One week ago tonight, four 17 and 18 year old young men traveling in a small convertible car at a high rate of speed, with a blood alcohol content that was too high, came to a bump in the road, lost control of their car and the result was catastrophic. Two of the boys are dead, their funerals held yesterday and today, one is in the hospital in fair condition, and the driver will be tried as a juvenile for vehicular homicide among other charges. Three of them were seniors at a local high school and the fourth, the driver, had attended the same school for three of their four high school years.
Observing a community mourn the loss of friends, classmates, students, teammates and family members has resulted in my own stream of emotions and feelings. I write today, not to point fingers at our community, but rather to share my own stream of reactions to this senseless loss of life. I recognize that most who read this are not teenagers, so there is no intent to persuade our young people one way or the other. Persuasion, in fact, on any front, is not my intent. Rather to consider an appropriate model for processing such events.
My first reaction was, “Well that was stupid!” Then I was reminded of my own youthful years and how fortunate I am to have survived some of those events. Not all, even dangerous, but events nonetheless, where I could have been seriously harmed by my own actions or those of others. But honestly, my own youthful foolishness could have altered the course of my life. I suspect that many of my friends would have similar memories of behavior or life situations that were brought about by poor choices.
Another reaction was that the driver should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. My attitude was one of retribution and inflicting pain on the driver, (a) since he survived and was the least harmed, and (b) because he was the driver he alone was accountable for this horrible tragedy. Because he was the driver, he will be tried as a juvenile as indicated above, yet all of these young men seemingly acted together in this behavior. It’s been reported that one of the youths took a selfie on his phone and texted that they were flying at 90 mph. A friend, not with them, responded by saying “where are you?” That question was never answered as the young man had been in a horrible accident in the space of time between the two text messages. He died at the scene.
As I reflected on this reaction, I was reminded of the story of the Jewish leaders who brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, ready to stone her. Christ’s response was calm and unemotional, when He said to them, “Let him who has no sin, cast the first stone.” Notice He did not say, let him who has never committed adultery cast the first stone. He called for that person who has no sin to cast the first stone. What Christ was saying is that sin is sin and since I confessed above that I, too, had committed some foolish acts, at a personal level, I had no basis on which to harbor a vengeful attitude against the driver. We have a system of government that is in place to govern our society and they have rules of behavior (laws) by which we must all abide. When we break these laws the government is in place to address violations. My point here is that my personal judgmental sense of anger and seeking of retribution, was not appropriate. It has been reported that the families of the young men who were killed asked the courts to deal with the young man as a juvenile rather than an adult. A commendable, gracious, and untypical attitude in today’s litigious and blame-finding society.
Finally, I will say that my heart is broken on behalf of all the families involved in this tragic incident. Their lives will never be the same. I believe we need to leave judgment to those who have that responsibility. Our role is to love the families impacted and do all we can to support the healing process for them and the community. We should be about the business of helping our young ones understand the impact of choices, actions and words. Bullying by words or physical force demonstrates a lack of respect for others. Peer pressure toward poor choices is subtle but powerful. I’ve heard stories within this story of different responses to peer pressure and choices of friends. We need to build the self confidence of our young people so that they feel empowered to make the choices they know are the right ones.
The two great commandments continue to be as true today as they have been since the beginning of time. We need to teach our youth to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds and then to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. With God’s help, we must continue to impress these two truths on our children, grandchildren and their children after them. In doing this we leave a posterity and a legacy worthy of passing through the generations. As a member of the community, building positive values and behaviors into our youth is one of the reasons we host Fellowship of Christian Athletes on the Ponderosa every summer. The opportunity to speak truth to our grandchildren is why we moved to Colorado seven years ago. I provide these as examples of how God has turned our hearts toward following His purposes and intentions in providing us the two great commandments.
Blessings to each of you.