How is it possible to proclaim the goodness of God in the midst of tragedy? How is it possible to offer forgiveness so unapologetically to the one who caused said tragedy? I can scarcely believe it, but I’ve seen it happen. Last week, I heard of it again and I am wrecked for the power of faith made possible by a God we find impossibly hard to understand.
It began with a text from my mom. She asked if I’d talked to my sister lately or if I’d been watching Facebook, since I had not she told me what happened. So, I called my sister.
With a tear-filled conversation. my heart welled up quite sufficiently with intricately woven emotions of awe and sadness.
Might I express to you a little of the beauty that is my thirteen-year old niece? She is known for the way she radiates a room. Since she was an infant she gave the world some of the biggest smiles you ever did see.
Somehow, as I took in the awful news I could still see her smiling with genuine kindness, compassion, and trust in God. Yet, I know her heart must be aching tremendously and I grieve with her. I cannot comprehend fully.
Not her manner, nor the sequence of events, nor the loss of one her best friend’s through death. It’s enough to bring tears to anyone’s face, yet at the same time, the story revolving around her is nothing short of breath taking.
A vibrant young twelve-year-old rode home from a wedding their family had recently attended out of state. It was a long drive for all of them. Just as they came into the Florida state line, this young girl happily announced, “I’m so glad to be home!” Only seconds later, their full Suburban was hit on the highway causing it to roll over and eject my niece’s friend from the car.
When this young girl gave those words prior to her death, she had no idea how prophetic they were.
Years before she sang, “I'm Going Home” with a heart ready to see God at any time. She wondered why people feared death when they knew they’d just be with Jesus in heaven. She valued the day she’d be in her future home.
Then, in the vehicle she proclaimed her gladness of being home and just like that, she was with Jesus in heaven.
As my sister relayed the events which took place before, during, and after this accident, my heart swelled with this crazy mixture of emotions. Throughout all of it the testimonies which pointed to God were undeniable, yet any one of us looking at such tragedy would wonder, “How can this be so?”
After the ambulances came and investigators began inquiring, the father suddenly piped up and blurted out, “She has to know! She needs to know we forgive her!” In the midst of shock & grief he turned his thoughts to forgiveness for the nineteen year old girl who hit them.
A grave mistake altered the lives of many. Yet, a man’s love for God shined goodness in tragedy. And stunned all around them.
One of the officers stopped short. He paused for what seemed like ten or fifteen minutes before stepping out of shock to reply, “I’ve been doing this job for twelve years and that’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone offer forgiveness.”
Wouldn’t you be shocked too?
When Pastor Raymond Force of Crossroads Bible Church in Ocala, Fl, texted my brother-in-law he simply stated the facts.
They’d had an accident. Could he come to them. Their daughter is gone. Others are OK. God is good.
Just like that. In the midst of sorrow, “God is good.”
God is good.
She must know she’s forgiven.
Those words weren’t the platitudes we might hear from someone attempting to show strength or ignore grief. They were the visceral responses from a man who knows God intimately. On the hardest day, in what most of us would agree as their worst experience ever, his words pointed others towards God. Not because he didn’t feel pain or loss, but because the words of God and the truth of God’s goodness reside so deeply they are embedded into the fiber of his being.
And because God's goodness isn't dependent on our good circumstances.
“The good person out of the treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaks.” ~ Luke 6:45
I cannot fathom the depth of pain being experienced by this man, or the teen girl who hit them. This young driver was headed towards a life filled with Christian schooling and service. She made a mistake which she’ll likely never forget. Somehow, (I’d say through the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit) the man whose daughter was gone forever to this world considered the pain this teen would experience for years to come. He also knew, his daughter would want the young girl to know she was not to live with blame.
Pastor Force was moved to declare that forgiveness be offered right then. This is compassion in action.
I pray, and would you pray with me, that she never forget the truth of forgiveness in the years ahead. I pray the compassionate Father heart of God is seen through the words spoken by this man.
Like this earthly father, our Father God knows the immense pain of watching his child die at the hands of others, though he deserved none of it.
Like this earthly father, God the Son knows what it’s like to call out for forgiveness towards others who wounded him, in the midst of his own deep pain.
May we seek and know his forgiveness. It is beyond understanding yet wholly given out of love.
Evidently, Pastor Force’s faith passed on to his children and particularly his daughter who passed away.
When I perused other reports related to this accident I saw a number of testimonies from individuals who were impacted by the cheerful, loving, and kind spirit of Pastor Force’s daughter. A man who visited their church remembers clearly her attempts to make him feel welcome. Another recounts her joy, how she made them feel happy.
I never met this young girl, nor did I have a chance to see her with my smiling niece, but I see the beauty of their friendship and the impact their lives have, and had, because joy shines through them. Kindness and smiles bring happiness to others and give them a glimpse of Jesus.
These two played together and planned for the future together. As many young girls do, they made plans to coordinate their clothes, down to the Converse shoes which were to be worn. My niece’s black, and her friend’s red.
After many months of longing, her friend finally got the red Converse shoes which lit up her face every time she thought of them. She died before the two could wear their coordinated outfits, but she died with her red shoes on, gladness in heart, and a mindfulness of her true home with Jesus.
While her father professed forgiveness and declared God’s goodness, his daughter’s legacy was a life well-lived. A life which by all accounts displayed a facet of God for which she was named after.
Grief continues, yet somehow the light of God’s goodness comes through the life and death of Grace Force.
Can you understand it? I scarcely can, yet I've known the effects of an anchor of faith so deep, so solid, and so true. I know it's possible, yet it seems so improbable.
Her life here is over, but her story lives on. So too does the goodness of God. Because God's goodness can never be contained to the moments of pleasure alone. It's seen over and over again in the moments of tragedy too.
May we mourn, may we remember, may we rejoice. May we know our Father in Heaven in a very real way today, so we too may declare the goodness of God in every circumstance.
For More on This Story & the Heart Stirring Sermon by Pastor Force at Grace's Memorial: