Re-posted in honor of Kobe’s birthday August 23, 1978.
Originally published 2/2020 by Mockingbird:
"For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
Why has a death like that of Kobe Bryant—and his daughter and companions—hit so many so very hard? Even non-basketball fans have been genuinely bereft and reeling. Sure, there are several painfully poignant and tragic elements that magnify the loss. Three young girls’ lives snuffed out in an instant alongside devoted parents on a joyful gameday jaunt, leaving irreparably heartbroken families behind. A highly skilled pilot caught in the crosshairs of calculated risk, missing the crest of a fog-cloaked hillside by maybe a few dozen feet. And yes, the loss of a great man.
By all reports, Kobe Bryant was an exceptional human and just a really good guy. Gifted with remarkable athletic ability, unique warmth, and visionary business savvy, Bryant was also a generous philanthropist, a fine friend, and a devoted father whose tear-stained hashtag #girldad spread like wildfire worldwide. A committed Catholic, Bryant was seen praying in solitude before Mass the very morning of the accident. (Personal trivia: I was baptized at the same church as a baby.) Then there’s the terminal irony of death by helicopter—the means of travel Bryant chose to maximize family time and quality of life. I could go on, but you get the point.
Altogether, the calamity evokes great collective sorrow and shocking awareness of the fragility of life and unpredictability of fate. Because it rains on everyone. Yes, that’s it. For me anyway. It’s the scary reminder that this world isn’t safe for anyone at all. No matter how good, how rich, how generous, how talented, how powerful, etcetera…chance comes, and game over. By any measure, Kobe Bryant was tops. Yet that didn’t save him, or any of the other passengers on the ill-fated helicopter. It rattles us. I mean if the likes of Kobe Bryant can’t avoid disaster, who can? And his wasn’t a case of fame gone awry. Just miscalculation on a foggy day. What’s worse, Matthew 5:45 doesn’t really leave it to chance. God is sovereign. He allowed it. Ouch.
Christians often interpret the Bible as promising that if we live right, do right, pray right, or—so much worse—believe right, we can not only self-actualize, but dodge the big bullets life shoots our way. Or, when they inevitably come, we believe God can and will make lemonade of lemon-shaped missiles. This is still some version of the Do-Good-Get-Good-Gospel. But real life, the New Testament, and Jesus himself offer another testimony: It rains on all of us. A lot. Every so often, we do get to savor the lemonade of hindsight, but more often, we never understand why the really messed up, unjust, and senseless stuff happens. Plus, there’s little good to show of it. Sometimes the cancer spreads, the baby dies, the spouse leaves, the business tanks. What do we do with this God who doesn’t deliver the safe ride or happy ending?
We kneel and we hang on for dear life—and for the inevitable death we all face.
That’s where we encounter the real Gospel: Jesus.
Bad things happen to good people all day long, everywhere. There are entire countries (or American neighborhoods, for that matter) full of beautifully fervent faithful for whom the rain never stops: Whether it’s the drudgery of poverty or famine, or catastrophic war, persecution or epidemic. Still, many live in a joy and surpassing peace that leaves comfortable and misguided missionaries slack-jawed with admiration. Everyone has access. Really, Jesus is a flower who blooms brightest in heavy rain.
What the Gospel offers is not a sure-fire way to avoid getting wet, but the promise of an Abiding Companion with a really big umbrella of inexplicable and unconditional love, peace and grace. Plus, the promise of an eternity of rainless, tearless days.
Because this side of heaven, it rains a lot. On everyone.
But still the Son rises.