A Sovereign God Smashes a Young Family to Death

ellis family

The Ellis family

Here’s a story that perfectly illustrates being at the wrong place, at the wrong time:

A Washington couple who died when a large concrete slab fell from a highway overpass onto their pickup truck were youth ministers in their 20s and parents to a 6-month-old baby.

Josh and Vanessa Ellis and their baby, Hudson, died when a concrete barrier fell onto the cab of their truck as they drove underneath an overpass in Bonney Lake, Washington, James Ludlow, their pastor at EastPoint Foursquare Church, said.

“It’s a tragic event,” Ludlow said Tuesday. “In the blink of an eye, inhale and exhale, and they’re in the presence of God.”

Construction crews were installing a sidewalk on the state Route 410 overpass in Bonney Lake, when a chunk of concrete weighing thousands of pounds fell to the roadway below around 10:30 a.m.

“We were just heading down the street … and I could hear three snaps and down it went on top of the truck,” witness Dawn Nelson, who was riding in a car behind the pickup, told KING-TV of Seattle. “There was nothing anyone could do. It was just surreal.”

It was not immediately known what caused the “very heavy” concrete structure to fall. Bonney Lake police, the state Department of Transportation and representatives from contractor WHH Nisqually are investigating.

City spokesman Woody Edvalson said the material that fell was part of the original span, which was built in 1992 and has a sufficiency rating of 95.3 out of 100.

Bonney Lake is about 30 miles southeast of Seattle.

Flowers, a cross and a teddy bear have been placed near the overpass. Both the span and road underneath reopened. Debris from the concrete slab is still on the ground, however.

Ludlow described the Ellis family as “great people” who were loved by kids in the church’s congregation….

What a tragedy, a poignant reminder of how quickly one’s life can be snuffed out.

The Ellis family attended Eastpointe Foursquare Church in Buckely, Washington, where Josh and Vanessa were youth leaders.

I am always hesitant to use tragedies like this to make a point, but there is an aspect of this story that I think is important to discuss.

Shane Lance, the worship leader at Eastpointe,  had this to say about the accident:

“It’s just crazy as a friend. I just can’t wrap my head around it, and that does have to do with how random and how freakish the accident was.”

“It feels unbelievable because a split second on either side the cement slab would have fallen right in front of them and they would have been fine or behind them and they would have been fine. What I do know is that there’s no answer to the logic of it and there’s no answer to the question why.”

“We do know God is good; He’s just so good. He’s going to pull goodness out of this situation somehow, even though right now that just feels illogical. And there’s also comfort knowing that they’re with Jesus and they’re comforted and they’re covered by His grace and power now.”

The One News Now report goes to say “The worship pastor adds they know God is sovereign even when it doesn’t make sense.”

According to Lance and Eastpointe Foursquare Church, the Ellis family was smashed to death because the Christian God decreed it to be so. God is the giver and taker of life and he determined it was time for Ellis’s to die. Not content to quietly kill them in their sleep, he dropped a concrete barrier weighing thousands of pounds on top of them as they drove near an overpass.  What should we say about a God who behaves in such a horrific manner?

Lance, seeking for answers as to WHY God killed his friends, believes that the sovereign God he loves and worships only does good and he will surely use this tragedy for a greater purpose. What Godly purpose requires the sacrifice of a young father, mother, and their child? How is this any different from the Aztec Indians sacrificing humans to their God?

Lance’s comments betray the mental and emotional battle that rages in his mind. He wants to believe God is sovereign, God is love, God only does good, yet his dear friends are dead. In the aforementioned article, Lance stated  that the accident “just feels illogical.” When viewed in a religious context, he is right.  How can someone say God is love and God only does good, knowing that the death of the Ellis’s is anything but loving and good? I am sure that cognitive dissonance afflicts many of those trying to make sense of this tragedy.

As a humanist, I don’t think the accident was illogical. The Ellis family was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Such things happen every day in every country of the world. 13 years ago, a Southern Baptist pastor, his wife, and three young children, were driving along an Indiana road when a tree toppled over smashing their car. The father, mother, and two children were killed. Baptist Press reported:

A small-town Southern Baptist pastor, his wife, and two small children were killed Jan. 1 when a dead tree fell on top of their car, crushing the passenger compartment.

Stanley Paul Jones, 46, pastor of Buck Creek Baptist Church in Cumberland, was killed along with his wife, Beth Ann Hobbs Jones, 39, and two of their children, Lauren, 6, and Tyler, 10.

Another daughter, Emily, 4, survived and was listed in fair condition at an Indianapolis-area hospital.

There appeared to have been no wind or other circumstances that caused the tree to fall just as Jones’ car was passing underneath on the two-lane road.

How do you explain the deaths that came a few hours into the new year?

Jones was westbound on Hancock County Road 100 South, approaching the intersection with County Road 200 West, about seven miles east of the church he served. There are woods in the area. A dead tree, said to have been 5 feet in diameter, fell just as Jones’ vehicle was passing underneath, according to Hancock County deputies.

“Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re exempt from tragedy,” said William Smith of Cumberland Christian Church, who knew Jones and helped his church. “There’s no explanation for it, but we believe that an all-knowing God is in control of everything.”…

There’s that sovereign God again, the God who is all-knowing and controls everything. Again, like the Ellis family, the Jones family was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. But, in both cases, there are humans who are culpable for what happened. While the concrete barrier falling was an accident, someone was operating the machinery that resulted in the fall.  Same goes for the Jones family. The dead tree that killed them was on someone’s property. They likely knew it was dead and could topple over, yet they did nothing about it. The state of Indiana is also culpable. It is their responsibility to make sure that trees along the right-of-way are sound. If they are not, they should be removed lest they topple over and hit a passerby.

Rare is the circumstance where no culpability can be found. I have had several near brushes with death, and in every instance a human was to blame. We recognize that we live in a danger-filled world, where living to old age is as much about luck as it is genetics. For the Ellis and Jones families, their luck ran out and three children and four adults died.

Imagine these families tooling down the road without a care in the world. Maybe they were like Polly and I years ago. We’d spend hours in the car singing hymns and praise and worship songs. Sometimes, we sang along with a cassette tape or a CD. Just praising Jesus, worshiping the wonderful, loving God of the universe. And then,  BAM, the sovereign God of Christianity drops a cement barrier or a tree on top of the car. What kind of God behaves like this? Perhaps Christians need to tell God to please leave them alone; that they are fine without his love, care, and protection.

The Ellis family, according to Shane Lance, is in the presence of Jesus. Theoretically, isn’t this what many Christians live for? Whether by rapture or death, the Christian is free from the world controlled by the prince and power of the air, Satan.  Life is little more than  preparation for heaven. The Bible says, prepare to meet the Lord thy God. Since the present life is transitory and fleeting, the Christian focuses on laying up treasures in heaven. Testimonies are given, expressing the desire to absent from the body and present with the Lord. If heaven and being in the presence of Jesus is the end game, shouldn’t Christians rejoice upon hearing the stories mentioned in this post?  Why all the sadness, grief, and despair? Perhaps, even the Christian has their doubts about what lies beyond the grave. They know what the Bible says, what their pastor says, and what their “heart” tells them, but reality tells them something far different.

I am not certain whether the atheistic/humanistic way of looking at tragedies and death is better, but it is brutally honest. I fully understand the appeal of religion in times of tragedy. People want to desperately believe that their life matters, both now and beyond the grave. While there is no rational proof for such claims, faith allows the believer to set reason aside and cling to hope. The atheist and the humanist must embrace life as it is. Sometimes, life can be harsh and ugly, as in the case of the Ellis family. No thoughtful atheist would ever wish such a tragedy on anyone, but we know that things like this do happen and they may some day happen to us.

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17 Comments

  1. Troy

    People used to wonder why Zeus would use his thunderbolt to destroy his own temples. When you attribute “sovereignty” to anything but physics one is bound to be confounded by such an incident.

    Reply
  2. Zoe

    Oh my. So sad Bruce. šŸ™

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Yes, it is. So young, so promising, and in a blink, so dead.

      Reply
  3. brbr2424

    Does this mean the family will not be suing the city for wrongful death, given that it was an act of god?

    Reply
  4. Scott

    For those who believe in “Gods Plan”, I wonder if they then think that God is assigning labels to souls as they are shipped out Heaven for birth: Dies with cancer, Killed in war, Gets mesothelioma, becomes a lawyer, etc.

    Both accounts are deeply sad and tragic, but show how at times death arrives randomly for some.

    Which mean either God is a nasty SOB or not there at all.

    Scott

    Reply
  5. Geoff

    If the concrete slab had fallen just behind them they’d have thanked god for saving them. God wins regardless.

    The majority of funerals I attend these days (UK), sadly starting to increase in incidence, are of people who have little, or no, religious belief, along with most of the mourners. A few are full blown religious affairs, with prayers and hymns. Ultimately there is no difference to the ‘feel’ of the occasions. They are suitably somber, lots of emotion, respect for the wishes of the family, and a get-together with plenty of drinks. Then life moves on. Nothing changes. And, so far, no sign of any divine hand in any of it.

    Reply
  6. Steve

    What a horrible, senseless tragedy & such a sad loss of life. My heart goes out to their families. What a shame

    Reply
  7. RebelLady

    This tragic accident came up just last night on another website where we were discussing the sovereignty of god in relation to physical/sexual abuse and rape (especially of children). A pastor related this accident to the group and asked, “Was God surprised when this accident happened?”

    My answer was the same…when a concrete slab weighing thousands of pounds falls on an occupied pick-up truck, the occupants of the pick-up truck will more than likely suffer fatal injuries. This same pastor believes that god doesn’t instigate evil but allows it so that, at some point in the future (possibly judgement day when we get to see perpetrators sent to hell?) good will come from it???!!!

    I was and am amazed at such a callous and cruel answer and by such a callous and cruel god. It would have been better had this pastor just realized that, in fact, “I don’t know”. Shit happens! Accidents happen, bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. That’s just the way it is…life is random.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I’m with you “I was and am amazed at such a callous and cruel answer and by such a callous and cruel god. It would have been better had this pastor just realized that, in fact, ā€œI donā€™t knowā€. ” My wife and I talked a good bit about this the other day, trying to square how someone can believe in a God who says, hey this is a good day to drop a cement barrier on a young, loving, devoted to Christ family. I fail to see any good that God could make out of this, though I am sure his spokesmen on earth will try.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Bruce

      Reply
  8. Brian

    My sister was born in the late forties and when mom went into convulsions during her pregnancy (they were not so well-informed about toxicity then) the emerg filled her with narcotics. My sis was born with major developmental problems both physical and mental. After a short time at home, it was necessary to put her into full-time care. She lived over fifty years without developing much physically or mentally. She never talked but had a kind of recognition with those who performed her daily care-taking. One day, an aide filled a tub with water for her bath and then clicked the switch that lowered her slowly down in a sling so that she could be washed up. The bath was accidentally scalding hot and she suffered terrible burns to three-quarters of her body; died several days later. My parents chose for it to be God’s Will and I chose to go legal… How did such a thing occur? Could it happen again? My parents settled for very little money, some big sorry-sorry talk and little else. But at least the issue was brought to Court and the Court advised a revamping of standards and back-ups to prevent such a tragedy again. It was a fluke that my sister had to be tortured like that and die in misery. I never really knew her but my parents believe she is in heaven and they will see her again soon. (My dad is 95 and mom soon 90.) It really does not matter what happens once you go delusional. In rare cases, some people return to rationality but very often, not. Reality is harsh, both magnificent and horrible too. Some prefer the magic of God.

    Reply
  9. Barbara Miller

    Your question about why the sadness and grief if they believe that the loved ones are going to heaven….. have you heard of a Homegoing ceremony? It’s a funeral common here in the American Southeast, specially the black communities. It originated with the slaves, who saw death as a sort of freedom. Many of the early slaves were ‘Christianized’ by their owners, and stories of Moses, and the idea that the dead would be in a wonderful happy place with Jesus started the Homegoing ceremony.

    In a Homegoing, the family members dance up the aisle to the coffin, and give out cries of joy. There’s lots of singing and dancing. It’s an interesting experience. Not sure if you could find any bits of one on YouTube.

    Reply
  10. Byroniac

    A friend of mine who is not a Theist (or even a Deist as far as I know) pointed out to me that Christians and even some non-Christians (such as myself, per our conversation together) tend to presume that God is both able and willing to intervene in human affairs and is concerned about human existence. But it is possible that a God exists or Gods exist and there is no desire to intervene or be concerned with human affairs, regardless of ability to do so. It is understandable that Christians have this assumption because their religion teaches it. I once professed Christianity and still struggle with its mindset in some ways. In some ways it is more comforting to believe that a benevolent sovereign God is in control of all events, good and bad, for ultimate good, and in some ways it is more comforting to believe that no one is in control and we have only ourselves to blame except in circumstances of freak accidents which become interesting statistics but have no ultimate meaning beyond that. But as far as I can tell, in situations like this, one can declare by faith that God is both good and in control, but there is no evidence that would rationally persuade someone to think so, yet so many seem to sincerely believe it.

    Reply
  11. Nicoletta

    From a Humanistic perspective, there’s nothing after this life to look forward to. Where is the comfort in that?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      The hypocrisy of this line of argument is shown by the fact that Christians don’t commit suicide after they are converted. If the only thing that makes life worth living is the fanciful promise of life after death and heaven, I would think Christians would want to get there as soon as possible. Yet, Christians seem in no hurry to die, betraying the fact that they, like the humanist, know we only have one life and then we are dead.

      Life is precious because we only have one of them. I intend to live and enjoy the life I have. I have so much to live for: children, grandchildren, wife….well I won’t bore you with my boring, hopeless, empty life.

      Reply
      1. Zoe

        On another site I’m talking with a Mormon who has said twice that she would kill herself if she was an atheist (re: no purpose, no after-life.) One wonders, “Where is the comfort in that?” People ask how we can live comfortably believing there is no after-life but don’t see how weird it is to hear them say they live thinking they’d kill themselves if they knew there was no after-life.

        Hey kids, mom just found out there is in fact no after-life. I’ve learned that our faith means nothing. There is no celestial kingdom. I’m going to kill myself now. You might as well too.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Great example, Zoe.

          Reply

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