I was playing disc golf with my buddy, Parker. We were in the woods on hole 3 at Va-Du-Mar Park in Boiling Springs, SC. I pulled my phone out to just look at it because that’s what we do nowadays. When I did so, I had a ton of notifications all about the same thing. In one group message with some football friends of mine from college, someone was asking about a TMZ article announcing Kobe Bryant’s death by helicopter crash. In another group message with the guys from my Bible study, someone was trying to confirm if the article was factual. My little brother announced the news in my family group message. Bleacher Report had announced it moments earlier. I asked Parker if it was true. He confirmed what I had seen on my own phone. We stood there in silence for a couple of minutes not really knowing how to react. Kobe Bryant was dead. He was gone. I didn’t know what to even think in that moment. The word I keep coming back to is surreal— that’s how it felt.
Let me be quite candid and clear– I wasn’t a Kobe Bryant fan. I have always been a fan of LeBron James. I watched NBA basketball for a portion of my life in middle school and high school until I just became disinterested in watching it. I never really became a Kobe fan, though. Man, he was really good. I had a lot of friends who loved him. I didn’t really grow up with that connection to Kobe, though. A lot of guys in the league now accredit their desire for basketball to the legacy of Kobe. That’s awesome, but that’s not me. A lot of people are lifelong Lakers fans and were able to see 5 championships come to LA with Kobe Bryant. That’s cool, but that’s not me. I knew of him. He’s a cultural icon of my generation. He was one amazing athlete. He seems, by all accounts I know of, a pretty solid guy, a devoted and loving father, and a true basketball legend. But I’m not going to sit here and act like I had his jersey or I knew his story. I didn’t. For some reason, however, his tragic death has resonated with me tremendously, as it has a great deal of people worldwide.
I grew up in an era where Kobe Bryant was a household name– is household name. I remember watching the Finals in 2010. I remember my friends wearing the jerseys. I remember yelling, “Kobe!” and shooting things into the trash can at school. I remember all the jokes about how he never passed the ball. I remember the shoes. I remember it all. It’s quite honestly pretty shocking to see him in LA watching LeBron beat his points record on Saturday night then see the wreckage of his helicopter on Sunday. Kobe Bryant is dead now, and that’s a pretty weird feeling for someone my age. It doesn’t feel normal. It doesn’t seem right that someone as young as Kobe would be gone so quickly.
I’ve seen a video on Twitter:
Elle Duncan’s story really hit me. It hit me hard. It’s not because I have daughters– I don’t. It’s not because I’ve suffered this type of tragic loss– I haven’t. It’s not because I was a Kobe Bryant fan, friend, or family member– I wasn’t.
Where were you when Kobe died?
I was at a park. I was in South Carolina. I was with a friend of mine that I love dearly. I was away from all of the others I cherish. I was an hour from home and 4 hours from my future wife. I was in a state of disbelief that something so shocking and honestly bizarre had just happened so quickly. And I was even more shocked that I felt this way about someone I didn’t know, didn’t watch, and didn’t think about ever, if at all. Why would I care so much? Why did Elle Duncan’s story hit me so hard? Why have I thought about this since it happened? I was truly shocked.
But, then, I wasn’t.
In that moment, I realized how fragile life is. I realized that, at any moment, virtually anything could happen to people I love, and I’m so far from most of them. The essence of this hopelessness is our deepest fear as created beings– death.
As a kid (which I am still, honestly), you get lulled to sleep. Life seems so harmless. It doesn’t seem like anything will ever touch you. You make plans for the future on a daily basis. I daydream about getting to have my own kids one day (seriously: a tiny human that belongs to you to love and hold? I sound naive, I know… but I’m pumped). I talk to my now-girlfriend (future wife God-willing) about our wedding and all types of things. I plan on being a pastor one day. I fill out applications and make plans for the summer. We all do this. We just naturally imagine ourselves to be invincible. We don’t take into account the reality of death because that frightens us.
I’m ashamed to admit my doubts, but I have them. Kobe’s death was a humbling and unifying experience for the entire country. So much outpouring of grief testifies to this fact. Athlete after athlete, anchor after anchor, coach after coach have expressed their sympathies and pain. This is all, in my humble opinion, an expression of fear. The elephant in the room is a lingering question: if that can happen to Kobe, what could happen to me? We don’t, as a populace, want to face the truth that tomorrow is still up in the air for us all.
There is much rhetoric in evangelicalism about the greatness of death. These are not things I necessarily disagree with, either. Jesus’ finished work on the Cross was through death (ultimately leading to life). Death of sin in my life is a must. As Christians, we need not fear death, for it’s a minor inconvenience on our way to eternal fellowship with the Father. It’s viewed as a tough but manageable ailment for the believer and their loved ones. “They’re in a better place… they’re with God in Glory… they’re no longer in any pain.” The hymn In Christ Alone even says, “No guilt in life, no fear in death.” All of these things are true of the believer. I agree. But let me be totally honest with you: death is absolutely terrifying. Even with the hope of Christ, I find it very hard to put that in a perspective that’s palatable.
I have a small view of God. I love other people so wholly that I fear a reality where they aren’t here. What I do, in reality, is idolize those I care about in replacement of the Father. God is not calling us to blow each other off completely for the sake of the Kingdom– He repeatedly says quite the opposite (Lev. 19:18/Matthew 26). He is, however, calling us to obedience and total surrender (Luke 9:23). I fear death because I doubt God. I doubt His finished work, and I doubt His sovereignty. Kobe Bryant’s death has humbled us and unified us, but more importantly, it has scared us. We don’t want to admit that death will come to us all, but it will. If you are human, you will die. That’s the nature of things. It’s a hard thing to face, even for a Christian. If you are not a Christian, you will spend eternity in a burning Hell separated from Jesus Christ who offers the gift of sacrifice freely to all who repent of their sins, humbly surrender, and believe solely in Him (Romans 10:9-10).
The sad news is that Kobe Bryant is gone. He was an absolute icon. The sadder news is that he leaves behind a wife and children who will miss their husband and father more than any coach or teammate ever will. The even sadder news is that we are all as mortal as Kobe Bryant. Death will come to us all in the end. And the saddest news is that, like Kobe, like JFK, like Lincoln, like Billy Graham, like you, like me, like us all, we are born sinners in need of salvation.
But the absolutely, wonderfully joyous news is that salvation is here and salvation is today.
God is Holy. God is Righteous. God is Just. God is Wrathful. God is loving. And, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV). Jesus Christ compels me to live a life worthy of His finished work on the Cross. Jesus Christ also quells the fear of death in me knowing that death is not death for me– it’s the crossing into eternal fellowship with Him.
When someone asks one day where you were when Kobe died, it will be easy to remember. It was such an impactful moment. But ask yourself now where you are now that Kobe is dead? I don’t mean location. I don’t mean mindset. I mean, where is your salvation? Where is your hope in death? Where is your purpose?
I don’t know what came of the moment when Kobe looked at God and answered for his own life. My hope is that Jesus Christ interceded on Kobe’s behalf (Romans 8:34). I don’t know. What I do know is that if Kobe could talk to us now, he would want us to know that Jesus Christ is the Almighty Creator of the Universe who died for our sins on the Cross that we might be reconciled to Himself.
Don’t wait on salvation– salvation is today.
“Repent and believe, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”