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When I gave my heart to wisdom and to seek the task which has been done on the Earth — even though one should never sleep day or night — and I saw every work of God, I concluded that no one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, he will not discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot comprehend it.” Ecclesiastes 8:16-17
This is a religious column about the tragedy on Boone Road, but it is not a religious reason for the events. In fact, if at any point this column begins to offer an explanation of the suffering, stop reading. It is not a time for explaining. Nor is it my place to explain it.
There is, of course, an understandable rush to understand the meaning of this tragedy. That is why the incredulous “What?” of the early report of the accident turned to “Why?” when we knew that children had died. “Why?” was uttered many, many times on the night of the accident. It was said at the crash site, at the hospital and at our homes when we finally went to bed. We’re still saying it, and it is not the wrong word for the times. But it is a word that we must use judiciously in tragedy, especially by those outside the suffering circle of families.
Most important, it is not for us to decide for these families what the accident means.
There is a reason why we work so hard to explain to one another “what God is doing,” of course. “Meaning” lubricates the gears of our sanity. If we sense a reason behind losses, we don’t feel so lost in them. In finding a meaning from God, we find a trail to take us out of the woods. And so we are, as people of faith, always ready to lend our sense of God’s intentions in the darkest nights.
But the earlier quote from Ecclesiastes requires us to slow down. The great wisdom of King Solomon did not lead him to understand all things. Quite the contrary. Wisdom led him to accept the limit of human understanding. What happened in the accident is important and knowable. Why events happened in the accident is most likely unknowable. As the king illustrates, not understanding tragedy is not a defeat. It is to be human. And it is not a sin to be human.
And while I do not know why the accident happened, I do want to convey what this accident means for us all.
This accident means that two families lost children and need prayer for the difficult work of getting up every day. The world and its demands did not stop when their children died. They need a break from cooking, help with babysitting and maybe a cup of coffee with a friend. They need the freedom to grieve in their own way and on their own terms. They need close friends and family to distinguish themselves as close friends and family. They need us to share our best memories of Ryder and Caroline with them and each other.
This accident means that a few families are still nursing the injuries of their children. These kids and their folks need to be remembered and prayed for. They need encouragement for this long walk and maybe a ride to the doctor’s office. They need an extra hand to care for their other children. They need Good Samaritans to do the gritty work of caring for a neighbor first, and asking questions later.
This accident means that a tragedy settled on us all. If anyone was near the crash site or the hospital that Monday night, there was no place to hide your eyes or your heart. There are difficult stories still playing out in children and parents, emergency responders, school personnel, hospital staff, parents, friends and pastors who won’t soon put away the grief. We all need to walk together and listen together for what would be learned from this difficult season.
Finally, and most mysterious, this accident means that we will one day witness how “God causes all things to work for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This is neither a spiritual tag line nor a simple way out of a complicated experience. That God can bring good from all pain is both a promise from scripture and my own experience in losses. No day under God is ever and only a day of endings. There are always beginnings.
We may not see it yet, and we may not see it soon, but the God who crafted the universe can craft life from death, hope from heartache, and light from the darkest night on Boone Road.
The Rev. Dr. Christopher White is pastor of First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Ky.