I was absent from church a couple of Sundays ago so I could attend a Board meeting at my college, Springfield College. It was Homecoming weekend too, and my children and grandchildren always come up for the festivities. It’s one of the weekends we really look forward to.
But this weekend was somber. Unlike every other homecoming I have attended, there was some fun, but little joy. A student had died, inexplicably, in his dorm room the previous Tuesday. Nineteen years old. Tennis team member. Freshman in good health. And an only child. The entire campus was in shock over this loss of one of their own.
Like everyone, and I do mean everyone, I asked myself how does this happen? Where is that loving God we talk about each Sunday? How could he let this happen? How could he leave the family of this young man alone, bereft and now childless? Why doesn’t he do something to prevent these kinds of things!?
When I officiate at a funeral, which I’ve done a few times in my ministry, I pray–if I am honest–pray it is not from a violent or unexpected death. I just don’t want to have to answer those questions.
Because I haven’t got a clue to the answer. Nobody does. And any pastor of any church that does try to explain it is just faking it.
Not even ‘god’s will’ works. Because, we say, really? This is God’s will? Who would worship a God that allowed a 19 year old child in the prime of his life to die? No that answer is woefully inadequate.
Sometimes people say ‘we don’t know what is in God’s mind when this kind of thing happens.’ That doesn’t work either. That’s the same as saying God’s will.
And occasionally someone will try to comfort the bereaving parents by saying ‘he’s in a better place now.’ Ugh, that’s just as bad as saying God’s will. Isn’t a better place here, home, with his parents and family?
During the weekend I watched an especially gracious and strong President of the college face this challenge. Mary-Beth Cooper is the most professional, effective leader I have ever worked with. I mean it. Most professional and effective I’ve ever worked with and I’ve worked with a few good ones in my years.
Mary-Beth was the pastor of the college church that weekend. Every where she went she mentioned the student, and mentioned the pain we were all feeling. Each time she spoke she reminded the Springfield College family of the need to come together, and the need to carry on. And she said, over and over, we need to comfort the family of the student. His blood relative family and his Tennis Team family. Anyone who has ever played a sport, she seemed to be reminding us, knows that a team is also a family that gets to celebrate together, suffer together, sometimes grieve together.
Mary-Beth pulled her team together and began the process of also comforting the extras in this drama, those that either knew the young man or were students on campus. With efficiency, coupled with sympathy and empathy, Mary-Beth steered the ship perfectly to a place where at least the students knew where to go for help and those that didn’t need help were able to comfort those that needed it.
As I watched Mary-Beth, who also had to keep running a college in all this, I saw, perhaps, the answer to the question ‘why does this happen’…Mary-Beth, with her actions and words, just simply said ‘I don’t know–but now we must go on. And we will go on together.’
I realized that if my friend Jesus were here, that is how he would answer the question. ‘I don’t know. But now we must go on together.’
You see, it is the going on that is the answer to the question why did this happen. Oh, I know, that sounds strange since it isn’t really an answer. But if we look deeply, if we ponder in our hearts, we find that continuing the journey is the only answer to every question like this. It is in continuing to live fully, in appreciation of a life well-lived in the deceased, and the pain his families experience, but nevertheless continuing to live fully, that we find the comfort and the answer to the question as to why such a thing can happen
Every member of our congregation–every member–has experienced the kind of pain that comes with loss. All of us have. And, my bet is, all of us have turned to God for answers and comfort. The key is to not turn to God for blame. Our beautiful, loving God, would never inflict pain on those he loves–us. It just isn’t logical that he would. And our beautiful, loving God can be our comfort.
Our friend Jesus–we talk so much at Christ Church about our friend Jesus–is always with us. We don’t have to call him down, we don’t have to pray that he will be with us. He’s always with us. And as we turn to him, and he looks lovingly into our eyes and asks ‘yes my child,’ we ask ‘how can this happen?’ His response is always the same…’I don’t know. But we must carry on. And I am with you.’
Look, I am not saying Mary-Beth is Jesus. But the way she navigated through that weekend, seemingly saying to every person she saw, ‘I am with you and we must carry on,’ showed us the Jesus way.
And that is all we need.
Peace and all good,