The reminders came fast and furious for a season – a story in the paper of some people shot somewhere, a Marine I served with killed in Iraq, a baby, a grandfather, a parent, a son that have died. In some way, connected to it all is the cold, gray day of September 5, 1973. The highway lays before me, curving off to the left over the bridge and I am nine years old, bringing my Schwinn Stingray bike to a sudden halt as I round the base of the hill. Slightly to the left of me is a red Honda 70. A blanket lies over a mound stretched across the centerline and perpendicular to the road. I notice the orange helmet poking out from it. I lift my eyes, catching a glimpse of a brownish motorcycle, before centering on the couple holding each other beside a blue Plymouth Fury station wagon amidst various emergency vehicles – ambulance, sheriff’s cars. They are my parents. I am lifted bodily from my bicycle by someone I know to be familiar, but whom I cannot recognize or remember. Thoughts and emotions swirl within and about me. All is confusion. The certainties of life are uprooted and cast to the winds. Roger is dead.
I detach myself from the reality. I treat it as a news event. I will read about it, but I will not go see it again. The rest of the family went to the hospital in Miami (Oklahoma) to formally identify the body, sign for the effects, and make preliminary arrangements for burial. I refused. At the funeral itself, I tried to view things clinically. I was a child Mr. Spock, merely lifting an eyebrow at my father’s tears and wondering if the body was really cold like the books said dead people were (it wasn’t – more like room temperature). We went through the service, drove to the cemetery, and lowered the sealed coffin into the ground. Then each of us picked up a handful of dirt and threw it into the open grave as the minister read the words of the funeral liturgy. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust….” That was that. We all went home.
I did not go out to that grave site again until 1982. For years I even pretended he had never been, that everything was normal. But it wasn’t. It intruded upon my consciousness first as an abstract, theoretical question – a question that’s been around for a while. “How can a good, omnipotent, sovereign God permit or require evil?” There is no satisfactory theoretical answer to that question. Only in the concrete reality of life lived – and died – is there satisfaction. I had to face Roger’s death, not as abstract concept, but as a real event. It was not a picture on TV or in the newspaper. It was not mere information. It was my brother Roger, dead, buried, and cut off from the living. Facing, and feeling that fully, I found peace. That peace does not result from an answer to the theoretical question. It is rather in the concrete experience of God’s love and the loved, loving life that one finds comfort. Only then does peace cut through the confusion, settle the storm, and calm the raging heart. And in the midst of old pain newly realized, I found rest.
At last the truth broke upon me. For years I sought knowledge – facts, data, information, logic. But mere information is empty, vain. Wisdom is not derived from knowing facts or answers, though there are facts to be had and answers to be given. Wisdom is derived from knowing God – as a being, or more precisely, as a person, and not as abstract propositions. Finally I understood the preacher in Jerusalem who wrote:
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come.” (Eccl. 12:1)
It still hurts, as do the the deaths of those I’ve loved in the years since. But I am at peace with the hurt. I still don’t know the answer to that age-old question, but I do know Jesus and in knowing Jesus, I know I am loved and can love in turn. I remember my Creator. It is enough.