Hope Demonstrated in Tragic yet Joyful Death

I wrote a week ago and asked for prayer for my friend Carlos Rodriguez and his family in Virginia Beach VA. Their 17 year-old son, Mark, was shot and killed on his way home from attending graduation. A police officer and the shooter also died. It was a huge shock in that suburban area. Huge local story that ended up on Yahoo!, in the UK’s Daily Mail and national news sources. My first post has links to the breaking story videos. A lot of shock and dismay.

So what happened after the news broke? Carlos and Leigh Ellen demonstrated a sure hope in Christ and inspired thousands as they publicly shared their sadness and joy during a trauma that would knock most people out. They were real and inspiring. They had multiple TV interviews and both spoke at a packed funeral.

Mark’s online blog and journals were full of amazingly mature views about God, life and specifically heaven. You could tell this young man was well parented and well discipled. Hundreds of thousands have viewed his blog where six weeks ago Mark wrote a post entitled ‘Heaven’ that closes with the words, ‘God is super good. I can’t wait to be with him forever.’ Amazing. Sad. Joyful. Inspiring. Hopeful.

It appears to me that the whole community was caught off guard by the idea that a family would not be devastated by this news but, in fact, actually celebrate God’s goodness and sovereignty in the face of a tragedy. Eternal life is real to them.

It was a remarkable funeral. The news coverage was amazingly open to hearing the Rodriguez family and friends talk about God and specifics about the Christian faith that might normally be edited out. You can get a sense of their godly reaction by watching any of these.

  • 3 minute news clip after the funeral five days later
  • Carlos speaking at memorial two days after Mark’s death – news coverage
  • Carlos’ interview – WAVY NBC news
  • Leigh Ellen and Carlos’ interview – WTKR news – “I don’t bear any malice toward [Mark’s murderer]”  

Thanks and keep on praying for them. They are going to go through waves of emotion and grief. Pray for me too as I talk to Carlos as well. Pray for their church, Redeemer Presbyterian, as they grieve too.

We’re going to be mulling over the Rodriguez’ God-focused, gracious and faith-filled reaction to this tragedy for years. This experience has modeled for me and Elizabeth to trust the Lord in the face of suffering.

And to never doubt that He is good.

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Friend’s son killed. Hope?

Mark Rodriguez, the 17-year old son of a friend, was killed in a random shooting last night in Norfolk VA. Carlos Rodriguez, Mark’s dad, is a church planter I coach. It’s surreal. Too impossible to consider!

(Update: Sunday Carlos and Leigh Ellen spoke at Mark’s memorial service. Local TV coverage here. Funeral services this Wednesday at 1pm at Tabernacle Church in Norfolk.)

Mark was coming home from a graduation event at his school and a guy taking pot shots with a high-powered rifle killed Mark. The police tracked him down. He took the life of an officer and then was killed in the arrest struggle. News account here and here.

My wife Elizabeth and I were discussing, “Could there be any worse news?” I’m dull with shock. Can’t imagine what Carlos and Leigh Ellen are feeling. Mark was the oldest of four. What do his younger brothers Will and Daniel and his little sister Maria feel? Their church family at Redeemer Presbyterian in Virginia Beach? The kids at Mark’s school? The whole community? The grieving police officer’s family and the Norfolk PDt? What in the world do you do but weep? Writing this all out is my way of processing what has happened and what hope we should believe in light of it

Life is short. And it is wise to stop and ask, ‘What hope do you have? Are you ready for eternity?’

Here’s what I know. Based on his dad’s testimony, I know Mark was ready.

In our many coaching calls, Carlos talked about his son Mark quite a lot. And I enjoyed listening. This young man sounded like the kid every parent would hope for. Carlos said Mark loved the Lord. He was very challenged by the call to be a ‘radical Christian.’ Last summer he went on a long mission trip to serve at an orphanage in Nicarauga last summer. Not a week with his buddies but a summer. Because he was outwardly focused on others. His dad said he had a super high IQ, loved sports, school, was applying for scholarships – could do anything he wanted. He wanted to be a radical Christian. From what I can tell by listening to his dad, he was.

But God decided to take him home suddenly. Crushingly sudden and seemingly random to us. Causes me to wonder about God’s wisdom sometimes…

Trusting that the Church in Virginia Beach and surrounding areas – which in Carlos’ case includes the PCA and two other churches where he had served – will be the hands and feet of Jesus. That they will weep and mourn together knowing that Mark is happier than we can imagine with Jesus.

Can we know for sure? Yes. In Mark’s case it was clear he trusted in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross in his place and that because Jesus paid the penalty for his sins, God who raised Jesus from the dead, will one day raise Him from the dead too.

Carlos just texted me:

Thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts. I don’t often understand God’s ways but I trust His character.

This man Carlos and his son Mark – and their whole family and church – inspire me. May you dear reader consider this amazing hope and receive what Christ Jesus has done for sinners who will simply trust in him.

Mark was blogging last month. “God is super-good. Can’t wait to be with him forever.”

I’ve been meditating on heaven a lot lately, and I must say, it wells my eyes with tears of joy every now and then. What a beautiful thought that one day, I will be completely in the presence of God and will actually be able to feel the magnitude of all his love and peace with no earthly fears or worries to distract me. The joy that I feel now, the serenity I feel now, will finally be made perfect.

The presence of God here on earth is enough to make me shudder in wonder. I’ve had some incredible moments in life that can only be explained as miracles where I see my Abba, my Father move in love for me so powerfully; it brings me to my knees in amazement. To think that one day I will be perfectly and totally in his presence….I’m definitely going to need a heavenly body because the joy he fills me with now sometimes makes me feel like I’m about to explode!

I love the image of Heaven because it is perfect, perfect peace. Every quarrel, every hurt, it’s all gonna be resolved. All of God’s children will be together and we won’t hurt each other anymore; we’ll finally understand how to love perfectly. And the fact that we’ll all be worshiping the Lord together in one place, forever….that amazes me.

It makes me so excited to think of the wedding feast awaiting us when we go to be with the Lord. I imagine streets filled with rejoicing, loud trumpets, wedding bells….I’m sure it’ll be far more incredible than I can comprehend now, and I love that.

God is super good. I can’t wait to be with him forever:)

(Kudos to ABC13 for posting this on their website in it’s entirety.)

Are you sure you will go to heaven if you were you to die today?

You can know for sure. God explains it in the Bible. If you want to talk about it more, I’m more than happy to chat with you about it.

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Pray for this dear family and the many traumatized by this tragedy.