For three days now – while in Iraq people huddle on a mountaintop in fear; while in West Africa people shudder at the widespread atrocities of disease; while in Gaza people hold their breath for fear a tenuous truce will shatter; while in St. Louis confusion, anger, and unrest reign; while in Venezuala doctors and patients fear gunmen as much as illness; while in New York two young girls are suddenly missing from a roadside; while in Ukraine the weight of power tips precariously on its axis; while in every corner of the world there is measurable suffering and sadness, wickedness and worry – the death of Robin Williams has loomed large.
The death of any single human being should indeed loom large. Death – like so many other things in life – reminds us how very broken and ill this world actually is.
But I do wonder why this particular death has loomed so large for so long, three days being a virtual lifetime in the technological universe. Certainly others have died under similar circumstances, have waged similar battles, and have enjoyed similar degrees of friendship and fame.
(Which is not to say that this particular death is any less real or poignant or significant because it has a certain degree of similarity to any other. Indeed the world becomes a more broken place than it already is when we overlook even a single death. But alas, when deaths are “similar” in whatever degree – 6 millions deaths in that genocidal war, 3000 deaths in that coup, 400 deaths from that disease, 6 deaths in that crime spree – we tend to overlook the individual for the masses, to our own dehumanizing detriment.)
In a world filled with tenuous truces, devastating disease, atrocious hatred, unspeakable crime, and unstoppable war, we especially mourn the loss of someone who was able to make us laugh. Really, truly laugh. Belly-roar laugh. Gut-bust laugh. Understandably, we love someone who can make us happy (with generous portions of brilliant antics) and in a world that makes us sick (with heaping platters of putrid sorrow).
Yes: we are all sad to lose a man who brought so much laughter to the world. And while many have aired their opinions about mental illness and depression and addiction and suicide, we would all do well to remember that not a single one of us really knows how Robin Williams may have suffered deep in his mind or what Robin Williams may have believed deep in his soul. None of us. Not even those who live with and fight similar battles every day. Judgmental lecturing in response to judgmental lecturing is equally empty of grace.
We are a people who love to know things – everything – which might be a grim reminder of how the world went wrong in the first place. So for three days, while the world has collectively posited and theorized and sermonized and declared what it knows about this particular situation and its larger context and its underlying facts, I too have wondered what I actually know – and not just know as fact but rather know to be true.
It is simply this:
Robin Williams was indeed a source of life-giving laughter for many, me included, But real life depends on deep-seated joy, whose source is infinite, everlasting, and freely given to all.
Robin Williams was indeed a performer of incomparable talent that wowed many, me included. But more importantly, he was created in the image of God (as we all are) and the true value of his personhood (and all personhood) resides in that single breathtaking fact.
Robin Williams was indeed a man of many sorrows and suffering, as he himself repeatedly said. But he (and we all) are loved beyond words by the incarnated God whose sorrow and suffering went deeper and wider and higher than we can possibly imagine.
Robin Williams was indeed a soul who believed things (as we all do), things that were known only to him. It is none of our jobs to decide, determine, and pronounce what anyone else believes. But we ourselves must intently seek out and pursue truth so that we can confidently know what we believe and why.
In fact, I know very little about life and even less about death – Robin Williams’ or any other.
But I do know this: there is a God – a loving, powerful, almighty God – who created human life and imparts each one with meaning, and who offers Real Life both now and forever to those who would have it. And oh my gracious sakes alive – such an offer to such as I is so far beyond what I deserve that it cannot help but take glorious precedence in a world full of heartbreaking news.