by Editor Michael Brooks
Kobe Bryant is dead. He was 41 years old. His 13-year old daughter is dead. I say it now and I still can’t believe it. Them along with seven other people died tragically and suddenly from a helicopter crash on the 26th. In the news since we have seen truly how profound an effect Kobe Bryant had upon the world around him. We know that in part because of the vast numbers of network hosts, late-night hosts, NBA players, athletes from other sports, and regular people, broke out in mourning and in shock.
He was praised for being a father and husband. He was praised for being one of the most accomplished NBA players of all time. He was praised for his work ethic. He was praised for his tireless effort on and off the court. He was praised as an example in many ways. He was praised for making his daughters and wife his number one priority and passion. He was praised for just being consistent in the lives of his family and those that knew him well.
There will be a few more posts in regards to Kobe Bryant and his death that will further elaborate on why Kobe Bryant left such an impression on those around him and why his death stung. But, this post is not for that. This post, sadly, I feel needs to be written.
I have seen this kind of criticism personally and in other places on the “internet”. These perspectives that were brought to bear on the death of Kobe Bryant were appalling to me and in my mind worth responding to. They can be summed up like this:
– I can’t believe people mourn him but not the countless service members that die.
– I can’t believe so many people worship a guy who “put a ball through a hoop”.
– He wasted his life not living for Christ, why is he being honored?
– He clearly was an idol for too many people.
And the list goes on. This is my response.
My thesis/argument for the appropriateness of mourning and honoring Kobe Bryant is the following:
1) All people are made in the image of God and the death of any of God’s image bearers, (as people) is sad.
2) There are objective moral obligations and moral good that people (though marred by sin) can fulfill and in this way be honored relative to their good contributions in God’s world.
3) Mourning is a deeply personal experience and is different than the simple sadness noted in the first point. Mourning is an expression of the personal pain one feels based upon the personal connection the mourner had with the deceased and/or the personal impact the deceased had on them. Thus, one person can experience mourning while another person does not and both can be legitimate.
4) Thus, those that honored Kobe Bryant for the good he did and mourned his loss were appropriately responding to the personal pain they felt.
And as an added note, mourning and honoring does not equal worship. I will expand upon my above points.
“All people are made in the image of God and the death of any of God’s image bearers, (as people) is sad.”
Genesis 1:26-27 makes it abundantly clear that our value is not based upon anything other than the intrinsic value of being made in God’s image. Man and woman are uniquely created to show the world what God is like. We have been given unique attributes and qualities that make us the crown of creation.
The world likes to tell a lie. They try to take God out of the picture and make what you do or how much you can contribute the measurement of your worth. This is a lie. This is a deception. Our value, is intrinsic. Nothing can make us not valuable.
We do sinful things. We do things that violate God’s will. We are broken by sin and in desparate need of redemption. All of us are. Humanity is full of sinful people doing horrible things. That is why at the proper time, God sent Jesus Christ into the world. But, this sin, no matter the depth does not takeaway from the fact that we are valuable and have innate dignity. We are not animals and we are not the sum of our actions. We are the crown of God’s creation. We are people made by God.
Why does this matter? Because I have heard so many degrade or downgrade Kobe Bryant’s value by pointing out what he did as a career. I can at least understand why atheists do it even though I still disagree with it. What I can’t understand is when Christians who should be affirming the above statement are trying to tear down people mourning the death of someone who was made in the image of God based upon his career. I want to emphatically say: Kobe Bryant, Gianna, and the other seven people who died, are worth far more than what they did. You are worth more than you do. A service member dying on the front lines is worth far more than what they do. Nurses, doctors, salvation army volunteers, etc. They are all worth more than what they do.
I do believe it is actually a bias against athletes that some people carry with them, that drives this kind of response in the wake of an awful tragedy. I think they stereo-type athletes with celebrities and hate how much they are loved and appreciated. They think their life is this or that, which means they must not be able to do any good or be any good for anyone. I think that drives it and I do believe that attitude is rather unChristian.
“There are objective moral obligations and moral good that people (though marred by sin) can fulfill and in this way be honored relative to their good contributions in God’s world.”
I am not going to get caught into the theological swamp about debating the different between righteous acts that make us right with God (earning our salvation which no one can do) and the objective moral values that exist because God created them and the limited but true fulfilment of them on the other hand. People can do good. Not eternal good, not good leading to salvation, but good. Paul said “Greater love hath no man, than he who lays down his life for his friend.” He doesn’t qualify it. He says it. There is good to be done by people.
What amazes me (and I will discuss this more in my tribute posts) about the Christian (or non-Christians) that bash others for honoring Kobe is that it wasn’t that he was only being honored for his basketball. That was certianly part of it. But so many honored him and told stories about him that touched on things much deeper than just being a basketball players. They said the following:
– He was a family man.
– He loved his wife and his girls.
– He loved being a girl-dad.
– He loved helping teach younger people how to pursue excellent.
– He was funny.
– He cared about people and showed it.
– He reached out to new NBA players to mentor them about life.
– He had important relationships with current stars and people.
These are not just “putting a ball in a hoop.” Kobe was being honored not only for his unique God-given basketball talents and work-ethic, but for how much good he was for his wife, daughters, and the people he knew. The outpouring of sadness, brokenness, and pain at hearing the news from around the WORLD should tell you he was more than just a basketball player. This seems so simple to me.
If you only reserve mourning and honoring for “extraordinary” people that do “extraordinary” things why do the majority of us mourn family members and close friends that pass? Most of them did nothing but regular, normal, wonderful good to us and those around us?
Kobe’s life was in need of God. He needed Christ. I don’t know where he stood. But, I do know this: the personal testimony of those around him clearly paints a picture of a 41-year old man that loved his family, invested in others, and worked to give his knowledge and wisdom to others. This will make him matter to a lot of people.
“Mourning is a deeply personal experience…Mourning is an expression of the personal pain one feels based upon the personal connection the mourner had with the deceased and/or the personal impact the deceased had on them.”
Christians are commanded to mourn with those who mourn. Why is this? We are to join, best we can, in being deeply broken for what hurts people deeply. We are told to do this because mourning is a deeply personal experience and for many it is not easy to mourn something we do not connect with. We are told to do this because mourning is the appropriate response to the devastating effects of sin.
I understand, if you didn’t care about basketball and never watched Kobe Bryant, why you would feel weird about so many people mourning him. But that doesn’t disqualify their pain or minimize it. It also doesn’t mean that person was an idol to them.
You don’t have to feel what we are feeling. You can’t make that happen. But you should be joining in for those that are hurting because the pain of this broken world can be truly hard. At the very least, just be quiet if it doesn’t make sense.
To clarify, mourning does not necessarily mean something/someone is an idol. Just like I would not step into your moment of mourning to make claims about idolatry because it is insensitive, unloving, and simply not necessarily true. It may just simply be that this person meant something to someone, and it hurts to lose them so shockingly and suddenly.
“Thus, those that honored Kobe Bryant for the good he did and mourned his loss were appropriately responding to the personal pain they felt.”
I will be writing about why this death stung me, pretty deeply, and explaining that in future posts. It may not resonate with everyone but that does not make it illegitimate. It is appropriate for anyone personally impacted by Kobe Bryant to mourn his passing. On the other hand, it is also right that all should be saddened by the tragic and sudden death of not only one image-bearer, but eight others. Including, heart-breakingly, the death of his 13-year old daughter and her teammate.
It happened on a trip Kobe had been taking for years every single week, almost daily. It happened with a pilot who had a sterling safety record. It happened when Kobe was just coming into his own as someone who gave to others and was making a bigger difference than he ever had before. It happened to kids that had so much life to live. It happened to a man who meant a lot to literally millions of people, and for many it started with basketball, but for most it did not end there.
To the people that may feel this post targets them or addresses them I want you to know a few things.
First, I encourage you that even if you do not agree with my post above to think about the timing of what you say/share. I know I sometimes make mistakes on my own social media presence. I seek to grow in how I speak and share. Maybe you could do the same?
Second, celebrities and public figures can occupy a strange place in the hearts of people. Because of social media connecting us all a public figure can have a tremendous impact on kids and adults far and wide. People who have never meant can form a personal connection that is not idolatry, but is human. This means something even if you don’t understand it or like it.
Third, just because someone does not mention the other seven or eight by name does not mean they do not care. They are being celebrated by their families and those that they impacted. There is no way everyone can publicly celebrate every moment of every second every person that passes.
Fourthly, we know Kobe Bryant was not perfect. In fact, he had some pretty public sins and mistakes in life. Whether he knew Christ or not, he I am sure continued to sin. But, that does not negate the change he had undergone later in his life as he matured and the good he did. If we only mourned perfect people we would never mourn anyone.
Finally, as Christians, let us all try to better live out the beatitudes, the fruits of the Spirit, and better image the risen Christ. However that looks, let us pursue that. Because in that, we can leave not only a present legacy, but an eternal one.