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God vs. "If Only"

Scott Willis and his wife, Janet, were traveling with six of their nine children on Highway I-94 near Milwaukee when a piece of metal fell off the truck ahead of them. Scott had no choice but to let the object pass under his vehicle; the result was that the rear gas tank exploded and five of the six Willis children died instantly in the flames. The sixth child, Benjamin, died a few hours later.

Scott and Janet were able to get out of the vehicle, sustaining burns from which they would later recover. Standing there watching their children die in the fire, Scott said to Janet, "This is the moment for which we are prepared." The courage of this couple was reported throughout the United States and the world. Christ walked with them through the deep sorrows of this tragedy.

"Every morning we awake we say, this is one more day to prove the faithfulness of God. Every night we say, we are one day closer to seeing our children again." Such is the testimony of this couple who understood that children are a gift of God; and when God wants them back, He has the right to take them to Himself. Job, the Old Testament patriarch, would agree.

A sovereign God is never confronted with "what if" because what He wills always happens. —H.J. Sala

We say that the Willis family had an accident, but was not this, from God's perspective, a providential happening? I believe so. What we call an accident might be a well-planned event to God. Just think of all the contingencies, the events that had to converge for the accident to happen. Here are a few: If only they had started their trip a minute earlier in the morning—or a minute later. Then again, if only the truck had been at a different location on the expressway, either a few seconds earlier or later. Or one can say, "If only that piece of metal had fallen earlier, or later, or if it had scuttled into the ditch rather than in the middle of the lane of traffic … "

With a little bit of ingenuity we could identify a dozen "if onlys." After all, this accident would not have happened unless a number of circumstances had converged at the right time and the right place.

Listen to the conversation at almost any funeral and you will hear some "if onlys."

"If only we had called the doctor sooner … "

"If only there would not have been ice on the highway … "

"If only we had noticed the lump sooner … "

"If only they had operated … "

"If only they had not operated … "

Let me encourage you to take those "if onlys" and draw a circle around them. Then label the circle, "The providence of God." The Christian believes that God is greater than our "if onlys." His providential hand encompasses the whole of our lives, not just the good days but the "bad" days too. We have the word accident in our vocabulary; He does not.

Accidents, ill health, or even dying at the hand of an enemy—God uses all of these means to bring His children home. As long as we entrust ourselves to His care, we can be confident that we are dying according to His timetable (Job 14:5). We can't control events outside of us; we are, however, responsible for how we react to what happens in the seemingly random events of life. The fact is that God can send any chariot He wishes to fetch us to Himself.

Martha and Mary had their "if only" too (John 11:1-44). When Christ was told that His friend Lazarus was sick, He stayed away for two extra days so that Lazarus would already be dead and buried by the time He arrived in Bethany. The sisters individually voiced their complaint that if Christ had been there, their brother would not have died. Yet Christ wanted them to know that Lazarus had died within the will of God; he had died according to the divine schedule.

Nothing is gained by bemoaning the fact that "if we had only known then, things could have been different." We must see that God is bigger than our mistakes; He is bigger than a piece of steel that falls randomly from a truck on the expressway. We must remember that those events that are completely out of our control are firmly within His grasp.

—Taken from One Minute After You Die, Moody Publishers, copyright (c) 1997 by Erwin Lutzer. Used by permission.