As most of you know, one of our students took his life this week. As our whole community walks through its own grief, and grieves for the family, a common question arises, an old mantra in days like these: why? We all want an explanation, a reason, an accounting when tragedy strikes. I’ve been thinking a lot about that. And, while I think most of that craving is our innate need, our desire to make meaning of the world around us, some of it is rooted in a different reason: a hope for safety and stability. If we can categorize it, label it, somehow differentiate it from us and from our particular situation, from our kids and our lives, maybe the grip of tragedy won’t come for us some day.
If the purpose of asking why is to avoid a similar fate, it is largely futile. Because the painful reality is that many, if not most of us are in the process of extinguishing our own lives right now. It may be in one sudden act, but for the majority of us it’s through one self-destructive act after another: things we eat or drink that cross over into poor stewardship of our bodies, destructive relational patterns of unforgiveness, isolation, or sexual practices that create emotional barriers between us and those others who help breathe life into us, or anger and bitterness at our situation, or at the world around us that is somehow “out to get us,” turning us into miserable misanthropes and conspiracy theorists. The result is the same: hastened physical, emotional, social, and, in many cases, spiritual death, brought about by our own hand, in many cases by the paradoxical, horribly misguided attempt to pursue our own happiness and desire to be loved.
When I used to ask why and my Christian friends responded that we live in a broken, fallen, distorted world, I always thought that answer was such an epic cop-out, like “Jesus” always being the perfect Sunday School answer. But, I’m beginning to see now that the utter depravity of this world is the only answer to the why question that actually makes sense, and that is actually a legitimate answer. All the other whys are just labels, futile differentiations that don’t go to the root of the problem, like explaining how six is different from half a dozen: you can call it two different things, but you get the same result, the same tragedy, the same death.
In weeks like the one my community is living now, in watching people I love suffer and entering into their suffering with them, God reminds me that the only way to break this cycle of death brought about by our own futility is to destroy it. Not to destroy the cycle, but to actually eradicate death itself.
Which is why, just as there’s only one answer to the why question, there’s only one answer to the how questions, too. How can death be killed? How can we have hope? How can we break out of the cul de sac of bad decisions and futility that ends in our own demise? Only Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection breaks death’s hold over us once and for all, and tells us, even though we may make mistakes, even bad ones, even ones that bring about the death of our bodies as we struggle through our flesh, and this world, and the demons that harass us, we cannot be killed. Not really. Because through Christ, God adopted us, and sons and daughters of the living God are eternal, and holy, and perfect, no matter how scuffed up the outer shell.
Jesus’ death and resurrection also makes us part of a community of believers, one more powerful than any force earth can assemble. I’ve seen the full force of that power this week, in fierce outpourings of compassion and love, mighty to behold. I’ve seen a glimpse of the love that put Jesus on the cross, and that raised Him from the dead, in the people around me. It is a ominously beautiful thing to see the unyielding love of God unleashed in the power of His people unified. It is not difficult to see how the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
Finally, Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us hope. Hope in a new world of perfect bodies, perfect relationships, and perfect outlooks on life. Hope in a God who takes all our mistakes, even our really horrible ones that hurt other people, and in some uncomprehendingly gracious way brings forth beauty from the ashes. And, hope in the reality that we don’t have to pursue our own happiness, chasing after someone to love us. Through Christ, the God of the universe will never, can never love you more than He does at this very moment- the still, very messy you.
Turns out the real answer to the how question is the Sunday School answer all along.