The April Sherman Series follows a young girl growing up in a small town, fundamentalist Christian family.
A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.
The weekend after Mark Wilson’s visitation, Mom invited her parents (Harold and Joyce Wright), along with my cousin’s family (Kasey’s dad was my mom’s brother), to come for a BBQ on Saturday. Since it was a hot and sunny day, we all gathered around the patio table in the backyard, enjoying the shade of the parasol. The conversation was happy and light-hearted, until the middle of dessert when Grandma mentioned Mark’s death.
“They were a Christian family, you know,” she said, nodding at my parents.
“Oh, were they? I didn’t realize.” My mom. She seemed to perk up a little at the thought of it. Mom tended to be on the quiet side, reserved. She was skinny too, almost delicate. I once heard my uncle refer to her as “anemic” but wasn’t sure what he meant. I assumed it had to do with her pale skin and lack of energy.
“These things are so dreadful, aren’t they,” Grandma went on, “so very tragic. But God allowed this to happen for a reason. All things work together for good.” A nod of agreement between her and Granddad.
“A good reason?” Uncle Donald said gruffly, setting down his spoon.
We’d all had sundaes for dessert, though I wasn’t finished mine yet. My younger brother slurped up the melted ice cream from his bowl and asked to be excused, running off to play. Uncle Donald leaned back in his plastic patio chair, eyes narrowed a bit. He was tall and fit, dark gray hair buzz-cut. He looked nothing like my mother.
“A child is dead and you say God allowed it for a good reason,” he repeated. “What kind of loving God lets a child die a senseless death, when he could easily prevent it?”
“God is sovereign,” Grandma replied. “He knows all things and sees all things, and as such, allowed this to happen as part of his big picture plan. One day it will all be made clear and in the meantime, we just have to have faith and trust.”
Granddad bobbed his head up and down. “Yes, yes, that’s right. What the devil intended for evil, God intended for good.” A pleasant smile. “It may well be that this particular family needed this tragedy, in order to grow spiritually. God uses suffering to shape and mold us into saints . . . to draw us closer to him, to teach us to lean on him . . . and to bring himself glory. We can take comfort in that.”
“Needed this tragedy?” Uncle Donald sounded angry. “To draw us closer to him, to teach us to lean on him? To bring himself glory? What kind of damned nonsense is that?”
Grandma’s eyes widened and she flicked a glance at Granddad.
“Not nonsense at all,” he responded in a calm tone, though his back had stiffened. “We don’t know exactly what God’s reason was but we do know that before God created the world, he knew, and included it in his overall plan. That’s what the Bible teaches—that everything has been predestined and foreordained.”
“So now you’re saying that God killed the boy, since he preplanned all of this.”
“Absolutely, not. He knew it would happen because he foresaw it, yes, but that’s not the same as causing it. But even if he did cause it—which is entirely possible too!—he has the right, because he is God.”
“So God is to blame.”
“No, he’s not. That boy is dead because he and his friends made poor choices and did something dangerous.”
“Oh, so now you’re saying bad things happen because people make poor choices. If that’s the case, how can you simultaneously claim that it was God’s plan?”
“God could have sent an angel, Don, if he’d wanted to,” Grandma interjected. “We don’t know how many tragedies he prevents.”
“Deus ex machina, I suppose? But anyway, he didn’t send one. Innumerable children die every single day in preventable tragedies. Where are the angels? Look, if God foresaw this, or worse, caused this—but the fault lies with the kids for being foolish, as kids often are—all you’re really saying is that everything in life is the result of fate, of determinism. Cause and effect, Dominoes. On that much we agree. But the God bit?” He shook his head, laughed. “A loving God who stands idly by as children die, refusing to send an angel. And you have the audacity to claim it’s for a good reason. Do you even hear the words coming out of your mouths?”
My father, who was normally the chatterbox, had been sitting silently during this entire exchange with a concerned look on his face. Now he cleared his throat. “Don, you’re getting worked up.”
“You’re damned right I’m getting worked up, I’m sick and tired of hearing this crap year after year. A child is dead—Kasey’s classmate!—and Dad’s saying it’s to ‘bring God glory’ and to ‘draw people closer to him.’ Do you realize how psychotic that sounds? Can you imagine if I killed one of my kids to make myself the hero, basking in the accolades—and then when my other kids are crying in grief, I just say, ‘this was to make you feel closer to me so that you’ll learn to lean on me and trust me’? I’d be a straight-up monster and you know it. ‘We can take comfort in that,’ bloody hell.”
He pushed back his chair and stormed into the house, leaving us all stunned. My aunt got up and followed him into the house, frowning.
Dad exchanged a glance with Granddad.
“We need to pray for Donnie,” Grandma said in a grave tone, glancing around the table at each of us in turn. “That God will soften his heart. He has a rebellious spirit.”
“Would anyone like some more lemonade?” Mom reached for the jug, eyebrows raised in expectation, her voice cheery but strained.
We all declined.
“Let’s go,” Kasey suggested, tugging on my arm.
We took the deck stairs down to the grass and I wondered if God was going to hurt Uncle Donald some day so that he could get saved and stop being an unbeliever.
My heartbeat quickened, mouth feeling dry. Was God going to hurt me some day too, if I didn’t stay close enough to him? I hugged my arms around my waist, looking up at the deep blue sky.