In the past three months, two young men of my acquaintance have died in freak incidents. They were the kind of events—one, an auto accident; the other, a hiking mishap—that often lead people to ask how God could allow such things to happen. It wouldn’t have been surprising if such a reaction were especially common in these cases, since both young men were just headed into exciting periods in their lives: moving out on their own, in serious relationships, with bright futures ahead. The suddenness and senselessness of their deaths seem somehow magnified because of their lost potential.
But both young men were Catholics, and not just nominal ones. Their faith was at the center of their lives, and it shone through in everything they did and said, even when—perhaps especially when—they were just goofing around with their families and friends. Their love of life, and full embrace of the Faith, didn’t happen in a vacuum: these young men were personal reflections of the culture in which they were raised.
And in the wake of their deaths, that culture asserted itself. Both died out of state; in each case, a broad Catholic community beyond just immediate friends and family drew together to raise the funds necessary to bring their bodies home. Their friends and family wept—and continue to weep—in the wake of their passing, but their sorrow for themselves has been mingled with joy for those they have lost. Their time in this vale of tears may have been cut short, but they used what they had wisely to prepare their souls for eternity and to lead others along the same path by their example.
Man was not meant to die, and thus all deaths reflect a certain senselessness. God did not intend this life to be a vale of tears. But the world that he created has been broken. It was broken, first, by our first parents, Adam and Eve, but the damage did not stop there. With only two exceptions—Jesus Christ and his mother—every man and woman born on this Earth have done his and her share, and we continue to break the world, day in and day out, through our own actions, our own sin. In doing so, we prove ourselves the descendants of Adam and Eve and show ourselves worthy of their punishment.
And yet: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55-56). The God who has allowed us to bring death into the world as the result of our sin also allowed his Son to suffer death so that we might have the opportunity to unite our personal brokenness to his suffering, to tie this broken world together through the wood of his cross. Through the death and resurrection of his Son, God made sense out of senselessness and bought for us a life that will never end, if only we are willing to take up our own crosses and follow him.
That is why the families and friends of these young men weep tears of sorrow for themselves but also tears of joy for those they have lost. To find joy in such sorrow is incomprehensible to those who reject the fact that we, both corporately and personally, are the reason this world is broken. Before we can embrace the gift of eternal life, we must accept our role in bringing death into this world.
Those who refuse to accept their role in breaking the world have no choice but to reject the gift that God has offered them through the death of his Son. They rage against a broken world, but they can offer no solution, no glimmer of hope. They see only the senselessness of young lives cut short. They rage against a God who would allow such deaths to happen, or—worse yet—see such deaths as proof that God does not exist.
Yet he does exist, as these young men knew. Yes, knew—because “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is not, as even too many Christians think, “the belief in things not seen.” Rather, faith is the evidence of those things. A faith that is mere supposition is no faith at all.
These young men knew that the world was broken. More importantly, they knew that they were broken. And in grappling with that reality, they came to understand—to know—that neither the world nor they need to be broken forever. They saw the healing in their own souls that came from faith in Christ, and that knowledge caused their faith to grow. They let that faith bind up their wounds. The healing that began in their souls caused them to shine forth with such joy and kindness that they began to heal the world around them.
That is why their friends and families find joy in their sorrow. They, too, know that the world is broken. But they have faith that it won’t be broken forever. And they know that, in that heavenly kingdom where every tear is wiped away, the senselessness of death will, at last, give way completely to the joy of resurrection.