My phone vibrated, waking me out of a deep slumber, showing news that I didn’t realize would change everything for me. On July 1, 2014, my friend, Joseph Alaniz, was killed in a car accident. I didn’t believe it until I logged into Twitter and saw my timeline flooded with sorrowful tweets expressing grief. High school graduation was less than a month before. Everyone’s excitement over the next chapter of our lives was immediately extinguished. The morning the news spread was traumatic, I remember going to Joseph’s house and seeing my friends sitting on the curbs and sidewalks sobbing in disbelief. It is a memory that will be engraved in my mind for the rest of my life, and one that I do not like to visit often.
For obvious reasons, the recent loss of Minnesota sophomore David Grotberg brought that horrific memory back to my mind. When I read the email about David’s passing, I immediately recalled the text I woke up to saying Joseph was gone. Although I didn’t know David, my heart hurt for his family, friends, professors and even acquaintances that may have encountered him. I can tell that he was special from the lives that he touched through all that he was involved in, just like my friend that I lost two years ago.
As a Christian, I have come to accept that I will never have the luxury of being able to understand why God allows certain things happen. Why does cancer exist? Why does racism seem to prevail? Why are Clinton and Trump our presidential candidates? However, the death of young people is by far the hardest thing for me to merely accept with peace. I do not think anyone can hear about the death of someone who had their whole life ahead of them with a light heart. So, how do we handle it? As a Christian university, how do we address something we cannot explain? Do we merely give our condolences and act as if God had nothing to do with it? Or do we try to give encouragement by shoving Scriptures down the throats of grieving people?
One of the things that I regret most about the day that I found out about Joseph’s passing is the way I immediately combatted the outcries against Christianity. My twitter feed was constantly flooded with tweets questioning God’s character- “How can you believe in a God who would let this happen?” “Stuff like this is really what makes me even question the point of Christianity.” I reacted by doing more harm than good. I tried to take a stand for my faith, but I ended up attacking those hurt and broken friends for being emotional. In the words of my father, “You can’t ask someone to stop bleeding when they’ve been cut.”
I do not have an explanation for why tragedies occur, and I have no standing to be the mouthpiece of God. I don’t have the perfect Christian response to tragedies. All I can suggest is that we allow people to bleed. Hurting is not a sin. I am not proposing that we don’t recommend Scripture and pray for victims to heal with time. I am simply saying: be human with them for a moment. Enter into their grief with them.
The intention of this article is not to give a “How To” on how to interact with victims of a tragedy. My hope is that people will simply avoid the mistake that I made in trying to tell my friends and acquaintances how to grieve. Contrary to modern belief, God does not need a lawyer or PR rep. It’s not our job to explain or justify the actions of God. As humans and children of God, it is our responsibility to demonstrate that we are relatable and able to listen.
To anyone who is grieving the loss of David Grotberg, I understand your hurt firsthand. If I had to recommend a Scripture in this moment, it would be John 11:28-37. Jesus was deeply moved by the grief of the people and he wept with them when he saw the body of Lazarus. His heart was broken by the death of his friend and the pain that it caused others. Jesus was authentic enough to enter into the mourning of others and as an extension of Christ I am in this time of mourning with you. You are not alone in your grieving. To be human is to grieve. To be human is to be confused and angry with God sometimes. We are all human, and it is okay to bleed when you’ve been cut.