I had just gotten home from my annual pilgrimage to the home schooling convention when I heard the news: Rick Warren’s son committed suicide on Friday. What? I thought there must be some mistake. I didn’t even know he had a son who suffered with mental illness and depression. You don’t think about people like him dealing with stuff like this. I sank in grief as I watched the news coverage, trying to absorb the magnitude of their anguish. I know firsthand the pain of raising a troubled child, but can not imagine being Rick Warren right now. A megachurch pastor with more than 20,000 members, a best-selling author who has sold more than 30,000,000 copies, and a grief-stricken father caught in the world wide web of public life… and opinion.
It was Pastor Warren who said that life is a test and a trust. This is the one test every parent prays to avoid: surviving their children.
Assailed by doubts…plagued by questions…haunted by guilt…drowning in despair
It is like being thrown into a labyrinth of seemingly purposeless pain and dead ends. Every door you open mocks you: there is no way out. The irony of the life we have been given. Rick Warren is a pastor who has fathered so many, me being included. His book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the most influential book that I read in becoming a Christian. The book that is so full of God’s Word – over 1,200 Scriptural references. He has literally helped millions of people find purpose in God. I bet he would trade all of it for an understanding of the purpose in the loss of his son. Why did the hope he held out in the Gospel not take hold in the heart of his son? “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:5). God promises the darkness will not win, but it sure feels like we are losing today.
Pastor Warren also compared life to a train. He said there are two tracks underneath us, undergirding our existence: joy and sorrow. We cannot separate the tracks of joy and sorrow anymore than a train can ride on one rail without the other. I am praying hard for him to stay on the tracks right now.
This week, I looked at the life of Joseph in my Bible study on Genesis. He was literally thrown into a pit of despair by his own brothers. One of our questions was to consider what was going on in Joseph’s mind, the questions he was asking. This was helpful to look more closely at how he handled suffering. If anyone had a reason to become embittered, it was Joseph. He could have easily nursed a life-long grudge. This is the opportunity suffering presents to all of us. We can’t avoid the questions. If God is Sovereign, why did He allow this? If He loves me, why is this happening to me? We cannot argue that God permits suffering and loss in our lives. What do we do with that reality?
It is true that God allowed Joseph to be physically sold as a slave to Egypt, but also His allowance was not without a greater purpose. It is also true that we have an enemy, one who exploits our times of suffering. It is Satan who baits us with the tormenting questions. He mocks, “Where is your God now?” preying upon our vulnerability. He aims to turn our trials into a life sentence: emotional imprisonment without the possibility of parole. We cannot fall for his schemes. God is with us in all things.
“But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19, 20). I find it incredible that Joseph never lost sight of his God-given dreams. He trusted God and endured. His spirit remained steadfast.
This is my prayer for Pastor Warren and his family today. I pray this father, who was inspired by God to write about living a purpose-driven life, would be inspired to believe there is a God-ordained purpose in his pain. I pray this preacher, who daily holds out the hope of the Gospel, would take this same hope to his hurting heart today. I pray that against all hope, he would in hope believe that God has purpose in the loss of his beloved son and be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He promises. To know that the Light still shines in this darkness and the darkness will not overtake him.
Today, I mourn with those who mourn, and believe with them that they will be comforted. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).