Christianity,  Culture

God’s Grace on The Today Show

I’ve never seen Matt Lauer get choked-up on camera, but he did this morning while interviewing two Christian families for “The Today Show” (see video above). Lauer is astonished by their faith and even asks them if they ever doubted God through their ordeal. Both families confessed their faith in God’s sovereignty over painful tragedies, and it was an unusually beautiful thing to see on network television.

What was the story about? In 2006, five students from Taylor University were in a deadly car accident, and only one of them survived. The lone survivor was a blond-haired co-ed who was hospitalized for weeks after the accident. For five weeks, the girl in the hospital bed was believed to be Laura Van Ryn. As she recovered and began speaking again, family members discovered that she was not their sister/daughter Laura. Instead, they found out her name was Whitney Cerak and that Laura had in fact died in the crash.

It is a terrible story, but one that is filled with God’s grace on these two families. You should have a look at this video. If you are interested in learning the entire story, the Vany Ryn’s and the Cerak’s have a book that lays it all out. It’s titled Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope.


  • Lynbryd

    What a moving testimony & witness of God’s love,& grace. Tragedy turned in to Triumph. What a blessing. Thanks to the “Today Show” for sharing this update.
    God Bless to all.

  • Mitch

    Ok, the baptists and evangelicals are going to come after me with torches for asking this but how in the world is this supposed to be a story about god’s grace or love? This is an absolutely terrible story. You have the seemingly good and decent Van Ryn family being forced to deal with the devastating news that their daughter/sister has been severely injured in a car accident only to later learn the terrible truth that their daughter/sister is actually dead. It’s true that the Cerak’s had a happy ending but how exactly did the Van Ryn’s get love or grace? If having a loved one injured and finding out 5 weeks later that they are actually dead is an example of god’s love & grace, I think I’ll pass.

  • Denny Burk

    Mitch, great question. You are correct. The death of these students was a horrific tragedy, and no one should want to go through such grief.

    The point I was making is that God’s mercy is revealed in these people’s lives by upholding them in the most difficult of circumstances. The family that lost their daughter has had to walk down a very dark path, and God has been with them all the way.

    I think that it is in these kinds of situations that God’s grace is most manifest. Christians are never more like Christ than when they are suffering. Though no one should seek out suffering for the sake of suffering, it is nevertheless true that Christian witness to the grace of God is strongest in the midst of suffering. I think this is what took Lauer aback.

    The New Testament is clear that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. You wouldn’t know that from all the prosperity preachers that you see on TV, but it is in fact true. The normal Christian life is one that will have its own share of pain in it.

    This is why the apostle Peter told the Christians in Rome not be surprised by their persecution at the hands of Nero:

    1 Peter 4:12-13 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”

    The Christianity of the Bible is just a lot more gritty than the stuff you see on TV. It’s honest about the fallen world and its sufferings, and it alone (I believe) offers the only cure.

    Romans 8:18-23 “18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”

    Thanks for the comment.

  • David Vinzant

    I think Matt Lauer was so astonished because one would assume that a rational person would at least question the existence or goodness of God in a situation of such deeply tragic proportions.

    I am always surprised that deeply religious people – of whatever religion – do not question their faith more in times of great difficulty. Whether it is Muslims after a tsunami, Hindus after a typhoon, the ancient Greeks after a plague, or Baptists after a tornado, the vast majority of true believers find their faith only strengthened by disaster. Perhaps they are driven to such despair that their faith in something greater is the only thing that sustains them.

    The story does not reveal God’s grace, but the ability of the human mind to make itself believe something despite all evidence to the contrary.

    A question for believers in an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity: is there any tragedy you can conceive of so horrific that it would cause you to question the existence or goodness of God? If so, what would that be?

  • Brian Krieger


    No, I wouldn’t say that Baptists and Evangelicals would do so. It is a sad reflection upon those of us in that camp that we are viewed that way (well, to a degree). Now, if it were another of the pop culture hot-button issues, it might be a different story (ha ha).

    Dr. Burk, as usual, was spot on.

  • Mitch


    The first part of your answer I have to concede. I was really touched by the strength (or maybe actually by the peace) the Van Ryn’s seemed to have when speaking about the awful thing they’ve been through. Though I put no stock in religious faith myself, I’m glad it was a comfor to them. Of course, it brings me back to my whole beef with the sovereignty thing (i.e. god’s in control of everything but he’s not to be blamed when something bad happens).

    As to the second part of the response, and I know you’ll be shocked to hear this, I really dislike the notions that “christians are supposed to suffer” and “it’s ok to give up everything in this world and be miserable because of what will be revealed to you in the next.” The reason I hate these ideas is that they represent the “big guns” the church uses (and has used for a long time) to preserve its corupt power. I mean…it’s the greatest scam of all time…”give us your possessions and obedience and we promise you’ll get it all back and more in the next life.” If you’re the church, this is a really magnificent business model. You get unlimited income and the ability to control how people, behave, live and even how they believe. In return, you don’t have to deliver anything (at least not in this life). And as long as nobody is coming back from the dead, you’ll never be questioned. Show me any other business that can simultaneously possess the same level of wealth, power, influence and security.

    I really enjoy your blog, old friend. Even though we disagree on just about everything, I love being able to keep up with you on here. Keep up the good work!

  • cliff

    Matt L. said at the conclusion that he marvelled at the grace of the two families. I pray that he will see the that the gracefulness of these families is grounded in and springs from the fountain of grace, namely, Christ Jesus.

  • Karli


    I’m really curious as to what “church” you keep referring to? Are you talking about Catholics, Evangelicals, Baptists, Methodists, etc… I personally am a baptist and I’m trying to figure out where you are coming from in that the church is asking people to live the way the church tells them to. The church I go to lives by the Word of God, not what the preacher tells us to do. If he tells us to do something, he better have the Bible to back him up.

    I just lost my dad to a 3 year battle of cancer. I’m rejoicing in the fact that he is no longer suffering. He is in eternity with God. That is hard to grasp because we have finite minds. However, what the passage in Romans says is true – our suffering is but for a moment. Eternity is forever, so what dad went through on this earth is just a blink of an eye. He suffered because God worked through it. It’s hard to grasp, I know. I am grieving the loss of my dad and wish I could have him back! However, God is sovereign – the concept you struggle with. I, as a born again believer, struggle with it too. There are many things I’m not going to know the answer to until I meet my Lord and Savior when I die and enter heaven – which I know I will!

    Just some more food for thought! Thank you for being open with your thoughts.

  • A.J.

    Many of the preachers/pastors that I know definitely do not get “unlimited income” from their occupation. In fact, many earn a very modest living, and many others often work a second job in the secular world just so they can make ends meet. I have met many seminary students who have left very comfortable livings just so they can pursue a “career” in the ministry, taking large pay cuts. Sadly, this is not always the case, as some t.v. preachers get very wealthy preaching a message that real Christians do not agree with.
    Most churches are not rich at all, and many do well to pay the bills that keep the lights on. .

  • Mitch

    Very very sorry to hear about your father. I lost my granddad to gastric and pancreatic cancer last week and it was very hard. As to your question, probably the most obvious offender would be the catholic church but, IMO, every form of organized religion I’ve ever seen gets into the act that I described in my previous comment. On another point you made, if you need bible back up, most churches will be only too happy to give you a bible verse and interpret it to support exactly what they are telling you (no matter what it is). If you don’t believe that, just look at the folks over at good old Bob Jones University which only 10 years ago called an official end to its (purportedly bible-based) ban on interracial dating. On the sovereignty thing, I’m sorry but I’m not really sure what we’re getting from a church that says “it’s god’s plan” for your dad, my granddad and others to suffer. See, when I hear that from a man (or woman) of the cloth, I can’t help but think what’s going through the head of that pastor or priest or shaman or whatever is “gosh I have no idea why this happens but I better not admit that there might be no good answer because that would jeopordize the legitimacy of the church and of the very concept of religion.”

    You give great food for thought. Thanks for your comment and sorry again about your dad.

    I have no doubt you’re correct that many preachers and pastors don’t have unlimited income. I was speaking of the church as an institution. Just look at those catholics. So filthy rich they have their own bank. Hell, even their own country. And there are plenty of examples of American churches on the gravy train. In my back yard, there’s First Baptist Dallas getting ready to build some of the most amazing gleaming spires you’ve ever seen to the tune of 130 milliion tax free bucks.

    All snarky commentary aside, I do have great respect for those individuals who sacrifice material comfort to pursue something they believe in even if it’s somethng I don’t believe in at all.

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