Yesterday was a sad day in the world of sports. Well, a sad day in general, sports or not. In case you haven’t heard by now, IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon was tragically killed in a fiery crash yesterday during a race in Las Vegas. He was but 33. Now, I don’t usually watch Indy races (or NASCAR for that matter) save for one, The Indianapolis 500, the granddaddy of all auto racing. Last May I watched with rapt attention as 20-year-old JR Hildebrand rounded the third turn of Indy Motor Speedway on his way to a most remarkable and magical first victory. It was his first season driving a car and here he was, one turn away from the transformational moment of his life. But sometimes that last step is a doozy and Hildebrand crashed into the wall of Turn 4, some 500-or-so feet away from the finish line. Right by him raced another miracle story, a driver down on his luck — no race team, no sponsors, no car — and receiving the one-race chance to redeem himself. The determined fellow raced by Hildebrand and won the race. That driver was Dan Wheldon.
Fast forward to yesterday’s season-ender in Vegas. Wheldon, still without a full-time ride despite winning at Indy, was given another one-race chance to find redemption and win 2.5 million dollars. A win might get him sponsorship. In fact, he had just agreed to come on board with an established racing team yesterday morning.
On lap 11, 15 cars were torn apart in the corner of the race track. Several cars went airborne. Fire and shrapnel went flying. The walls held firm, as did the containment fence. But not the drivers. Wheldon’s car went flying into the chain link containment fence and he sustained injured he could not survive. Also flying into the wall, though, was another driver — JR Hildebrand. One man died. The other lived. I’m on the verge of tears right now even thinking about it. Their fates in racing and life now entwined forever. Hildebrand suffered injuries, too, and was still in the hospital the last time I checked. But he was expected to recover.
I was deeply moved by the events unfolding on television yesterday afternoon. I wanted to turn away from the grief but could not. I must’ve prayed a dozen times for Wheldon’s wife and two little boys. And for the other drivers, who were balling. There’s something about grief that binds us as humans. But that bonding isn’t an agent of holiness. It’s an agent of the fall. Of pain. Of brokenness. Of anger. We hate death. We hate how it happens and we hate what it does to us. Especially is that death is sudden. It makes good food tasteless, menial tasks worthless, and memory temporarily fleeting. Death sucks. Plain and simple.
This I have also learned about death: there is truly a time to grieve and a time to answer “why.” And they are not the same time. Jesus grieved over Lazarus in John 11 before he talked to Martha and Mary. Scripture doesn’t give us much “filler” but I can easily see Jesus follow a pattern of His and retreat up a hillside by Himself. And cry. He came down again and then went to comfort and console. There is great comfort in the arms of Love. It doesn’t undo the hurt or turn it into something that it isn’t. Grief exists by itself. It’s not a morph or phase of something else. The Savior then went to Bethany and did something about death. He conquered it. And gave life back to a friend. But that was the last of His external resurrections. One more resurrection remained and that new life would end death’s power once and for all. Do we die? Every one of us. But will be come back? Every one of us. Some to glory with Christ, others to condemnation.
But we still grieve in the here in now. Tears still flow and the joys of life seem empty. Wherever sin is present, there is death. Physical… and spiritual. That’s why God gave us arms. So we could hug a crying person. So we could feed them, clothe them, and take their children to soccer practice.
Shedding tears has its place this side of heaven. But so does the Body of Christ. Not to reason and explain.