No one needed to define the word grief for 15-year-old Ryan Lara.
Time and time again he was swallowed up by sorrow … his life experiences resulted in the full expression of this rawest of emotions. When Ryan was a young boy, his mother died and then he was held back in school. Later on, Ryan noticed a lump in his chest and became increasingly troubled when it just wouldn't go away. A doctor soon delivered a devastating diagnosis: lymphoma.
Ryan's weekly routine included two trips to the hospital for chemotherapy, but even cancer couldn't squelch a common teenage thrill – driving. Late one evening, Ryan had gotten permission from his dad to move the family SUV off the street and into the driveway of their home. No sooner had Ryan slid behind the wheel … when the deafening sound of gunfire riddled the nighttime air.
Ryan's older brother bolted outside and discovered Ryan on the ground with a bullet wound to the back, shouting, "They were trying to steal the truck. They were trying to steal the truck!" The criminals sped off in their compact sedan, having arrived as would-be thieves but leaving as cold-blooded killers. Ryan Lara died a few moments later on the front porch of his home.
In the most grievous of ironies, Ryan was expected to fully recover from cancer. Everyone anticipated Ryan turning 16, getting that prized driver's license, going on dates and driving himself to football practice. No one could have imagined that he'd experience a fatal bullet wound in his very own front yard.
It doesn't take long in such deeply sorrowful situations to start asking … Why? Why did this happen? If God is God, why did He allow this to happen?
The Bible makes it very clear that God is sovereign over everything that happens on earth, including every single incident in our individual lives. And while He doesn't always give us specific reasons for why we experience specific tragedies, by faith we are called to trust Him, to believe that in His unfathomable wisdom He is using those experiences to accomplish His perfect will.
Romans 8:28 gives us comforting assurance: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." God can work miracles … in all things. Think about it … aren't there countless testimonies to substantiate that promise? How many times have we heard about incredible acts of kindness and incredible life transformations that have been birthed from tragedy?
Right now, understandably, those who knew and loved Ryan Lara are mourning the tragic loss of such a promising young man. But all who grieve, all around the world, should recognize a steady undercurrent of truth in tragedy: Because of the sovereignty of God, pain … can be purposeful.
If you're struggling, discover …
12 Purposes for Pain in the Midst of Grief and Suffering
1. Produces perseverance, character and hope in us
"We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).
2. Saves lives both physically and spiritually
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20).
3. Develops our dependence on Him
"The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help" (1 Timothy 5:5).
4. Causes us to cry out to Him
"I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy, I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way" (Psalm 142:1-3).
5. Humbles our hearts
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands" (Deuteronomy 8:2).
6. Furthers our faith
"These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7).
7. Shows His strength in our weaknesses
"I [Paul] delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
8. Causes us to share in Christ's sufferings
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13).
9. Reveals His heart to us
"Those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction" (Job 36:15).
10. Teaches and trains us
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).
11. Conforms us to Christ
"It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. … If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:19-21).
12. Makes us a conduit of comfort to others
"[He] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (2 Corinthians 1:4).
None of us is immune from unspeakable tragedy like what the Lara family has experienced; no one truly knows what each day holds. But God does … and He promises to never abandon us and to never fail to use our pain for His indescribably great, eternal purposes.