Death is an inevitable fact of life. Some deaths seem more tragic than others and are often accompanied by unanswerable questions. I read in a detective novel where a young detective got a hostage accidentally killed in her attempt to resolve the situation. Her later questions beginning with “what if?” only intensified her guilt. What if I had done this or not done that? When accidents occur, we mull over the same question, much to our detriment.

Another question of perhaps deeper significance is “why?” Why did this happen? Why did it happen to me, a good person? Why did it happen to such an innocent, young person who held such promise for a worthy and significant future? And so the questions never end when tragedy strikes. Though I can offer no definitive answer to questions surrounding tragic events, perhaps a look at the two questions in the life of Jesus will have to suffice.

The What If in Jesus’ Life

In the Gospel of John, chapter 19, the tragic culmination of Jesus’ life, trial, and crucifixion confronts the disciples. We could ask, “What if the disciples fought to prevent it?” In fact we know that Peter tried to prevent it on more than one occasion. When Peter confesses that he believes Jesus is the son of God and Jesus predicts his abuse by the Jewish leaders and his death at their hands, he seeks to dissuade Jesus from this course of action (Matthew 16:13-23). Jesus rebukes Peter for his failure to see God’s plan.

Not only that, but in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the arresting party (John 18:11-12). Jesus stops this and dispels any speculation about what if by recognizing that his fate had been predetermined by his Father.

Might we also ask, “What if Jesus stopped making outrageous and provocative claims about himself and strident criticisms of the religious leadership?” My retort is simply, “Would we have the same Jesus?” Or “Would this new milk-toast Jesus exhibit the power to change the world?” And of course, “Would his followers have the same courage to confront evil?” We can be glad that Jesus did not satisfy such speculations.

The Why in Jesus Death

We would not be surprised if the disciples asked why Jesus had to die. None of the gospel accounts record them asking such a question, but we know they were sorrowful. Like most of them, two disciples traveling on the day of the Resurrection believed Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21). His death appeared to crush such hopes although reports of his resurrection now perplexed these two men. Likely the why of his death was on their minds.

However, John answers the why in chapter nineteen, or at least he assures us that Jesus’ death was part of a grander plan. He notes two fulfilled prophecies. On one hand he recognized that when the soldiers cast lots for his clothing, an ancient Scripture had been fulfilled (24). On the other hand, another Scripture predicted that as the Lamb of God, none of his bones would be broken (36).

Of course, it wasn’t until John looked back on the events that he could understand how these fulfilled prophecies helped them not only understand the why but also gave power to the Apostolic message. God did this to redeem mankind, and it had to happen this way.

Can we find definitive answers to the “What ifs?” and “Whys?” of our tragic experiences? More often we find only more questions and confusion behind such queries. However, we can know at least one life failed to leave those two questions unanswered, and to our benefit, maybe the tragedies of life will one day be resolved because of Him.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC, and The Lazarus Chronicles

See Conversation on John 19 here.