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Charles Dickens referred to the parable of the prodigal son as the greatest story ever written. He has not stood alone in that sentiment. Unfortunately, much of the story is lost to those of us reading it more than two thousand years after it was first told.

Pastor Jeremy Sarber takes a fresh look at this timeless parable in Man With Two Sons.

All Things Work Together For Good

By definition, one cannot plan for catastrophe. It just happens. Our lives are spent passively waiting for the often unfortunate impacts of fate. To avoid this impotence, we buy insurance policies and tediously obsess over  our potential futures. Yet, we cannot escape every calamity. They seem to find us one way or another. With the subtlety of Eden’s serpent, the fangs of disaster pierce our heels when we least expect it.

Andy did not go to bed that night surmising he would wake with slurred speech and double vision. At the age of forty-five, he was not given the faintest hint he would suffer a stroke and be indefinitely confined to a hospital. His wife, gently sleeping next to him, could not have predicted the tragic condition in which she would find the love of her life early the next morning. Just as it sounds, a stroke is abrupt. Worse yet, it is brutal and irreversible.

Those who know Andy may be tempted to wonder, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Andy’s character is one of an overgrown teddy bear. His disposition is gentle, sweet, and fun. His faith in Christ is young and vibrant. His generosity and caring nature is exemplary. He possesses the ability to encourage others by his presence alone.

Why has his life been unsparingly paused? Why must his wife and four children bear the daily grind in light of the undeniable absence of their husband and father? Moreover, how could such a powerful figure standing well over six feet be defeated, albeit temporary, by a tiny reduction of blood flow to the brain? Why has God allowed this to happen to one of His faithful, tender-hearted children? The answer isn’t necessarily easy, but it is simple.

The Bible declares, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Some would argue that “all things” is limited in scope and would not include the tragedies of life. While they enjoy offering their theological critiques, the rest of us “who love God” can take comfort in the limitless providence of our Heavenly Father. We who are “called according to His purpose” can relish in the thought that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither 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” (Rom. 8:38-39).

The Old Testament tells us of Job, a man who was “blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil” (Job 1:1). God allowed his possessions to be destroyed, his children to be buried alive, and his skin to be afflicted with severe sores from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. What may be a surprise to many, Job did not suffer calamity despite being righteous; he suffered because he was righteous. It was God who turned the attention of the Adversary to Job. It was God who authorized Job’s distress.

Like the torment of a dentist’s drill which eventually provides its victims relief, we often suffer refining pain for our greater good. It is not always apparent how, but if the sovereignty of God can produce resurrection and life from the heinous crucifixion of His Son by the “lawless hands” of the wicked, surely His sovereignty works all things together for good to those who love Him (Acts 2:23).

As for Andy, his deep affection for the church has already increased. After weeks of unconsciousness, his breathing tubes were removed and he was finally able to utter a few words. He wept as he expressed his confusion over those whom he has told about the church but could not understand why it meant so much to him. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he said, “I’ve told people about the church. It’s not just church, but they don’t get it. They don’t know what we have. I miss it so much.”

Those who have visited Andy and watched his slow recovery with bated breath have also been profoundly affected. Some have been forced to mediate on their own morality and, consequently, the parts of life with substantial meaning as opposed to the whirlwind of vanity that often consumes us. Others are learning precious lessons concerning compassion, perseverance, and/or dependence upon the grace and strength of God. Perhaps we’ve yet to see the fulness of what God will accomplish through the anguish of our brother in Christ.

If God can turn the Red Sea into a dry path with a strong wind, tear down the impenetrable walls of Jericho with the shout of men, and destroy the powerful Philistine army with the mere sound of thunder, all for the good of His people, He can certainly transform Andy’s recent catastrophe into a blessing. Let us “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Ps. 34:8).

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