You never really know when it’s going to happen. Every day you wake up, get dressed, and repeat the same insipid patterns that you did the day before. That’s all life really is, right? Repetition. Occasionally you’ll have a brief moment of bliss—a thirty-minute time period that truly is enjoyable—but the feeling soon fades. Most often, it seems that the worst events define your day, outweighing whatever positives may have occurred. Unpleasant moments in life have a tendency to overpower the pleasant, setting a negative mind frame—temporarily, at least—until Normalcy returns, perfunctorily dragging his feet behind him.
The element that would make January 12, 2017 special was my Dairy Queen Blizzard: a moment of relief from the relentless accumulation of busywork. On my way home that night, I slid into the drive thru line and immediately began whining about the number of vehicles.
Of course! The ONE time I decide to stop for a treat everyone else in town does so as well. Terrific. And HOW is the Nicholasville DQ so clueless as to how many people are required to operate a restaurant? There’s only one employee on the clock!
I knew I would be there all night. After several minutes of sitting—desperate to pull forward a few more inches—the commotion began. My nerves were beyond shot.
Why do those sirens have to be so damn loud?
Those who know me know I seldom curse. I didn’t care. All I cared about was my ice cream. I quickly dismissed the ambulance, completely unaware that it was racing to retrieve my oldest friend’s dying body.
. . . . . .
For the first time that day, I was able to relax. Blizzard in hand, I comfortably reclined my La-Z-Boy and began sifting through my Snapchat stories. One in particular caught my eye.
I remember thinking it was an odd post, but quickly dismissed the thought as there were other notifications to view. A few minutes later, I switched over to Instagram and stumbled upon the following message:
“Someone just told me Leo got shot”
What a joke.
Then it hit me like a brick wall. I couldn’t shake the memory of the flashing red lights and sirens. Could it really be true?
I hastily texted back: “Who told you that? There’s no way.”
Forced doubt blocked my fear.
I couldn’t wait idly for a reply. I began scouring social media for answers and found more than I could bear. I didn’t even register the hot tears streaming down my cheeks.
It can’t be true. It’s not true. Leo is fine and he’ll respond to your text.
I couldn’t convince myself. Headline after headline appeared, none of them specific enough to provide any real clarity, but each real enough to tighten its grip around my trachea. All I could do was wait for the local news to release the name that I already knew was coming.
. . . . . .
I ran upstairs. I needed to be alone. Somehow, I stumbled into the bathroom, my vision completely obscured by tears. For a very long time, all I did was cry. Any attempt to think was drowned out by a type of mental numbness that I had never experienced before. Each of my senses had been reduced to a dull hum.
At some point, my phone interrupted this condition with a ring from a close friend. I picked up and heard only weeping. He feebly attempted to utter my name, and all I could do was hang up. Words struggled to escape my clamped throat. Eventually, I regained my cognitive abilities and began to process the reality that Leo was gone forever.
I seem to remember every excruciating second of that night. Every single vivid detail. When my tears dried, I grabbed my coat and took a walk outside—something I’d never done before in my life. I needed to have a talk with God.
To my surprise, I found that I wasn’t angry… just confused. Why would God allow this to happen? Why couldn’t He have caused the killer to miss? Why didn’t the gun jam? Why didn’t the killer leave the gun at home? Why did the wound have to be fatal? Why did God choose the most kind, genuine, and lovable guy to be murdered in cold blood? John 3:27 makes it abundantly clear that “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from Heaven.” Did this act of violence come from God? If not, God certainly allowed that bullet to penetrate my oldest friend. There had to be a reason.
I didn’t get answers that night, nor for a long time afterward. Truthfully, I’m not sure if I have the answer even still. However, as time passed, God revealed a new way of thinking that allowed me to cope with my losses, and one which ultimately deepened my faith.
One of the biggest reasons that people reject Christianity is that there isn’t an easy answer for why God allows tragic things to happen to good people. This is, of course, understandable. Where’s the justice in that? Isn’t a loving God supposed to be fair? The only logical way that I’ve been able to handle this question required me to realize that mankind is incapable of distinguishing good from bad. This may seem like a bold claim, and perhaps it is, but humans are greatly limited in understanding, whereas God is the supreme source of knowledge. The Bible makes this very clear. Isaiah 55:8-9 states the following:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
If this is true, why do humans even feel qualified to determine what constitutes good and bad? Furthermore, Genesis 1:31 states the following about creation:
“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Of course, this was before the first sin had occurred, so how could this verse be used to justify allowing bad things to happen to good people?
When God created humans, He gave us the ability to choose to do good or to do evil. Whether or not we choose to sin is up to us as individuals. Because God distinguished good behavior from evil behavior, He created sin as an intentional by-product. This can be illustrated by the scenario in the Garden of Eden. If God had not stated that eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was wrong, there would be no reason to avoid doing so. Therefore, sin was a by-product of God’s decision to classify right from wrong. God could have forced us into doing His will, similar to robots that are programmed to mindlessly perform tasks assigned to them by their creator. Instead, He gave us autonomy—a characteristic which comes with the right to choose our behavior as well as the responsibility to act morally. Autonomy also provides the opportunity for a relationship with God, which is the main purpose of human existence.
Once Adam and Eve disobeyed Him, He brought suffering to Earth. Many may see this as cruel, but if humans are incapable of determining good from bad, we have—at the very least—an intellectual responsibility to do our best to see the positive and negative outcomes of this decision before passing judgment.
My decision to apply this exercise to Leo’s death helped me to comprehend the purpose of tragedy in human existence. Over time, I began to perceive my friend’s death to be not only purposeful in execution, but also a tremendous force for good through Jesus Christ.
Immediately following Leo’s death, my community rallied together in a way that I had never before witnessed. The next day at school was the single most impactful school day I had ever experienced. When I walked into the building, I found myself giving and receiving hugs from those with whom I seldom chose to interact. Those closest to me shared moments of deep, unadulterated mourning in which our relationships strengthened tenfold. Kindness and understanding became the standard for all interactions, and my community supported each other in an indescribable manner. God’s love provided light to penetrate the darkness. As a result, I witnessed petty, long-term disputes fade away as if they had never existed, and new, healthy relationships blossom within the week.
It wasn’t long after noticing this dramatic shift in behavior that I questioned whether Leo’s death would be responsible for lifestyle changes in my peers. Because the incident was a drug-related homicide, I began to wonder…
What if Leo’s story influenced one to choose cleanliness and sobriety rather than drugs or alcohol?
Of course, I will never know the extent to which this occurred. However, if it did, Leo’s death may have indirectly prevented future homicides, overdoses, divorces, or any number of various life tragedies.
Furthermore, what if—in addition to preventing adversity—Leo’s death promoted fruitful development in the lives of others? After the funeral, I realized that several hundred people had heard the Gospel that day, and I wondered how many of those people had never been to church before. I knew it was unlikely that anyone would give his/her life to Christ after that short sermon, but what if that sermon offered the final push that someone needed to explore Christianity for the first time? What if—as a result of that fatal gunshot—one more soul would find its place in Heaven rather than Hell? And what if this person decided to pursue a career in ministry, where they would proceed to lead dozens of people to the gates of Heaven? Would that justify the murder of my friend? What about the killer? Is it possible that Leo’s death occurred just so Tyler Jeffers might find God in prison?
If this were true, and Leo’s death somehow resulted in one additional person going to heaven, would it have been “worth it?” This question is difficult not only because the conversation is nauseating, but also because the answers would vary dramatically from person to person. I’m sure most who have been subjected to a tragic loss would assert that no amount of good would adequately cover the cost of their suffering. Although I used to think this way, my view has shifted as time has passed. This is because I refuse to believe that God mindlessly orchestrates events without deep consideration of the consequences. There isn’t a single Bible story to suggest otherwise. The perfect illustration of this is the account of Jesus’s crucifixion. God did not allow the slaughter of His son without first having a plan so magnificent that it would save the world from sin. Leo was God’s son too.
Regardless of whether or not one feels as if Leo’s death was “worth it,” we can rest assured that there was an intentional and glorious plan in motion, and that Leo was the perfect candidate to help implement God’s will. This is evident by the astronomical impact that his death had on the community. Leo was a prodigious figure among his peers. Everyone at school not only knew him, but cherished their time with him. He treated everyone with kindness, and had personal relationships with people of all colors, classes and creeds. I have no doubt that the impact of death on the community would not have been as far-reaching if it had been anyone other than Leo. Because of this, it is my belief that God carefully chose Leo to implement His will. While his life on Earth was cut short, Leo had the honor of dying a profound death—one as a hero appointed by God.
. . . . . .
In the months after Leo died, I felt a substantial amount of guilt when I remembered my reaction to the ambulance. How could I have been so inconsiderate, cursing the siren without even considering the reason the siren was blaring in the first place?
Because of this, I began to pray every time I saw an ambulance on the street. I would primarily ask that the injured person would remain breathing, and that he/she might walk away from the accident unscathed. I would also pray for the rescue team, asking that they act quickly and effectively. For a long time, I thought this was the correct prayer. Requesting the “perfect” scenario. However, as time passed, and I processed my thoughts about Leo, I realized that I may have been praying for the wrong outcome.
If I truly wanted to help people, I had to trust that God knew what He was doing when He allowed each accident to happen. If God really has a plan to prosper us, and not to harm us, why would He allow people to get hurt? Is that not harmful?
The truth is, there are worse sequelae than physical death or dismemberment. If a man dies, but he has the living water inside of him, he will take his next breath in Heaven. However, if a man is killed, but he is spiritually dead, he will suffer for eternity. Is it possible that each time an ambulance turns on its sirens, God is intervening in such a way that forces those involved to acknowledge His presence? Perhaps this is why those with life-threatening conditions have a tendency to convert to Christianity at rates that are significantly higher than the general population. Often, tragedy is lucrative because—though accompanied by pain—it reminds us of what is most important in life. When I realized this, my prayer quickly changed from “spare them from suffering” to “reveal yourself to them and allow them to see your good work.”
All of this can be condensed into a simple message: if God allows suffering to exist, there must be a reason. Just think: if there were no hardships in life, why would anyone need God? Our primary purpose is to have a relationship with the LORD in which we glorify Him. When we fulfill our purpose, we experience joy. The relationship is mutually beneficial. Therefore, the reason God allows tragedy in our lives is to help us achieve our purpose. God’s decision to allow tragedy to exist is actually a genius way of coaxing His children—who are not always capable of acting in their best interest—into developing a meaningful relationship with their Father.
The hard truth is that we can only imagine what the effect of Leo’s death really was. I know of several who have either found Christ or at least explored Christianity, and I’ve talked to a few who quit using. However, the wide-reaching effects can only be known by God. The same is true for any other significant life event that we may experience. Therefore, we have two options; we can either choose to perceive suffering as wholly negative, or we can be comforted by the fact that God is all-knowing and is working in our best interest.
We were never guaranteed an easy life. However, we were promised that God has plans for us: plans to prosper us and not to harm us, and plans to give us hope and a future. Knowing this, when tragedy strikes, the best response is to place our trust in the One who delivers.