Many, many years ago, I worked at a car dealership in Tucson, AZ. We had a leaderboard that was updated daily with how many cars each person had sold. The leader got a bonus at the end of the month, I think. I was never the leader.
At our June staff meeting, one of my coworkers had tallied up how many deaths each chaplain in the department handled for the month of May. I was the leader. Well, tied for leader. We didn’t get a bonus.
I don’t have any idea how many deaths I am usually present for in a month. I don’t keep track, and I don’t go back to look at the end of the month. Some weekends it feels like that’s all I do. Some weekends I only have two. It varies.
At this point, I feel like I know a thing or two about death. I’ve been in lots of situations with lots of people. Every death is different. If there is one thing most of them have in common, it’s a desire to have questions answered. What happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen?
The “why” is where most people converge. Sometimes it is more obvious that others. A man was 95 years-old and his heart finally gave out. A woman was 65 years-old and had battled cancer for four years before it consumed her. In some situations, “why” is easier to answer than others.
What about the teenager shot in the streets by an opposing gang? What about the 20-something who overdosed? What about the child who developed cancer too young? What about the mother who lost her baby before it had a chance to live? Where are the answers to “why” for those families?
The answer is that sometimes there are no answers this side of heaven. That is, without a doubt, my least favorite part of the conversation with those who survive. People want answers that I don’t have. They want the death to make sense. They want the pain to mean something. They want to know something that I can’t tell them.
Tonight I sat with a woman who lost her baby. She was doing her best to be brave. I asked if I could do anything for her, and she asked why this happened. She wanted to know if she had done something wrong. I assured her that she had not caused her baby’s death, and that sometimes things just happen. “Why did God take my baby?” she asked. We both cried.
I believe in a good God. I believe God would never do things on purpose to hurt us. He loves us and wants the best for us. Sometimes things happen as the results of our actions, but they are not done by a malicious God. We live in a broken, fallen world where bad things just happen.
One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Hebrews 13:5 – …God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” I end many of my prayers in the hospital by thanking God for his promise to never leave us or forsake us. I hope it is a comfort to those for whom I am praying, to know that God is with us in the midst of our suffering. That when we cry and ask “Why?”, God is holding us and crying with us.