This spring I attended the funeral of Barbara Comp, the widow of Gerald Comp, the preacher of my hometown church. I described Gerald’s tragic passing in the first chapter of my new book, Acts of God—Why Does God Allow So Much Pain? The following is an edited excerpt from that first chapter. I dedicated the book to Gerald’s memory; I hope this snippet will, in some small way, help church leaders dealing with those difficult “why?” questions that confront everyone in ministry.
Excerpt from chapter 1
I’ll never forget my first devastating experience with the Question. It was the afternoon of homecoming at my home church. Homecoming is a great reunion that joins church present with church past. The prodigals return, the pews are full and the aromas of home cooking drift through the building.
I was in my mid-20s then, back for a visit. It felt good to be home. We had a joyful worship service and afterward enjoyed the lovely day outdoors. We ate, we laughed, we played and we swapped memories. The sounds of children’s shouts rang through the air. Then their tone changed to screams.
We came running and discovered the ghastly news. Our preacher, Gerald Comp, had dived deep into the frigid swimming hole while playing tag. One of the kids wanted to know why he didn’t come up.
Life simply stopped. It felt that way to everyone. Even now, I can close my eyes and recall the image of Gerald’s wife Barbara and their two teenage daughters, standing with pale faces as his lifeless body was pulled from the waters. We fell to our knees and pled with God.
A group of men went about the business of resuscitation. Nothing. Our pastor was a lifeless shell. He was having his own homecoming, death’s mockery of our church’s joyful day.
Dealing with shock
Never before that moment had I ever seen my father cry.
Why, God? Why Gerald? Why our church? Were our prayers not sincere enough?
Gerald Comp was just 38, a revered pastor, father and spiritual leader. If God wanted to remove one of his most effective servants from the earth, well, He had done that. How could there even be a reason?
Gerald often quoted Romans 8:28, telling us that all things work together for the good of those who love God. Now those words had real weight. The apostle Paul’s math seemed like an imbalanced equation where theology didn’t add up.
As the ambulance came, and we huddled in one another’s arms, we whispered about what came next: Who will tell Greg? The pastor’s 14-year-old son, home with the flu, had no idea that his life had changed forever.
Someone had to bring the news. Thirty minutes later, a friend and I were heading for the Comps. I couldn’t imagine what I was going to say or do.
Just a decade older than Greg, I thought about my own father, and tried to imagine myself in this position. Where would I be now if I had been deprived of my dad at 14 years old? As I realized the struggles in store for him, I felt speechless, confused, spiritually disarmed and upset.
In the end, I realized that any words I chose, other than the information I bore, were next to irrelevant. The point was simply to be there to share an unthinkable moment. There were no magic expressions or potions.
Questions swirled in my mind, yet all that came from heaven was a profound silence—or so it seemed.
Dealing with grief
I sat and talked with Greg and saw the shock roll across him, the first stage of grief. Our church mourned too. Yet a strange thing transpired through our sadness: relationships deepened. We learned to depend upon each other, to minister to each other through our personal gifts, in ways that wouldn’t have come about otherwise. Because of their pain, people went deeper with God and in their fellowship together.
The day came when we reflected on our group of 150 members and realized we had produced dozens of preachers, missionaries and powerful servants, all who impacted larger circles of humanity. Among those servants is Greg Comp, who at one time would pastor the same church in which his dad spent his final days.
To the world at large, that would seem more than peculiar. Greg would be expected to get as far away as he could from such a tragic place. Greg sees it differently. He is his father’s last and most significant gift. His legacy continues.
That’s how God does things. If you come to be a member of Greg’s church and you experience some kind of emotional turmoil, Greg can minister to you with a power and a sensitivity only available to those who have known what it is to suffer, to ask the questions and to grow in the faith even when the answers didn’t come easily.