Shock and disbelief! That’s what I felt when my wife turned to me and said, “Kobe Bryant just died in a helicopter crash.” Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players who has ever lived? Kobe Bryant, who’s among the most famous and celebrated human beings on the planet? Impossible! There surely must be a mistake. This has to be some sort of cruel misinformation that a twisted person intentionally started spreading—certainly it’s fake news!
As we began to comb through various online news and social media outlets, we slowly came to the realization that what we had hoped was fiction was in actuality a fact. And it wasn’t just Kobe who died, but also his beautiful daughter and seven other precious people.
While thinking about the massive blow that this unspeakable tragedy would have been for Kobe’s wife, surviving children, and entire family, two other things dominated my racing thoughts.
First, I considered why this news is so shocking to us. Over 150,000 people die every 24 hours. We all clearly know that life can end for any of us in the blink of an eye. Of course, it always hits closer to home when it’s someone we personally know or who is universally known. But I think the reason we find ourselves struck with disbelief in these devastating instances is that many of us have what I call “The Invincibility Complex.” Despite the fact that we know how fragile and fleeting life is, a kind of subconscious mental block is always hovering right below the surface of our awareness, deceiving us into thinking that this can never happen—especially to us, to someone we know, or to the seemingly immortal superstars who appear to be immune to the cruel sting of death.
This deceptive outlook is extremely dangerous, because the mindfulness of our transient mortality is the strongest safeguard against a wasted life and a regretful eternity. As Psalm 90:12 instructs us, when we number our days, we gain a heart of wisdom. This then transports us to the ultimate gateway—called the fear of the Lord—which ushers us into the wonderful world of wisdom: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). Once our heart has been enlightened by wisdom’s sobering touch, we begin to understand the reality of this undeniable truth of Scripture:
Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)
Ultimately, we awaken to examining the state of our soul, and to making sure that we have run to Christ for redemption and reconciliation with God. And if we know for certain that we belong to Him, we find ourselves roused to conduct our lives in righteousness, and to live in time for eternity—making every moment count for the glory of God. We will live from the gospel and will be provoked to lovingly proclaim it to the lost around us. We will be compelled to keep our accounts short with the Lord, and to run to Him in repentance whenever we stumble, knowing that His love for us is inexhaustible, and that He sympathizes with our every weakness.
The second thought that occupied my mind, after hearing of Kobe’s passing, was the fact that tragedy can often lead to bitterness, and this bitterness is typically directed at God. “Why? Why would God let this happen?” And from there, a thousand angry emotions and caustic accusations begin simmering in our hearts against the One who gave us breath, and the hope of eternal life. Rather than go on myself about how you can overcome this, I think you would be better served by this powerful illustration that was brilliantly crafted by an unknown author. When you finish reading it, it’s my hope that you will sit in reverent silence and contemplate the infinite and undeniable love of God; a God who is good beyond measure—even when tragedy strikes and life doesn’t seem to make sense.
And please remember to pray for Kobe Bryant’s family.
At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on the vast plain before God’s Throne. Some shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But many other groups talked heatedly, not cringing with shame, but with belligerence.
“Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?,” snapped a pert brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror…beating…torture…death!”
In another group a [black] boy lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched, for no crime but being black.”
In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: “Why should I suffer?” she murmured. “It wasn’t my fault.”
Far out across the plain were thousands of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for all the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world. How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping and fear, no hunger or hatred, no sickness or sorrow. What did God know of all that humankind had been forced to endure in this world? After all, God leads a rather sheltered sort of life, they said.
So each of these groups sent forth a leader, especially chosen because they had suffered the most. A Jew, a [black man], a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child, an AIDS victim. In the center of the vast plain, these leaders consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case, item by item, leader by leader, to God. It was rather pertinent.
Before God could be qualified to be their Judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a human being, as a man.
Let him be born of the most despised race, a Jew, in poverty-stricken conditions. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. As a child, let him be forced to flee as a refugee, and live several years in a foreign country. Then give him a work to do, and an ideal to uphold that is so difficult that even his own family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest colleague, into the hands of those who hate him. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge.
At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly, terribly alone—forsaken by all his friends. Let him be tortured. Then let him die. Let him die the most excruciating and humiliating death possible, before a taunting, reviling crowd, that not only verified his death but contributed to it.
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the whole assembled throng. When the last leader had finished pronouncing his part of God’s sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. Nobody moved.
For suddenly, everybody knew that God had already served His sentence.