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Fatal auto mishap reshapes chapel into time of prayer, reflection

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)-A fatal traffic accident prompted prayer and an unscheduled chapel message on tragedy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Feb. 26.
Southern Baptist evangelist Jay Strack was scheduled to speak at the Louisville, Ky., seminary, but earlier a tragedy in Nashville, Tenn., affected the scheduled chapel plans.
Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, where Strack had preached a revival series, was on his way to pick-up Strack from his hotel when Sutton hit a pedestrian who stepped in front of his car. Sutton and Strack were planning to drive together to Southern Seminary for the evangelist’s preaching appointment.
There were no indications Sutton could have done anything to avoid hitting the woman, Pamela Sue Douglas, 47, who stepped out into traffic while attempting to cross the road Sutton was traveling, a Nashville police spokesman told The Tennessean daily newspaper, and no charges are expected, although the investigation is continuing.
Ray Moss, associate pastor of Two Rivers church, said Sutton was planning to meet with Douglas’ family members. The victim was a Nashville public library office assistant and is survived by her mother, two brothers and two sisters. Douglas was pronounced dead at a Nashville hospital about 20 minutes after the accident.
Moss called the accident “one of those unavoidable tragedies that sneaks into our lives” in a report in The Tennessean daily newspaper.
“It’s been amazing the calls we’ve had – from out of state and from in and out of the church family. They’re saying they’re praying for the victim’s family and for the pastor. There’s such a sense of hurt that you can’t do anything about what happened,” Moss said. “You have to give it to the Lord.”
Southern Seminary officials were notified early Thursday morning of the accident but were not informed whether Strack would be arriving for his scheduled sermon.
The 10 a.m. chapel began with administrators still unclear of Strack’s status. About 15 minutes after the service began, seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. received confirmation that the woman had died in the accident and that Strack was in Nashville with Sutton and his family.
At that point, Mohler informed the chapel audience of the turn of events.
While acknowledging there was scarce information about the circumstances of the tragedy at the time, Mohler told the seminary community, “We claim the promise that when we do not know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us. So our incompetence in terms of our knowledge of the facts is not a problem here. For there is a sovereign, omniscient God who knows all things and whose Spirit will pray for us with greater eloquence than we could ever pray. And we pray in the name of our mediator, Jesus Christ.”
Mohler led the audience in a season of prayer for the deceased woman’s family and Sutton, whom Mohler called “a man of great character and compassion.”

With Mohler beginning the prayer time, seven students responded to the president’s invitation for others to participate. C. Ben Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics, closed the prayer session at the president’s request.
Daniel L. Akin, vice president for academic administration and dean of the theology school, then preached from 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 on the subject, “What do we do when tragedies strike?” He said the apostle Paul, writing with “pastoral” concern, offered three reasons, according to the Corinthian text, for Christians to take comfort in light of tragic circumstances.
Akin noted the problem of “theodicy” – Why does a good and all-powerful God allow suffering and evil in the world? — has challenged theologians from the beginning of time. Some have sought to answer the conundrum by contending that God is not omnipotent, omniscient and good, Akin said, while others have concluded the presence of evil and suffering proves that God does not exist.
Although it is difficult for finite, human minds to comprehend in the face of adverse circumstances, Akin preached, “God indeed does have a purpose.”
Akin said one purpose of tragic times is to reveal the “source of comfort” to suffering believers. The “God of all comfort,” Akin said, is the primary author of consolation. “It is not just anyone who comes to our side, but it is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of mercies,” he preached.
The family of God is the other source of comfort for believers, Akin said. The series of tribulations, troubles, sufferings and burdens which Paul experienced prepared him to be able to assist others.
“Why does God let you and me go through troubling times?” Akin asked. “To strengthen us, to prepare us, to enable us at a later time to comfort others with the same kind of comfort that we received in the midst of our pain and suffering.”
The reproduction of “strength of character” is a second purpose of trials in the lives of believers, Akin said. The greatest spiritual lessons are learned by believers not in “mountain-top experiences,” he said, but rather in “the valleys of despair.”
“God takes suffering, pain, evil and unfortunate circumstances in life to make you and me something we would not be, were we not to be carried through those valleys of despair,” Akin said.
The third purpose of trying circumstances is to “require us to put our faith in a supernatural confidence,” Akin preached. He noted Paul “despaired” of his own life, fearing it was coming to a close during some unnamed time of trial in Asia Minor. During that episode, Akin said, Paul learned not to trust in himself but in “a God who raises the dead.”
Noting Paul used the word “delivered” three times in verse 10, Akin said, “In an absolutely comprehensive and beautiful way, he speaks of a past, present and future deliverance that he can bank on because it is in a God who can raise the dead.”
While balancing the sovereignty of God’s role in his deliverance, Akin said the apostle also affirmed the responsibility of believers in interceding on Paul’s behalf. Imagining the Corinthians in a conversation with the apostle, Akin said, “‘Paul, who delivered you? God or the prayers of the saints?’ And Paul would answer, ‘Yes.’
“God delivered. But in some mysterious, inexplicable way, the prayers of the saints were also involved,” Akin said.
“This morning, as our president led us, we commit Dr. Jerry Sutton and this (woman’s) family to the care and to the comfort of our God,” Akin said, concluding, “What we did this morning was thoroughly biblical. We are helping with our prayers, claiming by faith that great promise that our God indeed is a God who can cause all things to work together for good to them who love him, who are called according to his purpose, that we might indeed be conformed — made something we could not be in any other way — to the image of his Son.”

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  • Art Toalston & James A. Smith Sr.