By now, the tragic news of the death of 15 people [updated to 16 on April 12] and serious injuries to many others related to the Humboldt Broncos hockey team in Saskatchewan has reached across the nation and indeed around the world.
When faced with such a tragedy, we often feel compelled to ask why. Why did this happen? Those of us who believe in God often add, Why did God let this happen?
Such questions echo thousands if not millions of times a day around the world in situations that do not reach the headlines. A loss of a spouse to illness. A death of a child in the womb. A devastating accident leaving many dead and injured. Why, why, why? we ask.
The question begs for an explanation from God. Theologians and philosophers call the answer to the question of evil and suffering a “theodicy” or a “justification of God.” Why would a good God allow such terrible things to happen?
While some theodicies may be intellectually satisfying in the classroom, or as a theoretical way of dealing with tragedy as an abstract concept, the intellectual sheen of those answers seems to fade immediately when tragedy strikes close to home. What seemed to makes sense in the classroom or on the pages of a textbook stops making sense when grief grips the heart while standing at a hospital bed-side, or worse, at the morgue.
Maybe the problem with theodicies is that we don’t have the intellectual or emotional capacity to grasp or comprehend the answer to why, even if God deigned to give it. Which is probably the reason God didn’t answer Job’s questions. Job—and us—simply couldn’t fathom, or maybe even accept, the answer if one were given.
Sean Brandow, the Broncos’ team pastor, when faced firsthand with the deadly wreckage, confessed, “I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to have something. But all I had was nothing.”
Frankly, I think Pastor Sean’s grief-stricken statement was right: If why is the question, then, indeed, the answer is, “We have nothing.”
We Christians who are not directly touched by the tragedy at Humboldt may react to Pastor Sean’s words, and respectfully (and of course, at this time, silently) argue with him, “Of course we have something—we have Jesus.”
Indeed, we do. But having the hope of Jesus and even the promise of resurrection still does not the answer to the question posed: Why? Why? Why?
So, at this time of grief and tragedy, when we ask why, perhaps it is not really an answer we are looking for. Maybe Why? is not a philosophical or theological conundrum to be answered. Rather, what if the question was a means of breaking our hearts in such a way as to bring us face-to-face with our own dire need?
In times of grief, music often becomes our voice when our own words fail. And as I write this, tears streaming down my face, I think of the third verse of the church’s precious hymn, Rock of Ages.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Why? I don’t know why. But one thing I can say with confidence: God knows why, even if God in his grace and wisdom never gives me an explanation.
But really, I have nothing to add: no wisdom that will satisfy our intellects; no heart-felt saying that will soothe our aching souls; no action list as to how to prevent it in the future. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling.
In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10-11).
For us, we can certainly cheer on the Apostle Paul in the first two things he mentions: Knowing Christ and the power of the resurrection. Me, too! I want to know those as well.
But what about that third thing? I want to know why, but Paul simply says, “I want to know Christ…and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”
And so I confess: I don’t know why this tragedy, which took so many young people, or any other tragedy that takes human lives, happened. I don’t know why God allowed it. It really doesn’t make sense. With Pastor Sean, I have nothing.
But I think I’m coming to realize this: Until I come to the end of my own rationalizing, until I admit that no answer to the question of why is forthcoming, I will be in danger of falling to anger, cynicism or even despair. May God help us and protect our souls from these things! Things are not necessarily made easier by coming to the realization that our hands are empty, but we can take comfort that to share in the sufferings of Christ’s creatures is a sign that in doing so, we have come to know a bit more of who Jesus is—the Man of Sorrows who bears our sin and our grief. This is the Jesus to whom we look in our pain—the same Jesus to whom Pastor Sean pointed us all.
As we grieve over the terrible loss of these fellow Canadians, most struck down in the prime of their lives, let us share in the sufferings of their loved ones left behind. Let us grieve, and let us weep, recognizing that nothing in our hands we bring, but simply to the cross we cling. And so, helpless, we look to Thee for grace.
[Editor's note: see related podcast interview with sports chaplain David Wells and EFC public statement.]
Author: David Guretzki