At one time or another we’ve all asked ourselves the question: “Why do ‘bad’ things happen to good people?” Some ask it more than others. I would be one of those people. Sometimes the question crops up in the wake of the sudden and premature death of celebrities or sports figures, who seemingly are at the height of their career and full of life. Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, Brian Piccolo, Jim Valvano, Princess Diana and Steve Jobs are just a few of the more prominent ones in my lifetime who immediately come to mind. Other times, the question is raised in the aftermath of the death of prominent politicians, activists, public figures and innocents whose lives have been cut short by senseless acts of violence and hatred. John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., the students, teachers and administrators at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Santa Fe, and Margory Stoneman Douglas, and the victims of 9/11 and countless recent church and synagogue bombings and shootings, certainly would fall into that category. But the question is by no means limited to deaths, nor is it restricted to those who happen to enjoy celebrity or other public figure status. No, it’s one that either has or will touch all of our lives in very personal, mostly non-public ways.
Maybe the question will arise amidst the ruins of a failed marriage or other committed relationship. Maybe it has or will have its roots in the suffering that we or a loved one, especially a parent, spouse or child have endured or are enduring in battling a chronic or life-threatening illness. Maybe its source is having stood at the precipice of the realization of a lifelong dream only to have it suddenly cut short or interrupted, by an unexpected change in life circumstance. Maybe our wondering stems from the loss of a job or a business that we dedicated our entire working life to when we least expect and can least afford the financial consequences that inevitably come with it. Maybe for us it is a death, albeit of a very personal “celebrity” in our lives – a spouse, a parent, a child, a dear friend or a mentor. Maybe it is posed through our tears as we stand amid the rubble that once was our home, our life, wiped out in an instant by some form of natural disaster. But, while the precipitating event is (or will be) different and unique to each of us, the question asked is always the same: “Why?” “Why me?” “Why my loved one?” Why do “bad” things happen to good people?
The obvious, though highly unsatisfactory answer, of course, is that “bad” things happen to everyone – good and bad. Like it or not, death and the myriad other circumstances outlined above don’t discriminate based on the fundamental “goodness” of their “recipients” or their significance in our public or private lives. However, it occurs to me that, while we may not ever be able to fully understand the “why” of it (that is uniquely God’s providence) more often than not even the darkest of events ultimately give birth to a knowing heart (one that has been informed by the hardship or the suffering endured), which, in turn and in time, becomes a source of light and hope for the world if we will allow it. Maybe that’s at least part of the “why” – the answer I’ve been searching for all these years. Interestingly, it’s a concept that, without realizing it, I was close to stumbling upon in formulating the text for the back cover of my book when I wrote: “If we are willing to take a step back and reflect on the matters of the heart that invariably surround events [that challenge us to our core], they can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, of those we love [and, if we pay close enough attention, to what it means to be fully human].” But now I see it much more clearly thanks to wisdom imparted by lots of courageous and insightful friends and a healthy dose of Divine intervention.
Yesterday, I lost a dear friend and the world lost a beautiful and authentic man. Bill Linburg was a God-fearing guy who understood that the measure of a real man is not his ability to selfishly meet his own needs, but his attentiveness to and selfless commitment to meeting the needs of others; who loved, honored, and respected his wife, Angela the “old-fashioned” way; who sacrificially loved his three boys (Austin, Cole and Barrett) and fawned over his precious granddaughter, Natalie (the way every “Pop” should!); who preferred vulnerability to bravado and the quiet intimacy of a night at home with family and friends to the glare of the public spotlight (as if it ever fully shines on those who truly matter); who would unhesitatingly drop whatever he was doing on a moment’s notice (and often did) to attend to a friend (or stranger) in need; who would rather praise than be praised; who valued the simple things in life; who was strong and courageous – in quiet ways; who was real and introspective; who was kind (always); who loved and understood the healing power of music (and, truth be told, was a bit of a card shark); who was a catalyst for smiles like those seen in this photograph; and who sought peace over conflict at all times (imagine that).
There was a time not so long ago when I would have been crushed by the weight of the “why’s” of a too-soon death like Bill’s, but not now – not anymore. Now, my time will be spent reflecting on the “what”: “What was I meant to learn from his life, his friendship, his example?” – and, as importantly, on the “how”: “How will I honor him and the wisdom gained from his life going forward?” You were loved, my friend – and you already are missed.