How one man painfully grapples with tragedy when God's grace seems to be missing.
Posted in , Mar 4, 2015
Rick Thyne is a spiritual mentor and old friend. Ever since that day he came to talk to our Sunday school class and some rowdy teen lodged a balled-up program at him and he caught it with one hand, never missing a beat, I’ve been putty in his hands.
He was the youth minister back then, and I was a freshman in high school. Our friendship has lasted over many years, through emails, phone calls, lunches, heart-to-heart talks and books passed back and forth.
“You’re all about Jesus,” I used to tell him. Nobody I ever knew had greater passion for Jesus. He used to read the book of Mark from beginning to end, over and over again, savoring all of Jesus’ counsel. He’s probably read it hundreds of times by now.
He’s seen plenty of joy in life and much sorrow. In all the years of saying the Lord’s Prayer, I wonder if he’s stopped and paused over that phrase, “Lead me not into temptation” or the more recent translation, “Save me from the time of trial.”
He’s seen his faith tried and tested, never more than when his 24-year-old son, Jesse, was killed in an accident in Africa while serving in the Peace Corps. Talk about a time of trial.
Jesse was the youngest child of three, an adopted sprite, musical, off-beat, earnest, ready to make his mark in life by serving the poorest of the poor deep in the damp equatorial heat of Guinea, a calling that surely honored his father’s own instinct for “the least of these.”
There he died in a horrible traffic accident in the back of a ramshackle taxi going too fast on a blind turn, hit by a truck, killed violently and instantly.
Because Rick is a man of faith, because Rick has a probing theology, because Rick prays constantly even when he’s not sure his prayers are heard, he has grappled painfully with what this all means. Where was God’s grace then?
At the graveside service for my dad, Rick offered a phrase that all of us found comforting, “Think of your dad as one of the balcony people now,” he said. Gone, but not gone. Dad was up there in a balcony someplace, looking down on us, encouraging, looking out for us, always there.
That’s something he got from going to church as a teen, and feeling the support of the congregation, especially those looking down on him from the balcony, those blessed folk who are always there.
Dare I say that Rick will always be one of my balcony people, in death and in life? Not just for the good times we’ve shared but also for the tough, trying times, and for the way he’s shared himself.
He’s written a book about those times, The Awful Grace of God. It doesn’t offer simple pat answers, but in ways that Rick might not even realize, it shows the awful presence of God.
His book will always be a reminder to me of how essential it is to pray to God during the toughest times, and tell God the truth. God can’t reach out to us unless we reach out to him with what’s on our minds, even if what’s on our minds seems baffling and anger-making.
Then the grace of God works through us.