As a massive Ulster Rugby fan, I was devastated to get a text from a friend on Saturday evening to tell me the tragic news about Nevin Spence and his family. Nevin was an incredible talent to watch and was destined to be a regular fixture in the Irish midfield in the next few years once the old guard of O’Driscoll and D’arcy retired. Sadly now he’ll never get to pull on the green jersey and represent his country at senior level after the events that took his life as well as that of his father and brother.
There has been a lot of talk in the press about Nevin’s faith and it was no secret that he was a Christian with a personal faith in God, as this article in the Irish Times from last year demonstrates:
“Listen, I’m making as many mistakes as you or anybody in the street, I suppose I just have to hold up my hands about it. I’m not perfect, I don’t want to be put on a pedestal as I know my own limitations.”
Like his team-mates, Spence grew up in a Christian home, but at school started to challenge the faith he had been brought up in.
“I don’t think it’s too unusual. I suppose I went off the rails, I don’t mean I was into drugs or anything like that, but I turned my back on Christianity, but something was always pulling me back.”
Spence still lives in rural Northern Ireland, in a small town where he goes to church twice a week and everybody knows his background. Yet, he is unwilling to give talks just yet. He stresses that this isn’t due to shame, but simply because he is still learning a lot about his faith himself. Spence never believed he could be a professional rugby player until late in school, and is delighted that he can be a Christian in his chosen profession.
“The Ulster team is a great place to be a Christian. It’s funny, Paul Marshall and I would help each other at training, if we catch each other swearing or whatever, it’s just good to know we’re looking out for each other. There’s a group of 30 lads here, and the banter won’t change amongst us, nor would I want it to. There’s no divide amongst the Christians and the non-Christians. For me the Bible is about actions speaking louder than words. I’ve just got to be careful my Mum doesn’t catch me swearing on TV again.”
In a country where religion has been the cause rather than the solution for many problems, this special group of Ulster rugby players are determined to keep using their own brand of muscular Christianity at Ravenhill as long as their careers endure.’
And we are left to wonder why? It is the question in all of our minds, if not on our lips. Why such senseless waste of human life? Why do 3 men from one family die in such a tragic accident? Why do 3 people who trust God end up dying in a slurry tank? Why do bad things happen to good people?
I don’t think any of us can answer that … we simply don’t know why.
But we know a few things which perhaps it’s good to remind ourselves of at a time like this, when so many people are asking the same “why” questions:
- Accidents happen in this messed up world and none of us are immune. The Bible even tells us that we will go through hard times … “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
- Life is precious – “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.” Psalm 90:12.
- We can turn to God in the midst of our confusion and shock and horror. He can deal with our sense of outrage, injustice, bewilderment. He gave His only Son to die a horrible, shocking death when He was still a young man. When Jesus gave His life, when He suffered, He was bearing our pain as well as our sin. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” Isaiah 53:4.
So we shouldn’t turn on God and run away from Him in our sense of horror at what has happened. We should run TO God because He can handle all of our questions, our tears, our anger. There is nowhere else to run to, but this is not the final word. One day God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4.
Meanwhile, until then … let’s run to God with all that distresses us because we know that when your world comes crashing down and your dreams get shattered, His purpose still remains.