, you ask the question we all want an answer to, the question of “why?” and honestly, it’s the one that probably when we are in a position to ask it and actually get a viable answer (as in, sitting at His Feet), won’t care about the answer anymore. I think it is healthy to ask though, as it forces us to wonder about now why this or that happened, but more importantly, why are we here? Purpose. One way or the other there is purpose to it all. I have to have faith enough to believe that when I’m facing it though :)… I can’t imagine being THIS brave when my children have been in an accident.

    I hope you are taking time to breathe and take care of you in all this. Prayers…

  2. Oh, Eve, I think you would be within your rights to ask for a little break from major catastrophe, or even narrowly averted catastrophe!

    I think this is another time when things happen (or don’t) for unfathomable reasons. Maybe it was God’s will; maybe he’s busy with other things and it was their guardian angels helping out. Maybe it was just random chance, or good split-second decisions like River lying down in that moment. I’m not sure human consciousness can know the reasons why. But we can certainly rejoice that we have the chances that we do have.

  3. Eve,

    There’s predestination and then there’s predestination. Night follows day, winter autumn and so on. There are cycles to damn near everything, including the human life, although as science, medicine, and health have demonstrated, that cycle is malleable.

    Death is as much as part of the human cycle as life is. Given that, I think that those who are conscious, who are in touch with really being human, know when it is time to die. Pretty much everyone can point to at least a few times when by all rights they shouldn’t have made it through something— an accident, an illness or disease, childhood— yet somehow they did. Somewhere, Illusions I think, Richard Bach said that if you were still alive and on this earth you still had work to do.

    I think that as people become disconnected from themselves and therefore the cycles of life, they forget that they know when to die, that they control that, and that becomes relegated to chance, bad luck, fate, whatever.

    The below, from Barry Lopez in Of Wolves and Men, is interesting:

    “We are dealing with a different kind of death from the one men know. When the wolf “asks” for the life of another animal, he is responding to something in that animal that says, “My life is strong. It is worth asking for.” …The death is not tragic. It has dignity.”

    “Consider the Indian again. Native American cultures in general stressed that there was nothing wrong with dying, one should only strive to die well, that is consciously choose to die even if it is inevitable. The ability to see death as less than tragic was rooted in a different perception of ego: a person was simultaneously indispensable and dispensable (in an appropriate way) in this world. In the conversation of death is the striving for a death that is appropriate.”

    I know that at my funeral it is going to be a three-drink minimum just to get in the door and there will be an open bar.

  4. Awwww, David. Your last paragraph there makes me all teary. And it underscores what the Librarian wrote earlier in this comment thread, “Have the courage to live today today.” Wow, I loved that. My 16-year-old does that–isn’t that one of the (few) gifts of being 16? (ha ha, just kidding…. 16-year-olds are great!).

    As I revive my commitment to try to live without regrets, as I lived while my daughter was dying, I wonder if we can’t all just try to do that? And tell people we love them, if we do.

    And remain mercifully silent if we don’t love them. ;o)

    As for being a parent, in some way I think we’re all parents, either to ourselves or to others whenever we act as containers for the emotions of others. That loving parent, what does he or she say and do when tragedy occurs? It may be lame, but when tragedy occurred around us a few weeks ago, my best answer at the time to my children was to cry off and on for several days, express my grief and sorrow for the family who survived our friend’s death, and to say “I don’t know” when I didn’t. And, over all, to continually express my confidence in the love of God and in his ability to contain all our pain and sorrow. As Librarian said, this is the only life we have here; what comes after is another thing, but our job today is to live in today.

  5. I can’t even imagine how this must have felt to you and to your family … nor how many deep questions are brought up by tragedy narrowly averted. I am fortunate or perhaps unfortunate to have had a life that hasn’t been impacted by huge detonations of unfathomable fate or destiny; it’s been impacted instead by large acts of ignorance or deliberate cruelty by other people. I wonder, reading your post, how I would react to a sudden externally-caused tragedy in my life.

    The reason I’m wondering is that I think, especially for children, an idea of God is formed based on how adults model power and mercy in the child’s life. It would be hard for me, based on my own adult models, not to see God as cruel, capricious, even vindictive or persecuting, if I or someone I loved were stricken by a sudden accident, illness, or other seemingly random and life-altering misfortune.

    So anyway, your post here really made me wonder about my own conception of God, and the ways in which I really don’t value my own life. I can’t remember the last time I told my mother I loved her more than ice cream, though I see her every day.

  6. Helen, Deb, Charlotte, Ruth and all, thank you for your comments and love. I’m so glad I didn’t have to come here to post about the death of one or both of my children, or about their critical injuries.

  7. Librarian and RG, interesting that you each say the same thing. I can’t agree more with you, Librarian, when you suggest that we ought to live each day as if it’s our last; this is similar to saying that we ought not to assume that it isn’t our last. My 16-year-old son, the one who survived the accident, does live that way. When a wave of love overcomes him, he hugs someone or says “I love you” or sends a text message, “Oi mum, I love you more than ice cream.” I tend to forget to remember these things. And I have to agree that it takes a certain courage and level of consciousness to live that way consistently.

    Librarian, your stories about stray bullets interested me, because if extrapolated they apply to all sorts of incidents in life. Once I was driving down the highway, and a truck in front of me carrying a huge bundle of 2×4 lumber dropped one, which came flying straight at me. I couldn’t avoid it, and it looked as if it would fly right through the window and into the head of my toddler, sitting in his car seat in the middle of the back seat. I felt I was watching in slow motion as it lost altitude and slid right under my car. I watched it slide along the interstate in my rearview mirror and could only say “wow.”

    RG and Librarian, you both say that part of there being a time for everything is the idea that there is, in fact, a time to die. I struggle with that. I struggle with it, because if that’s the case, then, what clock or cosmic timekeeper is keeping time for us? The Bible says that our days were written in a book before there was even one of them; that speaks to predestination and I struggle with that idea, too (not to take us down a rabbit trail but. . . ).

    So, no, we don’t blame God for the wind or for the fact that the ridge was where your friend would crash into it, RG, or for not preventing your friend from going. I’m reminded of Christian singer Keith Green, who died with four or five of his children in a plane crash, because they had too much weight in the plane. Human error; but wasn’t his life in God’s hands that day, too?

    So I don’t have answers like I used to, but I do have that question: are my days numbered? Or, does God orchestrate good for us after something bad, which he did not orchestrate, happens?

    I’m not sure what knowing any absolute answers to these questions would do for me; but I wonder about them, anyway. And I do thank God for his mercies, because I really don’t know if my husband and I could endure losing another child right now. I work to become the sort of person who could accept another loss like that with my faith and self intact, but at the moment I’ve arrived at merely acknowledging the possibility mentally, as I’m not immune to or above great tragedy any more than the next person. But judging from our reactions to this accident last night (both hubby and I were sleepless), evidently we’re not where we might be. There’s still a lot to learn.

  8. Alida, thank you for the quote from Rabindarath Tagore. It’s so good, and I agree that it would make a good morning prayer. I’m going to print it out for sure.

  9. Wow! Praise God for His deliverance.

    I just wrote on my blog about a friend who died in a plane crash yesterday.

    One answer in my friend’s case is that he apparently engaged in risky behavior. Flying an airplane is risky to start with, but he apparently tried to fly over a mountain ridge and didn’t quite make it. Another pilot friend who was on the search team told me that to be safe, he should have approached the ridge from a much greater altitude.

    Should I blame God for an error in judgment that my friend made? Apparently the wind was strong in that area yesterday, which probably was the immediate cause of the crash. My friend thought he was going to make it until a downdraft prevented the climb he was attempting. Should I blame God for the wind? Life on earth couldn’t survive without cooling winds. Without wind there would also not be rain. Only a foolish person would pray that there be no wind.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think God could have prevented the accident. He could have moved the mountain or rearranged the wind or whispered in my friend’s ear to divert and ascend to a higher altitude before going over. He could have made him too sick to fly that day. (And then somebody would complain that God allowed him to be sick.)

    I believe that it was ordained that my friend should die yesterday–through some combination of God’s foreknowledge and His sovereign will. I believe that it was part of a big plan that I don’t fully understand. I also believe that it is part of the lifeplan of every person who was affected by it.

  10. There is REAL wisdom here but I wonder if it is seen.

    When I was in Baghdad a soldier sitting in a mess tent was hit by a round that had traveled from god knows where, through the tent wall, hit him in the arm and fell to the ground, its kinetic energy expended, without breaking the skin. In another instance, a round fell out the sky and killed a soldier walking within the supposedly safe confines of a base. The doctor said that had he been standing only a quarter inch in ANY direction he probably would have lived.

    Is Life capricious? Personally, I don’t think so, though is sure as hell seems that way sometimes. I could regale you with several fables/parables speaking to the topic but don’t see the point. Because the point is that when it is your time it is your time and nothing in the world will change that. And the point of that is, that if you get caught up in the fear of it all (and it’s easy to do, especially when you believe/are living for others), you freeze up; you don’t spend your talents/love/life like there’s no tomorrow, you bury them as if tomorrow will always come for you. And that is because you hold onto the illusion that somehow, tomorrow is guaranteed. It is my supposition that if you are not prepared for each night to be your last— if you have not expressed whatever is within you, whether it be love or discontent— than you are not living at your fullest. Most people cannot do this, paradox being an anathema, and sure as hell uncomfortable. Who cares? The history of the world is full of those who could not see beyond the status quo; I hardly have to list their injustices here.

    Be different, dare, break out. Have the courage to live today today. Learn to live with the paradox of your life and the certain uncertainty your mortality, as well as that of those around you, of loving and loathing (possibly a harsh word) those closest to you at the same time and finding a way to express each and both. Whatever you believe in the way of an afterlife, this is all that you have in this lifetime, and is what you will be judged upon.

    “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

    —Edward Abbey

  11. I’m reading “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross M.D. The very first chapter has the following quote:

    “Let me not pray to be sheltered from danger but to be fearless in facing them.
    Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.
    Let me not look for allies in life’s battefield but to my own strength.
    Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
    Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.”

    Rabindranath Tagore
    Fruit-Gathering

    I thought about you and everything you’ve been through, everything so many parents go through. Then I thought of my againg parents, what they’ve been through, what still awaits them as they grow old, what awaits me as they grow old. A had about a million thoughts about parents and parenting and joy and suffering.

    I thought this has to be my morning prayer, every morning. Stuff happens that we can’t comprehend, asking that those things not happen is just unrealistic I think. Asking for the strength to see it through, now that’s a prayer!

  12. OH MY GOD!!! I am shaking and in tears and pretty close to throwing up.

    I don’t even know what I could do to help you.

    I’m sorry this sounds trite, but I am praying for peace in your household.

  13. Oh woman, I can imagine. I’m glad your kids are fine, alive, well, bothering you. I don’t know how much god has to do with day to day life. I see life as both random and pre-ordained at that same time which is not possible but it seems that way to my small mind.

    Sending you a hug and I’m so thankful your family is safe.

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