The horrible news of yet another terrorist attack – this time in Paris, the iconic “city of light” – fills the headlines globally. In this age of mass information and communication our screens are inundated with unwanted scenes of carnage and pitiable sorrow. Beyond globally publicized tragedies – some natural and some manmade – there are the innumerable smaller trials that afflict ordinary folks. We all know people that are ill with cancer; or dealing with the loss of a loved one; or struggling with the breakup of their families (divorce, wayward children, private addictions to multiple soul-destroying vices, etc.); or enduring financial reverses such as the loss of a job.
Seven Billion Sufferers In Need Of A Deliverer
What can one say? Such difficulties are endemic in this fallen world and evil is all too real. That’s where the Lord’s faithfulness comes in: He is an inexhaustible salve to heal the wounds of a broken creation, filled with countless sad stories emanating from sinfully defective people. Only the knowledge of His sovereign control over the world, overruling wickedness and its attendant suffering, can give us peace to endure and confidence to overcome. Just as the Man of Sorrows who died on the cross is now the risen Lord of glory, even so this present world of calamity is going to give way to an unshakeable kingdom of glory, righteousness, and justice.[i]
A History Of Violence
Earlier this week, as I devotionally read through a somewhat obscure genealogy in 1 Chronicles, I was reminded afresh of the Almighty’s providential mercies towards His people. Amidst numerous unfamiliar names, 1 Chronicles 7:20-24 this remarkable vignette appears:
The sons of Ephraim were Shuthelah, Bered his son, Tahath his son, Eladah his son, Tahath his son, Zabad his son, Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead. The men of Gath who were born in that land killed them because they came down to take away their cattle. Then Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And when he went in to his wife, she conceived and bore a son; and he called his name Beriah, because tragedy had come upon his house. Now his daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon and Uzzen Sheerah.
The quotidian activities of earning a living in mundane agricultural pursuits were suddenly disrupted by violence. Cattle raiders murdered Ephraim’s sons – his heirs and earthly hope for the future. As a father, I cannot imagine the grief that such an event would bring. No stranger to this type of pain[ii], Matthew Henry writes: “Nothing brings the aged to the grave with more sorrow than their following the young that descend from them to the grave first, especially if in blood. It is often the burden of those that live to be old that they see those go before them of whom they said, These same shall comfort us.”[iii] Indeed, how could a father go on after such a tragedy? The passage offers some help:
- Ephraim was comforted by his brothers, 1 Chron. 7:22. In times of sorrow, physical family can offer help and comfort; how much more ought spiritual brothers and sisters offer to one another during trials? 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Col. 4:8, 11; 1 Thes. 5:11, 14.
- The Lord comforted him by giving him another son, 1 Chron. 7:23. True, this son was no replacement for the children who were gone – this is evidenced by the boy’s name “Beriah”[iv] – but it did ensure the preservation of his family line by giving him an heir.
- The Lord carried on His purposes for the Ephraimites, 1 Chron. 7:24-29. In spite of the murders and opposition, Ephraim and his descendants continued to develop the land and found notable cities like Upper and Lower Beth Horon. They would prosper, just as the patriarch Jacob prophesied.[v]
We’ll Always Have Paris
Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a terminal illness, or another type of setback or trial, the believer can rejoice in the certainty of the Lord’s purpose to glorify His people. How ever horrible the catastrophe, the Lord will lovingly carry out His will for those who have received Him through faith in Christ. As Romans 8:28-39 famously expresses it:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Crime And Punishment
Were the murderers of Ephraim’s children ever brought to justice in this world? The Scriptures are silent on this point. Nevertheless, God’s word repeatedly declares that those who flout the mercy that He offers in Christ will inevitably stand before a higher tribunal: The Lord’s own Great White Throne.[vi] For those who have trusted Christ, He has already suffered judgment in their place.[vii] This is the only way to evade eternal punishment for our sins. One way or another, no one escapes the providential dealings of the holy God.
[i] Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Corinthians 15; and 2 Peter 3:10-13.
[ii] Henry’s first wife died in childbirth; he also had three children die in infancy. For more information, see here http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bhenry2.html Accessed on 11/17/15; or the excellent biography, Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence, available here: http://www.christianbook.com/matthew-henry-his-life-and-influence/allan-harman/9781845507831/pd/507831?event=ESRCG
[iii] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 566. [Italics original.]
[iv] The translators’ offer these meanings of the name: “On misfortune” NASmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for misfortune.” NIV’11; “In tragedy” NKJVmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for disaster” ESVmg.; “Beriah sounds like a Hebrew term meaning ‘tragedy’ or ‘misfortune.’” NLTmg.
[v] “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.” Genesis 49:22-26.
[vi] Rev. 20:11-15; see also John 5:17-47; Acts 17:29-31.
[vii] John 5:24; Rom. 8:1.