Carnett: Life is full of tragedy, loss

Tragedy knows no bounds in this broken world of ours.

It springs forth from every gaping fissure, dark alley and murky recess. It metastasizes in a host of ways: bad medical reports, alarming diagnoses, grinding auto crashes, assaults, strokes and heart attacks, and myriad accidents and infirmities.

No one is immune. Tragic episodes occur daily all around us.

The 27-year-old son of my pastor and his wife committed suicide less than two weeks ago. Why? Media reports tell us Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

My wife, Hedy, and I grieve for Rick and Kay. We've been deeply touched by their ministry and their loss. They're missing a wonderful son. Life doesn't get any harsher than that.

Tens of thousands at Saddleback Church have gathered around them to lift them in prayer. Sadly, others have taken this occasion to write vicious remarks on websites both legitimate and hate-fueled. No one deserves that kind of heartless vitriol.

One of the first people to contact the Warrens to express sorrow for their plight was Pastor Greg Laurie. Laurie is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside. His 33-year-old son, Christopher, died in a tragic car crash in 2008. If anyone knows what the Warrens are going through, it's Pastor Greg.

Children shouldn't die before their parents do. That's not the way things are meant to play out in our tidy, well-ordered little world.

Did I just say well-ordered? What fiction! We delude ourselves if we think that we exert control over our circumstances. We control nothing! We're flotsam and jetsam on a raging sea.

I certainly don't put myself on a spiritual plane with pastors Greg and Rick. I've learned a great deal sitting at the feet of both men over the years. I admire and respect them.

But I also know a bit about what they're going through. Greg, Rick and I form a band of brothers. OK, not brothers, not even acquaintances. They don't know me from Adam, but I feel as though we're kin.

We share an experience.

Twenty years ago this month I lost my 25-year-old son, Jimmy. I know the date well — April 26, 1993 — because each spring we observe it on our family's calendar. Trust me, you never get over something like that.

I remember the jarring phone call in the middle of the night, disturbing the last restful sleep I would get for months.

Here's how the grieving process works: After a time of intense and searing pain you learn to again move forward with your life, but you never forget. Without ceasing you ask God the "why?" questions — and those questions go largely unanswered. But you learn to trust God.

Friends tell you: "Get over it. Your son's in a better place." Really? Is that the best you can do?

But the Lord knows what you and I don't and can't know. Answers to some of life's important questions are kept from us or delayed. Hard though it is, we just have to trust.

Life sends storms. Bad ones. Just as the rain falls equally on the just and unjust, storms batter us all. You're either coming out of an old storm or entering a new one.

Timothy J. Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, talks about dealing with storms in his new book, "Jesus the King."

"If you're at the mercy of the storm," Keller writes, "its power is unmanageable and it doesn't love you. The only place you're safe is in the will of God.

"But because he's God and you're not, the will of God is necessarily, immeasurably, unspeakably beyond your largest notions of what he is up to. Is he safe? Of course he's not safe. Who said anything about being safe? But he's good. He's the King."

In the midst of life's storms, I've come to accept that "fervent prayer … availeth much."

And my prayers are with the Warren family.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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