Grieving “senseless” death – when nothing is as it should be

The death of a loved one often doesn’t seem to make any sense, but some deaths appear even more senseless than others. Are there any answers? (This is a post from a Christian viewpoint.)

The “senseless” in the title is perhaps misleading. For those bereaved of a loved one, their death may feel senseless, no matter how they died.

But some deaths appear more senseless than others.

The odd accidents that happen. The terminal illness that strikes out of nowhere. The despondency that led to suicide. A baby, child, teenager or young adult whose life is cut short way before time. The traffic accident. The poorly constructed building that could not resist the spread of fire.(Thinking here of the Grenfell tragedy although I am sure there have been others.) A random knifing or shooting. An earthquake or tsunami. A broken dam or a sea of mud.

So many senseless deaths; so many bereaved families struggling to find any meaning for what happened.

Sometimes in the news there will be the story of a random death. For instance, a person went out for their lunch break and never came back, because a wall fell on them. This person’s life was cut short. What did his work colleagues imagine had happened when he didn’t return from his lunch break? How do his family feel now? Shocked, saddened, angry?

Untimely, unexpected, senseless deaths have always led to the question why?

And now I turn to the Christian perspective. Actually I don’t think this is confined to Christianity – most religions have a opinions on why “”bad things happen to good people”. A lot of it tends to be on the lines of : “it was God’s will”, “it was deserved because…”, “God allowed it so we can learn”, “the good die young”, “it was for the best”, etc.

I’m not going to give my opinion of the truth or otherwise of those statements. I don’t doubt that we can learn from death and good things can even come out of our grief, but that’s not the same as saying the death itself of our loved one was a good thing. I doubt that this is usually true.

When Jesus talked with his followers about a group of people who had lost their lives when a tower fell (faulty construction obviously is nothing new!), he didn’t offer any religious justifications. He didn’t blame the victims or say it was their fault. He didn’t seem to suggest any reasons.

And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. (Luke 13:4-5 MSG)

He just said, more or less, watch out for yourself, it could happen to any of you.

Any of us could have been walking under the plate glass window. Any of us could be a victim of crime. Any of us could be in the train crash or plane crash. Any of us could suffer from a random genetic mutation that cuts our life short.

Sometimes there are no reasons. It happened; they lost their life, and that’s all we know.

Personally I think a mistake that people of faith often make – and I’ve done it too –  is to have kind of a transactional relationship with God.

A transactional relationship is a relationship where both (or all) parties are in it for themselves, and where partners do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation.

We tend to feel that if we’ve done right by God – if we’re following his instructions – doing things that he asks of us – that in turn he’ll make everything right for us.

And then when things don’t go right, and when things go terribly wrong, and some disaster or tragedy befalls us, we feel like “how come? I’ve been good to you, Lord, how come you’re treating me like this?” 

Our next thoughts might be on the lines of,

“I know God is good. And therefore if something bad has happened in my life, I [or my loved one] must have done something to deserve it.”

In other words, we look for somewhere to blame, and either God or ourselves are in the firing line.

Sometimes there is a cause and effect. If we’ve been a lifelong smoker, we can’t be too surprised if we get diagnosed with lung cancer. If our loved one has been involved in extreme sports, we can’t be totally astonished if they have an accident. If we climb hazardous mountain faces, the laws of gravity mean that a mishap could be fatal.

But what about the Indian bus driver apparently killed by a meteorite?  (See article here)

He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong moment, and sadly, that is how many people meet their deaths. They didn’t do something to precipitate it; they were just living their lives, and something terrible happened.

To lose a loved one in tragic and unexpected circumstances means that sooner or later we might need to acknowledge that there is no rhyme or reason to it. It wasn’t our fault; it wasn’t their fault; and I doubt whether it was God’s fault either.

It was a natural occurrence;

it was an accident;

it just was. 

It can be really hard to accept that there is nowhere to place the blame for the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, other people can make this important step in our grief journeys even harder by offering their opinions on “what went wrong” and/or giving their clichéd responses.

If you ever feel like this, think back to the people killed by the falling Tower of Siloam.

Jesus did not attach blame or give a simplistic reason for what happened. 

Neither should we.


Commentary on the Tower of Siloam (from Wikipedia)

“Some who were present” reported to Jesus that the cruel ruler Pontius Pilate had killed some Galileans while they were worshiping. Their example was particularly gruesome since at the moment the Galileans were killed, they were worshiping God by offering sacrifices according to their Jewish religious law.

Apparently those making the report were looking for Jesus to offer some explanation of why bad things happen to normal people—in this case even while they were worshiping. The “sin and calamity” issue involves a presumption that an extraordinary tragedy in some way must signify extraordinary guilt. It assumes that a victim must have done something terrible for God to allow something so tragic to happen to them.

Jesus responded to the question, answering that the calamities suffered by the victims of the falling of the tower of Siloam were not related to their relative sinfulness. He then diverted the focus onto the interrogators, wanting them to focus on their own souls.

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” [Lk 13:2-5]

His mention of the fall of the Tower of Siloam added a nuance to his prior point: accidents happen. Therefore, even in the absence of persecution, death can come unexpectedly to anyone, irrespective of how righteous or how sinful they are.
(From Wikipedia)
img_20180108_120900 (2)_li

A walk through the dramatic Avakas Gorge in Cyprus. That boulder has been firmly wedged into the rocks above for hundreds of years, presumably. It would be an unexpected disaster if it fell. I hope it doesn’t! (The drawing on the photo is to give you an idea of the size of the boulder. This is from my visit in January 2018.)


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