When tragedy strikes

The whole community in N.Ireland is reeling at the news that Ulster Rugby player Nevin Spence, along with his brother and father, were killed last night when they fell into a slurry tank on their farm in Hillsborough, Co. Down. 

It is such a shocking, horrible waste of life. One moment these 3 men were working on the farm together, the next they were dying in what must have been a dreadful death.

Facebook and Twitter are flooded with tributes to Nevin and prayers for the whole family. We all want to say something, we need a forum to express our sense of outrage, our shock, our horror, our support for the rest of the family as they try to come to terms with what has happened.

Spence’s Ulster team-mate Ian Humphreys tweeted: “Devastated to hear the news about Nevin Spence and his brother and dad. Prayers with all his family… RIP Nev, you’ll never be forgotten.”

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said on Twitter: “Deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy in Hillsborough this evening. My thoughts and prayers are with family at this time of devastation.”

After the initial shock, we gather our loved ones closer and once again take time to appreciate the life we have and the relationships we enjoy.

Northern Irish golf star Rory McIlroy expressed his sympathies, tweeting: “Just heard the tragic news of Nevin Spence and his family. Makes you cherish every day you have on this Earth.”

There is a lot of talk in the press about Nevin’s faith. It was no secret that he had a personal faith in God, as this article in the Irish Times demonstrates:

‘He is extremely friendly and proud of his Christian background, but doesn’t want this admission of faith to get him special treatment.

“Listen, I’m making as many mistakes as you or anybody in the street, I suppose I just have to hold up my hands about it. I’m not perfect, I don’t want to be put on a pedestal as I know my own limitations.”

Like his team-mates, Spence grew up in a Christian home, but at school started to challenge the faith he had been brought up in.

“I don’t think it’s too unusual. I suppose I went off the rails, I don’t mean I was into drugs or anything like that, but I turned my back on Christianity, but something was always pulling me back.”

Spence still lives in rural Northern Ireland, in a small town where he goes to church twice a week and everybody knows his background. Yet, he is unwilling to give talks just yet.

He stresses that this isn’t due to shame, but simply because he is still learning a lot about his faith himself. Spence never believed he could be a professional rugby player until late in school, and is delighted that he can be a Christian in his chosen profession.

“The Ulster team is a great place to be a Christian. It’s funny, Paul Marshall and I would help each other at training, if we catch each other swearing or whatever, it’s just good to know we’re looking out for each other.

“There’s a group of 30 lads here, and the banter won’t change amongst us, nor would I want it to. There’s no divide amongst the Christians and the non-Christians. For me the Bible is about actions speaking louder than words. I’ve just got to be careful my Mum doesn’t catch me swearing on TV again.”

In a country where religion has been the cause rather than the solution for many problems, this special group of Ulster rugby players are determined to keep using their own brand of muscular Christianity at Ravenhill as long as their careers endure.’

How poignant that last sentence is: Nevin Spence’s career has not endured very long, his young life has been cut off.

And we are left to wonder Why? It is the question in all of our minds, if not on our lips. Why such senseless waste of human life? Why do 3 men from one family die in such a tragic accident? Why do 3 people who trust God end up dying in a slurry tank? Why?

I don’t believe any of us can answer that question. We don’t know why.

But we do know a few things which perhaps it’s good to remind ourselves of at a time like this, as we gather our loved ones closer:

  • Accidents happen in this broken world – and none of us are immune. In fact the Bible tells us that we will go through hard times. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
  • Life is precious – we should treasure each day. “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.” Psalm 90:12.
  • We can turn to God in the midst of our confusion and shock and horror. He can deal with our sense of outrage, injustice, bewilderment. He may not give us the answer as to why this tragedy happened – but He has given the answer to all human suffering when He gave His only Son to die a horrible, shocking death when He was still a young man. When Jesus gave His life, when He suffered, He was bearing our pain as well as our sin. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” Isaiah 53:4.

So don’t let us run away from God in our sense of horror at what has happened. Let us run to God. He can handle all of our questions, our tears, our anger. There is nowhere else to run to. Let us run to Jesus. There we will find the solace and comfort and love that we seek. For as we weep, inwardly or outwardly, at this tragedy, we can be sure that God weeps with us. This is not the way the world was meant to be. And this is not the final word. One day God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4.

Meanwhile – until that day – let’s run to God with all that perplexes and distresses us. In Him alone our hope is found.

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

“In Christ Alone”
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music
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14 thoughts on “When tragedy strikes

  1. God bless you Ragamuffin for such a helpful and insightful blog. May I commend a book worth reading: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper and Justin Taylor

    • A very helpful book David – I can recommend along with many other sermons by John Piper – especially on Psalm 42 – “Why are you downcast oh my soul?”

  2. Thank you for this. A beautiful tribute to Nevin and his family. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – Jesus, John 15:13. What a great ambassador for the King he was. Praying for the family and friends at this difficult time.

  3. Having had to part with our own dear precious son at the age of 25 as God CHOSE to take him HOME at a time which we thought was just too soon, our hearts go out particuarly to Mrs. Spence and Emma today. I say CHOSE as we know our Sovereign God’s ways are not our ways nor His thoughts our thoughts and He knows the exact moment we will leave this earth – which is as meticulously planned at the death of His own dear Son on the cross.
    Although the pain of separation is almost unbearable and the pain does not subside with the passage of time, no matter whether it is through illness or accident, we can assure these dear people today that God alone will be the One who will provide for them the grace, peace, comfort and daily strength to endure this path which He has entrusted to them. We certainly do not understand – but God does not ask us to understand – He asks us to TRUST HIM.
    Of course we are allowed to ask Why? but we won’t get an answer until the great day when the dark knots from the under-side of the tapesstry are revealed and the last piece of God’s great jigsaw has been put into place.
    It is indeed In Christ Alone our HOPE is found.
    For now, the Spence family are in our constant thoughts and prayers. For now, we ask “What now Lord?” – through the pain and the tears which are many.

    • God bless you Ann for sharing such precious truth out of the depths of your own pain. “As for God His way is perfect … He makes my way perfect.” Psalm 18:30 and 32. Painful? Puzzling? even Perplexing – but Perfect.

  4. Pauline you have a wonderful gift with words. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this beautiful piece & to put in writing what so many of us feel in our hearts but just can’t express. I am feeling quite emotional today, as 5 years ago today on a Sunday afternoon also my darling wee Mum went to live with Jesus after battling Altzheimers for 7 long years.still the missing pains don’t go away,,yet how insignificant this is compared to the horrendous pain poor Mrs Spence will have to suffer. Dear Father please comfort her and the family with your indescribable love & comfort in the dark days ahead. FOR THIS WE HAVE JESUS.

  5. Thank-you all for taking the time to leave a comment. We are all shocked and we are all struggling to make sense out of this senseless tragedy. It is good to struggle together. Thank-you for sharing your stories. There is healing for us all in sharing together. It is good to point each other to the only One who can ultimately bear our burdens and relieve our distress.

  6. My Life is but a weaving
    between my Lord and me;
    I cannot choose the colors
    He worketh steadily.

    Oft times He weaveth sorrow
    And I, in foolish pride,
    Forget He sees the upper,
    And I the under side.

    Not til the loom is silent
    And the shuttles cease to fly,
    Shall God unroll the canvas
    And explain the reason why.

    The dark threads are as needful
    In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
    As the threads of gold and silver
    In the pattern He has planned.

    He knows, He loves, He cares,
    Nothing this truth can dim.
    He gives His very best to those
    Who leave the choice with

  7. Our loss is heavens gain – a thought provoking piece to read – my young daughter has been deeply upset by what has happened but I am going to let her read the words above – I have told her our ways are not God’s ways and we just have to keep trusting in him.

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