On Sunday evening the 24th there was a lovely vigil for Jake and Tyler as the Colchester community came together to mourn the loss of these two young men who tragically died in a car accident in Colchester on Friday. I know that some of you knew Tyler and Jake—you taught them in school or coached them in sports, your children were friends, you work with their parents, you are neighbors. It is a time of profound sadness for many, and I am here to process in the days ahead. The group Colchester is Kind is inviting people to perform acts of kindness on Saturday October 30th in their honor.
On my personal Facebook profile I shared the entirety of William Sloane Coffin’s “Eulogy for Alex.” after I heard the news. Coffin was a famous Christian minister and he lost his own son in a tragic car accident. He struggled (as do I) when people recite religious platitudes to attempt to help those grieving. “God just needed another angel.” “This is God’s will.” “God took your child, and God has a plan.” These kinds of statements are unhelpful to say to someone as they grieve.
It’s also troubling theology.
Do we truly believe that God causes children to get into car accidents and die?
Do we believe that God needs peoples’ children more than they do?
What kind of a God does this point toward?
Friends, please read just one section of William Sloane Coffin’s “Eulogy for Alex.” These are words from a grieving father and one of the most powerful preachers in America in his day. They are the best words I know to share in a moment like this. May they give you comfort and peace. May they be a reminder that God is dead set against unnatural deaths. And that God’s heart is the first of all hearts to break when they do happen.
“When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died I was sitting in the living room of my sister’s house outside of Boston, when the front door opened and in came a nice-looking, middle-aged woman, carrying about eighteen quiches. When she saw me, she shook her head, then headed for the kitchen, saying sadly over her shoulder, “I just don’t understand the will of God.” Instantly I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady!” I said.
For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness. Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths — I can think of many right here in this parish in the five years I’ve been here — deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions, and even the specter of a Cosmic Sadist — yes, even an Eternal Vivisector. But violent deaths, such as the one Alex died — to understand those is a piece of cake. As his younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket at the Boston funeral, “You blew it, buddy. You blew it.” The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is “It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”
~William Sloane Coffin
Thursday Thoughts 10/28/21