Above the storm

Where is God in the midst of tragedy? What difference does knowing Him make when everything seems out of control? These questions became real to me over the last two years with the sudden passing of my father.

Since 2014, my father had been in poor health. Relationships in my family had been bad. When I came home in the summer of 2016, he was already seriously ill - his feet was swollen up and he was unable to walk. Although we had been suggesting a checkup at the hospital for months, he refused to go until, when he finally went, he had a heart attack after a CT scan which showed that all the arteries to his heart were blocked. All we could do for him was to pray and he died the next morning.

For a long time afterwards I was very depressed and sad. There are times when I would miss him massively. But I was also full of bitterness and rage. Why did God allow this, even though we had been praying for him for months? Why did dad delay going to the hospital until things were irreversible? Why were relationships in my family so broken that we couldn’t be honest with each other and live in peace? 

I still don’t understand why many things happened the way they did. But one thing that God made clear to us both before and after my father’s death was that He is the one ultimately in control, that He is good, and that alone in Him and in His love for us lies our hope.

Hours before my father had his heart attack, I listened through a Youtube album* on the Psalm of Ascents, spiritual songs from the Bible. It was during the resuscitations at the hospital when the Psalms I had heard earlier began looping in my head. I was absolutely mad at my dad for delaying the checkup, yet the Psalms appealed to God not on the basis on our merit but on His mercy. If they hadn’t been looping in my head, I would probably have gone mad. They reminded me that God was there with us, a present help in trouble, but above all that He is merciful and gracious, who forgives us freely and answers when we call. Through His strength we spoke many bible passages to him between the resuscitations. We never knew whether he would make it through the next resuscitation, but the last things I said to him were a promise and a command from the Bible: “God will never forsake you”, and finally, “you must fix yours eyes on Jesus”.

The months afterwards were very difficult, not only in the practical responsibilities that needed to be filled, but also emotionally in making sense of what had happened. But we would pray, and help would come at just the right time. I was unable to sleep unless I listened to songs set on God’s words in the Bible, and through them I was reminded of His promise to be our refuge in times of trouble. It was through these words from the Bible that I began to confront the bitterness in my heart, to forgive and entrust past hurts to His care. I was also reminded of my own need for forgiveness for the selfish ways I have often acted and still do, and God’s promise of restoration for all who turn to Him in Jesus. 

There is still brokenness in the family, and this year has been one of more trials, with deaths in the extended family and illness for my grandfather. But through them all, there are snippets of God’s faithfulness. Back at the time of my father’s passing, my grandmother had only been a Christian for a few months, and seeing her son die was a very big trial for her. But through all the things God did for us, He made her faith even stronger than before, and she was baptised three months later. My mum never thought she could truly forgive and love my grandparents for the past hurts they had done. Yet now, she found herself able to love and forgive as God has forgiven us, and she and grandmother together are both a great encouragement to me.

I still do not have answers to the questions I posed at the beginning of this article. But this one thing I know: 

God sent His Son Jesus into our world, because He knows that we all are broken people living in a broken world who also act in broken ways. Yet God sent His Son into world, not to condemn us for our wickedness, but to save us through him. When Jesus died on the cross, God placed all the righteous punishment our broken deeds deserve on him in our stead, so that to all of us who turn to Jesus, He may freely give the new identity of being His children - heirs to the promise of everlasting life with Him. He is bringing in a new kingdom where there will be no more death or sorrow, and where He will be King forever. He is able to save all those who have trusted in Him to the uttermost, and nothing will stop Him from fulfilling His plan. This is the truth I need most in the midst of brokenness and disaster. Knowing God to be faithful and true, and knowing that His promises to us will never fail, is what I have found to be sufficient for every trial.

I would like to end on words from a song** that looped in my head in the months after my father’s death, and which encouraged me, particularly in times of sadness and uncertainty:

‘To Him [Jesus] who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us into a kingdom and priests to His God and Father - to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him,... Even so, Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is the come, the Almighty.”’




Tom Olyott