In the last week, there have been two dreadful road crashes which have taken the lives of young people, in one case 6 teenagers and another 5 people, including a mother and daughter.
This last week, our local news media have told the story of a country town sharing the shock and grief, about the loss of the six young people, just 15 and 16 years old. They were walking along the road, on Saturday night, actually going from one party to another—kids having fun with lots of their mates, when a car ran into their group. Six are dead, others injured, and a whole community shattered.
Two really remarkable statements have been reported in the news, from some of the funerals:
‘God did not take them …’ and ‘Don’t ask why…’
At one of the funerals, the minister said (as I heard it on the radio), ‘God did not take them, that night. Where was God, that night? God did not take them, but God was there, to receive them.’
I think this is a really helpful comment, in several ways. I have heard a number of people say that God wanted these beautiful young people, in the heavenly place, so God took them. I know from my own expereince, that the hell-hole of grief that you experience when someone dies in such a violent, outrageous way, in the prime of youth, is not helped one little bit by being told that God has ‘taken’ them.
What kind of God would want to take them like that?
But then to consider that God has received them, and welcomes them and now holds them, eternally, and they are with God: this may be some comfort, some help.
Maybe. But at least let us not say that God wanted this!
In another funeral, the grandfather of one of these teenagers said to the gathered mourners, and especially to the kids: "Don’t ask ‘Why?’ Here is a section of the report from the newspaper:
Maurie Wedlake, describing Stevie-Lee’s death as the worst thing that had happened to him in his 61 years, touched on the one thing that the gathering wanted to know, and can never know.
"Stop asking why," he said. "Keeping asking and it will destroy you."
He then urged Stevie-Lee’s young friends to see how their lives are so "precious and fragile".
He begged them to take care of themselves, to "think about what you’re doing" when getting into a car. He said that if any of them "were contemplating jumping off the bridge … go and talk to someone … see the grief this causes".
I greatly admire what Mr Wedlake had to say —up to a point. I agree with his words of advise for the young people. I hope and pray that they will not get to the point of wanting to jump off the bridge.
It is true, that to keep asking for an explanation of this tradegy will not help, in the sense that ultimately there is no explanation.
And yet I want to say that it is not wrong to ask this question. It is thoroughly reasonable. And in fact when our feelings are so raw that it hurts to go anywhere near them, many people find themselves thinking, as they have never thought before —exploring unfamiliar questions, of faith, philosophy, values.
It is not unreasonable to ask why such things happen. Why do bad things happen to good people?
I once knew a woman whose adult son had contracted cancer. She told me that she had asked her pastor, ‘Why me?’ and she was shocked when he replied, ‘Well, why not you?’ They must have been good friends already. He was challenging our assumption that life should always be fair to us.
The basic question here is this: when we ask, ‘Why?’ are we searching for an explanation, to tell us why such things happen, or do we need to know who is to blame?
Implicit in the ‘Why" question and in the ‘Why me?’ question there is often some idea that the universe is a huge system or rewards and punishments, and someone, somehow is controlling what happens, according to who deserves this or that, success or suffering.
I think people are entirely justified in asking, ‘Why?’
But I think also that we need to ask what we mean when we ask this.
Could such events have been avoided? That’s a good question. Sometimes the answer is ‘yes’ and sometimes it is the awful reality that things, accidents, just do happen.
Then we also have to consider the implicit assumption that everything that happens is somehow caused by God, and it is really God who needs to ‘explain’. How can this be justified, God? What do you think you are up to?
Is that what the question really means? Sometimes I think it is.
Strangely, the question seems to imply that God is actually controlling everything, but doesn’t generally interfere is such unpredictable ways—and then sometimes does things like allowing six teenagers to be killed on the way to a party.
These questions go to what we think about God as the creator and source of all that is.
Is God the source, at the beginning, and therefore to ‘blame’ for this design, which is somehow deficient, in that accidents and disease happen?
That leaves God in the past, or somehow outside the world, and uninvolved (just how some people, even people who say they are believers, want it).
Others see God intimately involved with the world, yet in a seemingly capricious way.
All these issues force us to think much more deeply about what we really mean by saying God is our creator. Does this mean God is controller? What do we imply, here, about ourselves, as God’s creatures? Are we mere stooges, puppets in God’s mechanical play-thing of a universe?
I find it much more helpful to think of God as the ever-resourceful partner of the universe, a creator who is constantly and positively with us, but not directly controlling all that happens.
A God who controls all that happens is not a loving God. Rather, God loves us into freedom, and with our freedom there comes vulnerability, both for us and for God. We do not always do what the creator may wish or hope for.
But our freedom does not require God’s abandonment. God is present and active, in the world, I believe, but is not manipulating and controlling everything that happens.
So, as the minister asked, ‘Where is God?’ or ‘Where was God?’
God is present, in the sorrow, in the baffling, puzzling situation, sharing the search for hope, comfort, and new life.
I would say, God is present, even in the question, ‘Why?’