Why do bad things happen to good people?
We’d been married since 1988, I was enjoying a career in the army, and Anna and I were really happy and fulfilled. In fact, people used to refer to us as the ‘Ski family’ because we resembled the family of four that advertised Ski yoghurts on TV.
The day my world fell apart was a gloriously hot summer’s day. Anna was driving back from a trip to the beach with our three-year-old daughter Eleanor and two-year-old son Jamie. For some unknown reason, her car strayed over the centre of the road and hit an oncoming 40-ton articulated lorry. Both were travelling at about 45 mph, so it was like hitting a brick wall at 90 mph. Anna and Jamie died instantly. Eleanor survived unscathed and was pulled from the wreckage by the driver of the car behind. I was at work some 70 miles away. I shall never forget that hot July evening, being driven by two police officers from Camberley to Salisbury to identify Anna and Jamie’s mangled bodies. As we drove into the setting sun, I remember thinking that my life was never going to be the same again.
They took me to the hospital. A policeman ushered me into the mortuary, a very clinical white room. There was an adult draped in a white sheet and a little tea trolley concealing some- thing much smaller. The officer lifted the white sheet. I saw Anna’s face and just broke down. I didn’t really want to touch her. They’d obviously tried to wash the blood out of her hair, but with little success, and her face was misshapen. Then the officer moved the sheet from my little boy, and it was like he was asleep, with a cut under one eye. I couldn’t believe that this small boy who had been such a handful, this little dynamo of energy, was now cold and lifeless. I touched his cheek but it was stone cold. I cried out, I sobbed, I wept, and thought to myself that this isn’t them. You can’t just extinguish two such vital and energy-filled people. This can’t be the end for them; they must be somewhere else. It occurred to me that what I was looking at was just like a shell you find on a beach, a shell that had once housed a precious life that is no longer there. In the fluorescent glare of the room something drew my eyes to a simple wooden crucifix on one of the bare walls. Such a familiar symbol after the drip, drip, drip of Christian teaching at school which I found so boring and irrelevant. I looked at this cross, and something seemed to fall into place. I knew in an instant that it was going to be a sign of hope for me.
I went back to the police station to collect my little girl. She was a complete miracle, with just a slight bruise where the seat belt had cut into her. She was absolutely fine. I told her that Mummy and Jamie were gone and that we weren’t going to see them any more. At that time The Lion King was my children’s favourite film, and Eleanor asked me, ‘Have Mummy and Jamie gone to be stars in the sky?’
‘Yes, they have,’ I said.
I took her home, and the days passed in a haze. I lost a stone in weight in a week. But I remember walking the dog up and down outside our house, looking at the stars in the sky one beautiful July night and wondering, ‘Why am I still holding it together?’ People kept on saying, ‘We are praying for you.’ I received lots of cards about God and Jesus loving us, and was very conscious that what was keeping me going might well be people’s prayers.
I helped to dig their grave, which was a cathartic experience, and the funeral passed in a blur. Days came when I ranted and shouted at God. ‘Why, God? Why? Why did you let this happen? They were so perfect, so lovely, so wonderful. If you’re the big God of love and mercy, why didn’t you just save them? You could have done it! You parted the Red Sea! You raised people from the dead! You changed water into wine! Why couldn’t you just have touched that steering wheel and stopped the collision happening?’ I called God names. I told him exactly what I thought of him.
I had had everything I could possibly desire. A good job, a lovely family and enough money, but when so much of such importance was torn away from me, I needed to look outside of myself for answers. Material things had let me down, shown to be only transitory. I needed to know where my family were, who was looking after them, and, if they were in heaven, what I needed to do to make sure I ended up in the same place. I suppose in a military sense my mission was to make sure I was going there as well. I was told that Christians believed that to get to heaven you need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and so I said ‘OK, that’s fine; how do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?’ In the coming weeks and months I looked into the Christian faith. Over time, and by reading the Bible, I became captivated by this person, Jesus, this incredible teacher, this miracle worker, this man who experienced every- thing we experience in this life, and more: death, bereavement, pain, joy, happiness. I thought that the evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ and the evidence for his claims to be God, all stacked up. I realized that I needed to make a decision, and it seemed a bit of a no-brainer, but at that time it was a decision in my head. Then I found a strange sense of peace as I began to accept Jesus into my life. I started to pray, and prayers seemed to get answered. Two or three years later something else also fell into place in my heart. I found myself in a church, the like of which I’d never been in before and didn’t even know existed. Here was a place that was absolutely alive. One evening during a sermon on sin I found myself shaking and weeping uncontrollably, which, for someone who has been in the army, a pretty stiff-upper-lip sort of guy, was a very alarming experience. I asked the person next to me to explain what was happening. They said that the Holy Spirit was at work, and it was from that moment onwards that I began to be aware of the power of the Holy Spirit, and my life really started to change.
Little Eleanor was doing remarkably well and seemed to understand where her mummy and brother were. Her childlike imagination of God served her well, as she was able to picture them both in God’s loving hands. A couple of years after the accident when we were alone together, Eleanor asked me a question: ‘Daddy, God is huge, isn’t he? He has the whole world in his hands, doesn’t he?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, pleased that she was absorbing the Christian message.
‘God really loves us, doesn’t he, Daddy?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ’he loves us a huge, huge, huge amount.’ ‘Nothing is impossible for God, is it?’ she persisted. I was
starting to wonder where her line of questioning was leading when she asked the final question: ‘So if God can do anything and he loves us a huge, huge, huge amount, then why did he let Mummy’s car hit the lorry? Why didn’t he just reach down and stop the accident happening?’
I was so shocked, so dumbstruck, that I am not sure how long it took me to compose myself. I had ranted at God, shouted at him so many tear-filled times. But now this precious child of mine, with no anger, no name-calling, was gently asking the same question.
I don’t know how I would have coped without God. I was in a group with others who had lost children, and so many were very, very bitter, unable to forgive and therefore unable to move forward. Knowing I am forgiven by God has released me to forgive others. I have been able to forgive the lorry driver. I have been able to forgive my wife and, through that forgiveness, look forward to a new start in life without emotional baggage. I was able to trust that God was with me. I was able to talk to him through prayer and I saw many prayers answered. I had some big decisions to make and was able to talk to him about those decisions. Some I got right; some I didn’t. Some, looking back, he warned me about, but I closed my ears to him and ended up making mistakes. Even so, I was very aware of the constant presence of God in my life. People used to say, ‘Eleanor has grown up wonderfully. Gosh, you’re so lucky’, and I would reply, ‘It’s nothing to do with luck; it’s because people are praying for her.’ I had prayed over her every single night.
Some ten years ago now I met and married Lucia, also a Christian, and we enjoy a wonderful marriage. We had two beautiful girls together and were going to stop there because of difficult births, but we both really wanted a third child. On our wedding anniversary Lucia was praying and sensed that God was saying to her, ‘Have another child. It will be OK.’ We decided to try, and it was a boy. I feel like the character, Job, in the Bible, who had so much taken away from him, but then was restored with much more than he had started out with. One of our girls is called Jemima, the name of one of Job’s daughters after he was restored. The boy? His name is Theodore which means ‘gift of God’, and this sums it all up. He is, plainly and simply, a gift from God.
This extract is taken from Why? by Sharon Dirckx, Inter-Varsity Press, England, due for publication January 2013.
If you are interested in reading this excellent book on how a loving God allows suffering then more details are here