By 1986, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life was spinning out of control. Substance abuse had been an issue for him since his early teens, but his whirlwind success following his 1983 debut album pushed him deeper into the spiral of addiction. While on tour in Denmark, Vaughan collapsed after a performance from severe dehydration — he had been subsisting almost entirely on whiskey and cocaine for several weeks. While in the hospital, one of his treating physicians warned him that he probably wouldn’t survive the next month unless he made some serious lifestyle changes.
Unlike most of these kinds of stories, Vaughan’s doesn’t end as yet another rock tragedy. Shortly after his hospital stay, he checked himself into rehab and came out sober. His band mates and fans began to notice a new outlook on life and the fresh vitality in his music. He managed to maintain his newly found sobriety for nearly three years, until Aug. 27, 1990.
After a show in Wisconsin, Vaughn boarded a helicopter bound for Chicago, which crashed into the side of a mountain in the early morning hours. Less than three years after reclaiming his life from the clutches of addiction, Vaughn lost it in a random accident. It seemed so pointless, so senseless that a man who had battled back from the brink should succumb to death like this. It seemed unfair.
If you’ve thought about things like this, you’re not alone. Most of the biblical writers, at one point or another, had problems dealing with the seeming randomness of life. In the Psalms, the Bible’s prayer book, King David writes several scathing complaints about what he sees as a lack of fairness in the way God runs the universe.
“Why, Lord, do you stand far off when the wicked man hunts down the weak,” he writes in Psalm 10.
In Jeremiah, the prophet takes it a step further. He complains that his life has become such a burden that his father should have just killed him in his mother’s womb. Even Job, whose reputation for patience is more than a little bit overblown, had his share of complaints about how God chose to run the universe.
“Look at me and be appalled,” Job tells his friends, referring to the suffering he was enduring.
He pleads his case, arguing that he has done nothing wrong. He accuses God of injustice, allowing evil people to live in comfort and safety while righteous men like him suffer. And then, after 38 chapters of patiently listening to these complaints, God responds. But God doesn’t respond with answers, only more questions. Job is confronted with questions no human being could answer, questions about the make-up of the universe and the purpose behind creation.
The clear implication is that Job (and we) couldn’t possibly understand all the variables at work. It may seem to us like things ought to happen a certain way, but we’re only getting a tiny slice of the picture. Job’s gratuitous suffering, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s untimely death — they may seem stupid and pointless to me, but that’s not because there is no meaning to the universe. It only means that I lack the capacity to see it.
God’s answer is enough for Job. There are moments I wonder if it would have been enough for me, but the hard truth is that, whether I like it or not, things aren’t always going to make sense to me. There is no guarantee that they ever will. I am not promised that one day, in my advanced years, I will finally understand, that I will one day look back and say, “Aha! I finally see it. It all makes sense now.”
Even on our deathbeds, we will all probably look back at certain moments and episodes in our lives and say, “Nope. I still don’t get it. Still seems kinda pointless and stupid if you ask me.”
And in those moments, God’s response to Job whispers into each one of our ears. It doesn’t matter that I can’t see it. Things don’t have to make sense to me. I can still believe that God has placed meaning and purpose at the center of creation even if there are times I can’t see it. And that’s a good thing, because there are times I can’t see it.
Jason Koon is an ordained minister who lives in Morganton.
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