“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Be confident in the Lord and rely not on your own insight or understanding or judgment. Don’t try to figure out everything on your own.” (Proverbs 3:5)
I know it’s not a subject many people like to talk about, but for the past few weeks it is a topic I have been unable to avoid. It seems as though every morning when I wake up, “death” hits me in the face via the media (Facebook, Twitter, the news channels, newspapers and even Instagram!). Every day there is another death.
Yes, I know you’re probably thinking I’m stating the obvious – of course there is death every day – but let me explain.
First of all, about two weeks ago, former Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, passed away at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke. Whilst I wasn’t personally saddened by her death, what did sadden me was the vile outpouring of hatred from the British public. People who weren’t even born when Thatcher was in power were apparently seen parading around carrying banners proclaiming “The Witch is Dead” and “Maggie: Rot in Hell”! Whilst I won’t even pretend to understand politics, (let alone the politics of another country), I simply cannot understand how some people celebrated the news of her death. How sad that the life of this influential woman is now tarnished because of the way her memory was ‘honored’ by a senseless minority.
The following day I arrived at work and found I had been allocated a very sick patient who had recently been diagnosed with Cancer. She had ended up in the ICU after aspirating and needing respiratory/ventilatory support. She was by far the most unwell patient I have had to look after in my (brief) nursing career. The nurse who handed over to me assured me that she would not die any time soon. I breathed a sigh of relief. Whilst I’m not afraid of death, or of dying, or of caring for someone who is dying, I had yet to be with a patient in the moment of their death. Yes, I’m sure you can figure out what happened. She died. On my shift. While I was caring for her. One moment she was breathing and the next moment she had gone. Again, whilst I wasn’t personally saddened by her death, I was sad for her grieving husband and sons and I was reminded of how cancer is such a senseless disease.
A few days later there was the tragic news that three people had lost their lives when a brick wall collapsed on a city street in Melbourne, crushing and killing a young French tourist and a teenage brother and sister on their way to meet their Dad to watch a footy match. An extremely windy day. Three people in the wrong place at the wrong time. One moment they were laughing and walking and talking together and the next moment they were gone. In that split second a Mum and a Dad lost their only two children, Alexander and Bridget. A family on the other side of the world lost a daughter. Such a senseless accident.
Just last week I woke to the sad news that the 27 year old son of well-known and well-respected American Pastor Rick Warren (from Saddleback Church in California) had taken his own life in suicide. In Rick’s own words, Matthew “struggled with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided”. After an evening together with his parents, in a “momentary wave of despair” he took his own life. Again, whilst I am not personally saddened by the death of this young man, because I do not know him or his family, I am deeply saddened that another young life has been cut short and that Pastor Rick and Kay Warren and their two children must now publicly grieve his death. And I am reminded again that suicide is such a senseless loss.
Then on the weekend I had the opportunity to meet a beautiful young Mum who lost her first son River to SIDS (cot death). Whilst I had heard about baby River and the foundation (River’s Gift) his parents set up to honor his memory and to raise funds for research into SIDS, meeting Alexandra face to face, talking with her and holding her gorgeous 8 month old daughter Shiloh made River’s death so much more real to me. One moment he was their newborn, firstborn, beloved son. The next moment they were burying him. The death of a tiny little baby is so senseless.
And then yesterday I woke to the shockingly tragic news that two bombs had exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon leaving three people dead and hundreds of others maimed and so badly injured they will never walk (let alone run) again. Whilst I have no personal connection to any of these victims (I have run through the streets of Boston myself but this doesn’t mean I have a ‘connection’ with these people), I am so deeply moved and saddened to think that a young boy, aged only 8 years of age is one of the dead. One moment he was probably doing what my children have done at countless Fun Run finish lines – he was probably cheering his Mum or Dad on as they finished the race. The next moment he was gone. Dead. All because of a senseless act of violence.
Death. Old age. Cancer. Accident. Suicide. SIDS. Murder.
I am left with so many questions. How do I make sense of these deaths? How do I reconcile my faith in a loving God with these senseless deaths? Does God even care? If God is real and God is good and God is all-powerful, then why does God allow such senseless deaths to occur?
As many people have asked over the years, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
Why does He allow Cancer to take someone so quickly and unexpectedly? Why does He allow a freak accident to take not one, but two children from loving parents? Why does He allow a young Christian to suffer the torment of mental illness? Why does He allow a precious newborn baby to die without explanation? Why does He allow evil people to get away with murder?
It all seems so senseless. I understand death (ie. all of us will die) but I find it hard to wrap my head around senseless deaths such as these and the questions that these deaths raise.
These questions are the hardest for people with a Christian faith like me to try to answer and understand. For centuries philosophers and theologians have debated the answers to these questions without arriving at a truly satisfying answer. I can’t answer them. So I won’t even attempt to. But what I will say is this: no death is senseless, just as no life is senseless.
Every life has a reason and a purpose. Margaret Thatcher’s life meant something. The life of my patient meant something. The life of a French girl meant something. Matthew Warren’s life meant something. The life of teenage siblings Alexander and Bridget meant something. River’s life meant something. The life of a very young spectator meant something.
My life means something. And so does yours.
Each time I have opened my Bible these past few weeks I have sought scriptures that bring me comfort and remind me of God’s unfailing love but the one verse that has stood out the most reminds me that God, through His Son Jesus, truly understands the sadness of death. It is considered to be the shortest verse in the Bible and it simply says: “Jesus wept.”