As I watched people get upset at the national response to Kobe Bryant’s untimely death, I realized that we are all angry at the fact that we, as humans, are unable to care about all lives equally. I suspect that even those who claimed that the other lives on the helicopter were as important as Kobe’s – right as they are – did not take as much of an interest in them as they did Kobe. At least, they probably didn’t know as much about them as they did him. Whether we know it or not, we all are guilty of only caring about some people. The classic thought experiment in which a choice must be made between pulling a lever that would direct a train toward a group of ten strangers or our loved one reveals that we are all inherently selfish.
Neurologists claim that this is an acquired trait that helped us survive the evolutionary battle for life. Others might say this is a good trait to have because we should put our families first. I’m a little more prone to think it is because we all like to be happy, and we’d be happier if our loved ones lived than if a multitude of strangers did instead. To be sure, the Bible calls us to give special place to our family and we are called to provide in much more significant ways for our spouses than our acquaintances. But would the Bible really tell us to preserve the life of a child at the expense of ten strangers? God understands our weaknesses and it is not necessarily shameful to be biased toward our families, but I think we can all admit it’s closer to the heart of God to be willing to give your son for the sake of a larger group.
The anger on the internet, it seems to me, is based on the fact that the world doesn’t know Jesus. We see a mass of people “mourning” the loss of their favorite basketball player (I put the word in quotes because that experience is so many orders of magnitude lower than the mourning experienced when someone you personally love is gone). Yet they seem almost indifferent to the fact that others died, and others who are dying. On the one hand, sin is at play, but on the other, we are simply incapable of caring about all people equally.
People die horrible deaths in this world constantly. Every second someone is dying somewhere. Death is a tone in the cacophony of human suffering that never misses a beat and is always ringing, sometimes softer other times louder, but always there. As finite human beings, we are literally not capable of caring about every death. We cannot even know about every death, let alone find the strength to care. Even if there were enough time in the day and time was slowed down so that you could mentally process each human death that occurred, empathizing with each death would cause you to be in a perpetual state of grief, ultimately consumed by the never-ending sadness.
I’d be angry too if there weren’t someone out there aware of all this death, if there weren’t some plan in place, some program dedicated to at least relieve some of its disastrous effects. There is nothing more depressing than a serious problem, something really disastrous, that literally no one, including yourself, cares about. At least people who start campaigns to raise awareness about issues care about the issues themselves, but the rampant death in our world is fully comprehended by no one. Death is an iceberg with a hauntingly jagged underside and our world is floating toward it. Everyone on this earth is going to die and sometimes it seems like no one cares. We only cared about the fatal helicopter crash because one of the passengers was really good at playing a game.
But, (the best word in the Bible) the infinite amount of pain and suffering in our world is completely and totally understood. Like a doctor who has done 10,000 knee surgeries and knows its ligaments, tendons and bone better than the back of his hand, God knows the human heart, even though we do not (Jer. 17:9). If we stored all the tears shed by humanity since its inception, how big would the body of water be? A stream? A lake? The ocean?
The same day that those 9 people died, my close friend’s mom died from a horrendous battle with cancer. If I’m honest, the helicopter crash seemed all but insignificant when compared to the loss my friend experienced. For her, I’m sure there was no room left in her heart to mourn that day. Her cup of sadness was already full, and the news of the crash must have just glided over the top.
When Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, He didn’t sip the crème de la crème and pour out the unsavory sediment. “The gospel is not a fairy tale. The Father would not negotiate the cup. Jesus was called to drink it to its last dregs. And He accepted it” (R. C. Sproul, Surprised by Suffering, p. 17). The body of tears we produce is big, but our God in Christ is bigger. He consumed the pain of death in His body on the tree for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Therefore, for Christians, Someone does know about all the death in the world. Someone does have a plan. Someone does grieve each sinful death. Someone does care.
People inherently care about the lives that matter to them, and are generally unaware of billions of other lives. In the age of the second-holocaust, euthanasia and sex-trafficking, human life seems to be at an all-time devaluation unless it’s being sold as a commodity. I’m glad people are upset at the fact that Kobe Bryant’s life was taken away. It is a tragedy. But his tragedy was no more tragic than the 8 simultaneous deaths that took place. And those 9 deaths are no more tragic than the 125,000 wrongful deaths that occur each day. And those deaths aren’t more tragic than the 4,000,000 lives that are imprisoned by sex-trafficking today. There is something frustrating about seeing an outpour of love for one man’s death while a haunting silence hovers above the deaths and oppression of millions.
Honestly, though, I’m not frustrated. I really believe that God has a plan for death. I have hope in the return of Christ at which point “death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4). When people fail to grasp the breadth of death, I admit that I’m one of them. No one fully understands death except the one that created all life.
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
(1 Corinthians 15:24–26)