Paul had been my weekend best friend for several years. His father worked for the local NBC affiliate WAVE-TV. While I had three stations to choose from at home, only one was on at his during many Friday nights playing pool, watching Johnny Carson, and collapsing in exhaustion. The Friday tradition was changed on one Sunday in July 1969. While most would remember Walter Cronkite’s almost speechless “man on the moon… whew boy, oh boy”, I watched with Paul’s family Huntley, Brinkley, and McGee describe the unbelievable.
The next month, I started to attend Louisville Country Day School and lost touch with Paul — changing schools and friends. I didn’t hear about Paul until I was in college, when mom called to say Paul had been working as a guard at a gated community when someone drove up and shot him to death. When I came home I wanted to go see his parents, but I didn’t. I hadn’t seen them in years, I feared feeling a tinge of survivor’s guilt around them, and I didn’t know what to say. I regret that I didn’t offer some consolation and a few childhood memories to stand by those facing “the unimaginable”.
Years later, I helped out with Senior Night as an associate pastor. Until Mexico built its own YMCA, we bussed that day’s graduates to the YMCA at Jefferson City or Hannibal for an all night alcohol-free party. I helped at the roulette wheel as part of the mock casino. The bus ride home was always quieter than the party.
One year, a graduate drove to the mall in Columbia the day he got off the Senior Party bus. On the two-lane 54 highway home he fell asleep at the wheel and was killed in the crash. I gathered with about 30 shocked and grieving grads, asking “Why?” and questioning a loving and powerful God when “theodicy” is no longer just a theory. As with Paul’s parents, I didn’t know what to say, but this time I stayed, sat, listened, hugged, and wept with the others.
Even with the best of intentions, planning, and safety concerns, horrible things can happen. The consequences we face can be harsher than our choices deserve. The illegal or unjust actions of others can lead to suffering. Maybe we can learn from the friends of Job in the Bible — being with others in their suffering does much more good than trying to explain it.
What areas of your life are touched by these stories? What questions have you asked about the theodicy of God? What answers have fallen short of God’s love you know revealed in Jesus?