Lisa and I believe that from the day our children first arrive in our home, our calling is to prepare them for the day when they will leave. It takes a long time for them fully to learn what it means to be a member of our household (at least it seems like a long time to us, and maybe to them), but even while we are training them to live with us, we are also training them to live on their own. To that end, we want to gradually expand their opportunities for independence.
Our oldest son-Joshua, who is 12 years old now-was given a month-long dose of that independence this summer. Right at the end of the school year we put him on an airplane to the Midwest, where he spent two weeks at Honey Rock Camp in northern Wisconsin before heading to England for a ten-day study trip with his grandparents and a group of English literature students from Wheaton College. Josh was scheduled to fly back to Philadelphia, by himself, on July 7, and by that time we were really looking forward to seeing him. I’m not even close to ready for Josh to leave home yet, and a month was a long time to miss him.
Now any time children leave the house-even if it’s only for a few minutes-you never know what will happen to them when they are gone. So parenting requires a daily exercise of faith in the sovereignty of God. Every day we place our children in the hands of our heavenly Father, who loves them infinitely more than we do.
Needless to say, we often prayed for Josh while he was gone, especially for his safety. But little did we know how important those prayers would turn out to be. For July 7 was the day that four nearly simultaneous suicide bomb attacks in central London killed more than fifty people, wounded hundreds more, and brought the city to an almost complete standstill.
When we first heard about the attacks, we had no idea where they were, or what effect they might have on Josh and the other people in his group. It was a good time to remember that we had already left him in God’s hands, and that whether he lived or died, it would be for the glory of God. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We also know that “neither death nor life… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). This is practical Calvinism: trusting God for things that are out of our control, including the things that we love more than anything else in the world.
As it happened, the Wheaton College group came very close to danger, but was spared from any harm. And when I say close, I do mean close. Most of the group was heading out to see the Tower of London that day. They were hoping to get a reasonably early start, and they were frustrated that breakfast was taking so long at their hotel. In the providence of God, someone failed to show up for work that morning, and it seemed to take forever to get served. Presumably the students were as happy about that as I would have been. But they took a different view when they arrived at Holborn Station just in time to see people being evacuated to street level.
Josh had a different itinerary that morning. His grandparents were taking him to the airport by taxi. They left the hotel before any of the bombs exploded, and it was a good thing they did, because one of the bombs blew up a double-decker bus only blocks away.
It was not until they reached the airport that they discovered what had happened. Someone in one of the shops said something about a bomb, and soon everyone was crowded around the television sets in all the restaurants. Perhaps you can imagine the surprise that Josh and his grandparents felt when they learned that some of the very streets and subways they had been traveling in recent days were filled with fire and smoke. And imagine how surprised Josh was when he watched the coverage on CNN back home and saw his hotel in the background of the broadcast about the bus bombing near Tavistock Square.
Other people have other stories to tell about the day that London was burning, and many of them do not have happy endings. We are living in a world where al-Qaeda and other malicious terrorist organizations do not hesitate to kill defenseless victims in cold blood. Some people would call what happened to the Wheaton group a near miss. Others would just say that they were lucky.
I think Josh had a better way of describing the situation. When he met his mother at the airport, the first words out of his mouth were, “In the providence of God, our tube passes expired, so we took the taxi to the airport.” Actually, Josh says the first words out of his mouth were, “Hi, Mom!” and after that he said, “Our tube passes expired, so we took a taxi to the airport. That’s what you call the providence of God.”
However you say it, that’s a valuable lesson to learn at age 12 (or at any age, for that matter). If you pay attention, it’s the kind of lesson you can learn when you venture out on your own in life. The best way to be independent is actually to be dependent, trusting in a sovereign God who rules the world by his sovereign grace.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org