Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. —Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
Once again, after too many times, senseless tragedy is splashed across the headlines. Another—no, two more—mass shootings have occurred, and the stories are too painful to read. Why does this happen? Answers will be sought, accusations made, investigations carried out, measures proposed… But in the end, there are still over 20 people dead in El Paso and 9 in Dayton. People who were going about their daily lives, shopping, celebrating, or simply hanging out when evil suddenly fell upon them. It made no sense, and no amount of investigation or reasoning will make sense of it. But we will still ask: why?
Of course, sin is the answer. We know this. But still, WHY?!
Oh, there will be explanations, to a degree. Yet, as the author of Ecclesiastes laments, life isn’t fair. The swiftest runner may lose a race, the strongest warrior may lose a battle, the wisest scholar may not earn his bread, the most intelligent businessman may be poor, and those with knowledge may still fall out of favor. “Time and chance happen to them all.” This isn’t a declaration devoid of faith in God, it’s simply an observation of the way things are in this fallen world. Life is hard, and senseless things happen. To pretend otherwise is to live in denial of reality.
Fortunately, that’s not the whole story. There is an aspect of reality which we cannot see.
As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. —Ecclesiastes 11:5
We don’t know what God is doing ‘behind the scenes.’ That we can understand any of the workings of God in this world is a gift, but to assume we can figure everything out beyond what God allows us to know is a foolish assumption. Jesus’ response, when asked about an act of seemingly senseless evil and tragedy, should be our response now. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). He offered no explanation for why these things happened, no glimpse behind the curtain of God’s providence. Instead, Jesus pointed to the single solution provided for all the evil we experience while living in this fallen world: to repent and believe in the gospel. Just as he declared at the beginning of his ministry:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” —Mark 1:14-15
To believe the gospel doesn’t shield us from the senseless pain and tragedies of the world, to be sure. But to believe the gospel is to belong to a Kingdom that is not of this world. To believe the gospel is to be guarded through faith for a better Kingdom than this hurting and hurtful world can ever offer. To believe the gospel is to find rest for your weary soul in the sinless Son of God who humbled himself and left heaven to live in this world full of sin and senseless grief, who died that his people might live, who rose victorious from the grave, and ascended to heaven where he is even now praying for his precious, blood-bought, weak and weary people.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. —1 Peter 1:3-7
Oh, hurting pilgrim, weak and weary, this is the reality in which we live. We are still surrounded by and immersed in senseless and grievous trials. Even still, don’t take your eyes off the promise. If you have repented and believed the gospel, God has caused you to be born again to a living hope, to an inheritance that will never perish, be defiled, or fade. Though the evil appears to be winning and it seems impossible to rejoice in the midst of grief, look to Jesus, who has gone before us to secure this inheritance. Your faith is more precious than gold, and the Refiner’s fire is proving it to be genuine.
This much we can know for certain, because God has told us as much in his trustworthy word and proven it to be true by raising Christ from the dead. Though we aren’t yet perfect, let’s press on, because Christ has made us his own. And though we may not be the swiftest runners in the race, but wounded and sore, join me in straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, paraphrased).