Speaking about his son’s suicide, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church said the world is more impressed by how Christians handle adversity than how we handle prosperity. I can relate.
On the morning of July 17, 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was hit by a missile while flying over war-torn Ukraine and blown to bits, killing all on board. Among those who died were my oldest brother, Arjen, and his wife, Yvonne.
They had been holidaying in Europe, enjoying the trip of a lifetime, and were on their way home to Australia. Both healthy and in the prime of their life, they were influential in their families, their communities, their church, and their workplaces. By the world’s standards, they were taken far too soon, and someone needed to pay for the injustice.
I first received the news from my grief-stricken uncle just hours after he had dropped them off at the Schiphol airport. My quiet morning in the office was shattered as he relayed the shocking news.
At first there was disbelief. They could not have been on that flight. Did they really board that plane? How could they be involved in such an awful event on the other side of the world?
Then there was shock. I’ve lost my older brother. The person I grew up with. Someone I loved dearly. A model brother, father, husband.
Then came grief. Tears for the joyful times we had together and the experiences we were still planning to have together. Tears for the children and grandchildren with whom they shared such a special bond. I was paralyzed by grief.
The next morning the intense grief was replaced by a surreal, unnatural calmness. I felt no rage, no anger at God, no need for revenge. Just a Spirit-filled, deep-seated assurance that Arjen and Yvonne are in a better place, and that God is in control. And a heaven-sent call to speak about this publicly. I had no idea how I was going to do it, just that it needed to be done. I prayed for guidance.
Less than 30 minutes later I received an email from CNN asking me to appear on “Anderson Cooper 360” that night to talk about the tragedy. In that interview I was able to speak with Spirit-filled calm about how it was not only possible but necessary for our family to forgive the people who had shot the missile.
Over the next few days there were many more opportunities to bear witness to my faith in interviews on TV and radio and in print media. God worked through this tragedy to spread a message of hope to a broken world and to initiate a dialogue of peace.
What an amazing God we serve! What other deity could redeem something as senseless and horrific as a civilian airliner downed in a war zone? And how could my faith be even stronger after such a painful loss? Yet, miraculously, it is.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King Jr.