Sudden Death

I do not know if you have ever experienced a sudden death in your family? Two years ago my son in law, Antony, died from a heart attack without any real warning. We had just spent a wonderful few days with them and their new baby who was just 5 months old at the time. He was a highly intelligent, fit man of 34 years and was headed for a superb career as a lawyer. He was also a man of impeccable integrity and real personal faith, and perhaps most special to us; he deeply loved our daughter and was besotted with their first child after 11 years of a happy marriage.

I do not think we will ever recover from the nightmare of that day when our daughter phoned us from the emergency medical clinic in Harare and told us Antony was dead. Even today it is tough for us to talk about and we often grieve the loss as his young son grows up into such a splendid young man near us.

The past week two friends died suddenly here in Bulawayo - first, Phil Whitehead who, like Antony was a fit man and died running a marathon for charity in Bulawayo. Phil leaves behind Sandy and four children. Then on Friday, Dave Lowe died after a very short illness. Also a big man and someone who never gave the impression of having anything wrong with him. Dave leaves behind Tracy and two teenage girls.

Let me tell you, no experience is tougher than this. We all grieve with Sandy and Tracy and wish we could stand in their place and take the hurt, but we cannot. It does not help that both men were highly successful in business, were men of faith and courage and principle. That they were both wonderful dad's and deeply loved their families and their homes. Phil was the CEO of a tyre manufacturing plant here and Dave ran one of the largest engineering factories in the country.

They were both outstanding individuals - working hard for a better future for all in Zimbabwe and they simply cannot be replaced. All of us who knew them and worked with them will miss them very deeply. But none of us will know the deep pain and sense of loss of Sandy and Tracy and the kids. The girls will especially miss their father and his guidance and love as they grow up and find their own feet in the world. We will have to rally round to see that the families are cared for and are not left alone to face the future. That is the very least we can do and perhaps that is one of the wonderful things about life here is that we do care for each other in a special way.

We all ask questions at a time like this about the meaning of life and ask why God should allow things like this to happen? It is not a question that is easily answered and anyone who has a glib answer is wrong. We know that God shares our sense of loss, that He weeps with us when things like this happen, what we find difficult to understand is why He did not just step up to the plate and use His power to prevent something that has such profound consequences for everyone associated with the two men. But I think that the two men themselves would have understood that sometimes as a manager, with real power over events and circumstances, all of us have to take decisions for the sake of the company rather than the simple welfare of the people who working within its bounds.

Every manager knows that the first loyalty of a manager with real power (a CEO) is to the company and its survival and welfare. This commitment is why they are Chief Executives and why they have power and others do not. All company decisions must past one acid test - is it the best decision there is for the company as a whole in the short and long term.

So God looks down on His creation - mankind included - and must make decisions that are right for the whole of creation and not simply right for a time for small parts of the whole. Many times that involves real sacrifice for Him, as we know that he deeply cares about and loves the world and all it's creatures. That love is especially held for those who are of faith and who live their lives, or try to live their lives, according to the tenets of God's rules for life on earth. Antony, Phil and Dave were all such people. When life strikes down those who fit such a category, God weeps with us and grieves with us in our loss just as much or more so as we do. Especially as He knows he could "fix" the problem - but only at the expense of what He knows is the greater good.

So the question really is "what is the greater good that justifies such a loss?" The answer to that question is as complex and deep as the answer to the first question and there are no glib answers. However I feel that if God intervened every time we petitioned Him, mankind would not need faith and hope as cornerstones of their lives as Christians in a fallen world. Jesus said it all when He said to His disciples "In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!" In other words, life in this sphere of existence means tribulation and trouble of all kinds. It is a normal part of life.

The trick is to see that what God does for us during these trials and tribulations is to walk with us - in fact to walk in our shoes, know our pain and loss just as if He was really here. He also helps us to overcome these trials - not partly but completely so that we become "more than conquerors, through Him who died for us." Whatever the trial - we can emerge more as real overcomers in every sense of the word. In fact that is the real wonder of life in Christ - not being raised from that sickbed to live as a whole person again but to somehow be a whole person in that bed. To become a real example of what it means to be transformed by the Spirit of Christ who lives and works through us in every circumstance of life.

That has been my experience - even in the darkest hour and I just pray that the women who have been left behind by the sudden deaths of their loved ones and the kids who share their loss, will somehow find the strength and faith to carry on and to live a life of victory and thankfulness for the joy of having lived with and known these fine men.

A prisoner of conscience and faith who spent 25 years in solitary confinement in a Soviet jail, said at a conference I attended in Europe that he often felt a deep longing to go back to that cell because there the love of God and faith in Christ was a deep reality. When we go "through the valley of death" we will know that "His rod and His staff will comfort us". Wish it was otherwise, but it isn't.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 6th November 2005.