Tragedy or Triumph

by Donald Grey Barnhouse

The Christian life may be tragedy or triumph. A few years ago, a young minister in whose church I was holding a series of meetings said they were expecting a baby soon, their first child after 10 years of marriage.

Later he was absent, but toward the close of the service he entered and sat at the back. Afterward he called me to his study. I said, "Well, was it a boy or a girl?"

He replied, "Doctor, God has given me a son and I love that boy; but doctor, the baby [has Down syndrome]!"

I said, "Listen, at the very outset you must learn that God Almighty has honored you more than He has honored many people. He does not give all His children the privilege of great suffering, and He has chosen you definitely for this baby." Then I turned to Exodus 4, where God talked to Moses at the burning bush. He had just complained of his "slow speech and twisted tongue." I read verse 11 with a little addition: "Who made man's mouth? Or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind [or the child with Down syndrome]? Have not I the Lord?"

We know that there are tragedies in the world and that people do suffer. When we know that God has planned these things for His great purposes in our lives, then life can take on a deeper meaning for us.

The next day my friend went to the hospital. He had not yet told his wife about the child's condition. The nurses had been discussing it and wondering why such a thing should happen to one of God's ministers. They had the foolish idea that God must be whipping him instead of honoring him. A nurse heard him tell the doctor he was going in to see his wife in her room, and she told another nurse; and thus word got to the switchboard operator.

When the switchboard light went on, she listened in. The pastor's wife called her mother and said, "I thank you so much for leading me to Christ. He has just told me, and Mother, I love you so much. I never could have taken this if I had not come to faith. It is going to be all right. The Lord never makes a mistake."

The operator began to cry and slumped over the switchboard. It was some time before they could get all the circuits untangled. The story went around the hospital. The following Sunday, about 50 nurses went to the minister's church where he spoke on Exodus 4:11. Triumphantly he set forth that God is in charge of the universe and that nothing can catch the Christian until it has passed through the will of God. Later one nurse became a foreign missionary.

In His providence, the baby died only a few months afterward. Years later, God was doing wonderful things through that young minister because he learned what it means to say, "Lord, do with me whatever You wish."

When I was a boy in California, there was an old man in town who had left school in about the third grade. But he had been to the cross. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and was a blessing to many. When people were in trouble, he would go to them and do something to help.

In his Bible was a bookmark. On one side was a Bible verse stitched in many colors. The other side showed only tangled threads.

He would show this bookmark from the back and say, "Can you read this? Does it make any sense?" Then he would say, "This is what your life looks like." When he turned it over, they read on the other side: GOD IS LOVE. "Don't forget that He will show us the other side someday."

Sometimes God puts His hand on our lives and spoils our plans. We protest, "God, don't do this harm to me." Remember, He knows what He is doing. Instead of fighting against His will, say, "Lord, show me where to build," and He will.

This is God's way with His children. This is the Christian life. When you say to Him, "Do with me whatever You please," this is not tragedy, but triumph.


This message, slightly edited, from Bible Study Cassettes, is reprinted by permission of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Inc., Other messages are available from the Alliance, 1716 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA 19103

Dr. Barnhouse, 1895-1960 (see "Preeminent Expositor" in Pulpit Helps February, 2003, issue), pastored Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, and conducted the Bible Study Hour for 33 years. He is remembered as one of the most outstanding Bible teachers of the 20th century.

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