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Why Marshall? Why Anyone?

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - NEW YORK -- In a pivotal scene from the inspiring new major motion picture We are Marshall, a broken, highly emotional football player, Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie), pleads with coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) to tell him why 75 teammates, coaches, and friends died in a horrific plane crash. 


Lengyel does not answer.

Ruffin persists.  “Why did they leave?”  Tears stream down his face.

All Lengyel can rasp is, “I don’t know.”

It is a familiar plea that all of us have invariably pondered in our every day lives at one time or another.

Your best friend calls you excitedly to tell you he and his wife are expecting their first child.  The next day he is killed in a car wreck.

A young married couple has been trying to conceive for six years.  Finally, the happy day arrives.  They are expecting their first child.  Everything goes smoothly during the pregnancy.  Finally, it is time to go to the hospital.  Unforeseen complications ensue and the baby dies shortly after birth.

Thousands of unsuspecting people filter into a building on a glorious Tuesday morning.  Two hours later, they and the building are gone.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

“We have all lost people in our lives,” explains We Are Marshall director McG.  “You feel like writing everything off and just saying it doesn’t make sense.  Why I am going to wake up tomorrow and shave, put my pants on, and go about my business?  I don’t get it that the ones I love are no longer here.  Nothing makes sense. Why am I alive and they are gone?”

Honestly, like Jack Lengyel, I don’t know the answer.  I have had several similar encounters in my own life but one clearly stands out.  

A former co-worker of mine blurted out one day over lunch, “You’re a Christian right?”

“Yes,” I replied hesitantly, curious to know why she was asking me this.  Up to that moment we had been conversing about her son’s hockey tournament.

“If God is such a loving God than why did he allow my brother to die in a motorcycle accident?  He was a good person and went to church every Sunday.  He had three little children too.  Now they don’t have a father.”

Where did that come from I asked myself.  There was an awkward pause as I desperately attempted to formulate a coherent, theologically correct answer.

“The Lord sometimes works in mysterious ways,” is all I could muster.  I must confess that I had borrowed my response.  I seemed to remember my father saying this to me when I was younger.

My friend began to weep softly.  This was obviously the answer she didn’t want to hear.  She was hoping due to my religious leanings that I would have some profoundly logical explanation. 

“All I know is that God often uses tragedy in our lives to make us stronger as people,” I continued with a wince.  This wasn’t working.  She began to cry harder.  It was like a light rain suddenly turning into a downpour.  “It’s God’s way of helping us grow.”

Her sobbing became so uncontrollable that she had to leave the cafeteria.  I was dumbfounded – not by her reaction but by my complete inadequacy in answering her question. 

Unlike Marshall football coach Jack Lengyel, I pretended to have the answers.  I thought I could dispense a Christianese response that would satisfy my co-worker, or at least get her to change the subject. 

Matthew McConaughey“There is no way to prepare for that situation,” offers McConaughey, referencing the devastating loss that Marshall University and the community of Huntington, West Virginia endured.  “There is no right way or wrong way to navigate through that.”

But is there a right way to navigate through such a mind boggling question? Specifically, why would God allow a plane carrying 75 people, all from the same community, to crash, knowing the heartache that will ensue?

Noted theologian Dr. J. Rodman Williams offers this explanation:

“For this question there is no simple answer. The words of Job may be helpful: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21).  Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God" (verse 22). God in His power and love could have saved His own Son on the cross, but in the mystery of His divine purpose He did not. Should we blame God for allowing His Son to die? No, through an innocent death God fulfilled His purpose. Likewise, we must trust God in innocent people’s death to be fulfilling His mysterious purpose. We may not know why, but we do trust him.”

Beloved evangelist Billy Graham wrote in his syndicated newspaper column many years ago on this topic.  He said, “Many things happen in life that are mysteries to us, and we can only ask God to help us trust Him more fully, even when we don’t understand.  God has lessons to teach us whenever things like this happen.  It should also remind us of the importance of turning our lives over completely to Christ right now and not delaying.  God loves us, and wants to forgive us and give us eternal life if we will only receive Christ into our lives.”

A verse I like to concentrate on when I think about such matters is found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs.  In chapter three, verses five and six, Solomon writes, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

What we can take from this passage is that God is good.  He is merciful and just.  It is not our place to try and comprehend what is beyond our base of understanding.  As Dr. Williams pointed out, Job reminds us that God can take the work of evil and somehow weave it into His plan so that we might benefit in a positive manner from it.

There is a reason there are more than 1.3 million Google search results for the question at hand.  It is a topic that quite simply is beyond our understanding.

But as Billy Graham suggests, if nothing else, this question should inspire us to turn ourselves over to Jesus Christ completely and allow Him to serve as our compass and guide in all matters – good or bad.

This is tremendous advice for a day such as this --- the day we celebrate Christ’s birth.

“We Are Marshall” is currently playing in theaters natiownwide.

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* Some information courtesy of Warner Bros.

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