A new, special thought for Thursday post (even though it’s almost Friday), on recent and past tragedies this year. The style might be rather rough, but it should capture the rawness of my feelings.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Every day, throughout the world, tragedy strikes. So much of the human experience involves coping with loss. But this year seems especially painful: The Orlando Shooting, the Christina Grimmie Shooting, the premature deaths of media figures and celebrities like Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, and Kimbo Slice. Then you have the death of Lane Graves, the two-year-old who was drowned by an alligator while on vacation with his family at Disney, on Tuesday, and the murder of Jo Cox, a member of the British Parliament, earlier today. Finally, you even have tragedies involving non-humans, for instance, the unfortunate death of the gorilla Harambe. When these horrific events strike, we’re left with sadness, pain, and confusion. For a Christians, we may even doubt the goodness of God – what kind of God would allow such senseless death take place?
I’ve grappled with these questions a lot this year. In addition to the general tragedy on the news this year, I’ve experienced loss on a more personal level. This wrestling with death and sadness is not for me – my grandfather died in 2014 – but that does not make things easier. On February 5, 2016, a friend of mine, James Tilley, died after he fell three stories from a window at UMass Amherst. I learned of his death the next day. Later that Saturday I went in to work, and learned that a co-worker, Sean, had died. The day prior his mother called to say that Sean had a heart attack and could not come in to work. He left behind a five-year-old daughter.
I did not know Sean well, and he was a recent hire, but I grieved then, and grieve now, for his daughter who was left without a father. James, on the other hand, was a fairly close friend. He loved math and science, and was studying physics. Good with kids, he hoped to be a teacher someday, and he and I sometimes spent an hour or more discussing his theories on education and school reform. We also would talk theology – he and I both participated in Cru, an international para-church ministry. That night I did not grieve outwardly, and had to work my shift. But I remember the sadness and anger inside me, remember cutting viciously into pizzas in order to let out the pain. I would think of something that James and I had talked about, or how regrettably brief my acquaintance with Sean had been.
Fast forward to this past weekend – I am scrolling through Facebook, and discover that a past coworker has died. Leah Sylvain and I worked at Lakeside Christian Camp back in 2009. I did not know her well, and did not keep in touch apart from a Facebook friendship. But this still was the death of someone that I personally knew. She was only 27, and killed on June 8 when riding her bike to work in Brooklyn after a truck collided with her. And then the day after I heard of her death, I hear about the singer Christina Grimmie being shot. And then the Orlando shooting the day after. And then, a few days later, of the death of Lane Graves at Walt Disney World.
And so I wrestle with grief and anger. How can God be good, and allow such tragedy to happen? I don’t know. I know that God is in charge, and that he could stop these things from happening, yet he doesn’t. He grants us the freedom to do terrible things, and allow natural evils, such as hurricanes, fires, and floods, to sweep through and claim precious, irreplaceable souls. But while God allows, even ordains, for these tragedies to take place, he also is with us. As Jesus, God experienced what we do – pain, hurt, even the bitter taste of death itself. And, just as with Jesus, we may not be shielded from death ourselves. Any day might be our last. But, if we trust in God, we can rest knowing that this life is only a beginning, a shadow of the coming life without end. And in our short time here, God will be with us and grieve with us. When God allows tragedy to happen, he feels it as keenly, if not more keenly, as we do. He mourns the death of a loved one, the death of a pet, the death of every wild thing. When the shadow of death looms, God is with us.
This post is dedicated to the memory of James Tilley, Leah Sylvain, and Sean, and the victims of tragedies the world over.