Unexpected Tragedy & Psalm 139

I heard about a terrible tragedy this morning in New Orleans. It happened to my pastor’s friend. A pastor’s wife was killed in a carjacking incident. She was run over by her own car as the carjacker tried to get away. Her two pre-teen grandchildren saw it happen. At times like this I question the good providence of God. Is God really in control? Does God have absolute or only partial dynamic control over his creation and what happens to his children? I’m sure angels were present. Why didn’t they intervene at God’s command? Does Romans 8:28 apply to this incident?

My attention was drawn to Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. If all our days are written in God’s book while we are in the womb, then God foresaw this day in the life of the pastor’s wife. God knew it would happen. It was written in God’s book for her life to end this way. This is hard to accept and understand.

I have used this verse for comfort. But what does this verse mean? There are two interpretations of this verse. It may mean the days of our lives were mapped out in advance by God. Just as an architect has a plan to build something, so God has a book and works out the events of our lives according to what he wrote in his book before we were born. This is a powerful revelation of God’s providence. It may also refer to the stages of embryonic development in the womb which was unobservable to the Psalmist. The emphasis of this part of the Psalm is about God forming us in the womb (verses 13-15).

A commentary note: “As architects and embroiderers have a plan by which they accomplish their designs; so has God also his plan, his counsel, his purpose, his book, according to which he reigns and does all things, even to the formation of a human body in the womb.” This seems to encompass both interpretations based on the overall message of the Psalm.

Therefore, I accept both interpretations. If God’s providence creates us in the womb, then his providence is over us until the day we die. None of us know what God has written in his book for each of us. We trust in his goodness even when we walk in darkness and confusion (verses 11-12). God is with us no matter where we go (verses 7-10). But the ‘why’ still remains a painful mystery and a matter of desperate faith.

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