Tragic! Too soon! Unexpected! And even heroism! These are some thoughts that immediately come to mind after hearing about the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Quite often, these tragedies remind us of the unexpected nature of death. Upon hearing about these tragic stories, people immediately conjure up the losing of a loved one through a sudden death. And it is not uncommon that the thought of our own mortality comes to mind too. Indeed, it is through an abrupt and unanticipated for death is where the words of our Lord often find fulfillment: “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready, so that he may not go naked…” (Revelation 16:15)
When we learn about the death of a child, it is hard to understand why the Lord would come so soon- some might be tempted to say “too soon!” –for a girl whose life was just beginning. Veronica, an innocent 6 year old girl, was one of 12 fatalities in the Century 16 theater shootings in Aurora, CO. When a young child dies, loved ones, especially the parents, often ask, “why?” Why does God allow a girl like little Veronica to die so soon...so early in life?
And then we have Alex Sullivan; a married young man who had just turned 27 years of age. That’s right! He died on his 27th birthday. Just before heading to the theater, Alex tweeted, "Oh man one hour till the movie and its going to be the best BIRTHDAY ever!” In a few short days, he also was due to celebrate his first anniversary with his wife. For Alex, and no doubt, for his family, his death was so sudden! Birthdays are a celebration of life. As such, they hardly occasion thoughts of death and mortality. Like Veronica, so much of life had yet to be lived.
Then we have the heroic act of Matt McQuinn, another 27 year old who instinctively took a bullet for his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, and her brother, Nick Yowler. When James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, started spraying his bullets at dozens of people in theater 9, it was reported that Matt “dove on top of Samantha Yowler to shield her from bullets, family attorney Rob Scott told NBC station WLWT of Cincinnati.” As one Saint said, virtue acts quietly, but the reputation of virtue is stirred up by adversity. Whether Matt McQuinn was a friend of God is unknown at this point. However, when a man lays down his life for another person, as Matt did, we know, as Christians, that the Lord looks favorably upon such heroism.
Finally, Micayla Medek, 23, was also among the 12 fatalities in the Colorado shooting. Her relative, Anita Busch, told the Associated Press that, "I hope this evil act … doesn't shake people's faith in God." No doubt, when a tragedy strikes of this magnitude it can rattle the belief in Divine Providence. Yet, it is only Divine Providence- one that encompasses both time and eternity -that can account for the meaning of a death of a 6 year old, for a sudden end to one’s life on his 27th birthday and for a man who laid down his life for two of his friends.
In a letter to a friend who suddenly lost a brother through a tragic accident in 2011, I attempted to address how the Lord tolerates untimely death of loved ones and of evil and misfortunes in general. Personally, I have found that it is primarily through suffering, praying, meditating on Scripture, and reading the writings of the Saints which lead us to the answer. Perhaps the reason why a good and loving God tolerates evil, human suffering and sudden death is the reason why we should find meaning in such things.
This begs the following question. It is one I asked my friend who was grieving the loss of her brother: How does God do it? How does he endure it or even tolerate untimely deaths, human suffering and evil? Even Jesus, while he was on earth (a divine person in human flesh), had to know all the sufferings, the injustices and cruelty of humanity. But there is a reason why he wasn’t in constant agony over this. There is a reason why the Lord can tolerate such a sad spectacle of events.
It has something to do with this: The worst of human suffering and cruelty on earth is far outweighed by the reality of eternity. Eternity- and here I refer to heaven –is so full of compensation, so all-encompassing, so permanent and so full of happiness that people who go there would gladly endure a life of suffering. I know that is tough to imagine. But as Scripture states, human life is but a vapor, appearing one moment and disappearing the next. God sees our life on earth- with our trials and joys –simultaneously with our life in eternity. He knows exactly what we need and allows only what is in our best interests. And our best interest is that our eternal happiness is secured in heaven. If the soul is not saved, nothing is saved. To that end, God tolerates evil, human suffering and sudden death.
The suffering and the injustices that are endured are not only meaningful but they are, ironically enough, the very instruments God uses to bring about our conversion and salvation. To the world, this is utter folly. But as Christians, we are to understand that even the most painful of circumstances can be life-giving.
Death comes like a thief in the night and for that reason we must be prepared. As our Lord Jesus said, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect.” However, when death does come at an hour we do not expect- when it tragically takes us by surprise -it is only Divine Providence that can give meaning to it! And it is precisely during times such as these that Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is in him where meaning, peace and recovery is found.