Ordinary human beings cannot peer into the future. Consequently, we can be compeletely unaware of dramatic events that are unfolding around us.
Some years ago here in Stockton, California, a young, forty-three-year-old widow drove by our neighborhood high school to pick up her two teenage daughters. A young friend of theirs needed a ride, so the girls got into the car and mom drove away, heading south on a quiet street in the eastern region of our city.
About the same time, a young man (a star football player), got into a new pickup truck, and “peeled out” off campus at an accelerated speed. A nearby police officer observed the event and followed. As the lad sped through stop signs and increased his speed, the patrolman turned on his flashing lights and continued pursuit.
Within a matter of moments, lives were changed forever. The mother’s car presently arrived at a main thoroughfare and turned west. Seconds later the speeding truck breached a stop sign and hit the car with full force. Mother, daughters, and teen friend—all were killed.
The scene was horrible beyond description—a terrible, senseless tragedy. One can only imagine the torture in the hearts of the surviving family and close friends. Hundreds of compassionate souls, in unbelievable shock, grieve over this devastation.
With calculated reverence, I feel that some brief commentary is not inappropriate.
First, this incident is bound to remind one of the frailty of human life. David once lamented: “There is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). One never knows when some violent event will snatch him from earth’s environment. Every soul needs to be ever prepared to meet the judge of all the earth.
Again, one can do no better than to quote Israel’s great king: “Let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of Jehovah” (1 Samuel 26:20).
There is no virtue in death alone. It is merely an event. It is the state in which one dies that matters. One must be obedient to God if he is to entertain the hope of eternal salvation (Matthew 7:21ff; Acts 2:38; Hebrews 5:9).
Second, it might be helpful to reflect upon some of the basic facts of human existence:
The Power of Choice
God has granted human beings the power of choice. When bad choices are made, devastating results can follow. Our choices certainly will affect us personally (1 Peter 4:15). If we, for example, in an impetuous moment, make a foolish choice, we may have to suffer for years as a consequence.
Our choices may also affect others (Exodus 20:5). If men are to be granted true freedom, they must be free to act irresponsibly as well as responsibly. Otherwise, there is no real choice. We cannot expect God to honor our decisions to do good, then forcefully restrain us from doing evil. That would not be genuine freedom.
Peril: A Part of Human Existence
While we are beneficiaries of a world regulated by natural law (which logically points to a law-giver), we can also be victims of that law (see Luke 13:4). Law is a double-edged sword.
When two objects collide, devastation will occur. We cannot expect Providence to suspend the laws of the universe each time a human being is imperiled. Such would scramble the order of our environment and effect a chaotic state that would make human existence impossible.
In connection with this distressing episode, one cannot but be chagrined to read newspaper accounts which quote citizens who are critical of the police officer, suggesting that he was the real culprit in this tragedy. He should not have pursued the youth, frightening him, and thus precipitating the erratic action.
And yet, according to news reports, the eighteen-year-old youth was: driving a stolen vehicle, was without a driver’s license, was driving far beyond the speed limit, and ran stop signs with total disregard for human life.
While I am not without compassion for the young man who made this senseless mistake and whose life is now in shambles, it does no good to rationalize the circumstances. But we are in an age of incessant responsibility-shifting; someone else is always to blame. It is time for people to accept just blame and live with the consequences of their actions.
Yes, this unfortunate incident is heart-crushing. We grieve for all the principals involved. Our prayers truly are with them. However, it is imperative that we take personal inventory. What can I learn from this terrible ordeal? Am I ready to depart this earth for eternity?
Let each of us plumb the depths of our hearts and, if need be, make ourselves right with the Lord, consistent with the instructions of the New Testament. Then we can turn our attention to assisting others.