Perhaps it's because I've recently abandoned the teaching of Calvinistic predestination that I am so troubled when I hear about the death of someone like Michael Jackson. There are a great many soul-sick people in the world, and we know that no temptation comes upon anyone except what is common to man, but still there is something particularly gut-wrenching about seeing a human being come gradually unglued on the national stage. The temptations of man are common, but a man with uncommon wealth and privilege can indulge his temptations far more extensively than the driver of a garbage truck.
Having peered into the sorry state of my own soul, I won't presume to gauge the state of another's. I am newly struck, however, by the reality that when a person contorts his soul into a monstrosity, this is not part of some cosmic plan, it is a great tragedy. And though none of us are appointed---thank God---as judges of Michael Jackson's soul, any reasonable person can see that---inner life aside---his observable life was a tragedy. I've already heard a few people proffer indifference at Jackson's death, but I think the right attitude, reflecting a right understanding of creation and our Creator, is that a life that never came untwisted is to be mourned at its passing.
When I hear that someone whose life was a public train wreck has died (Anna Nicole Smith comes to mind), I wonder what might have helped her or him grasp hold of a lifeline. Could no one have offered this man a drink of cool water? Perhaps many did, only to be scorned. It gives me pause, however, when I consider the train wreck lives whose tracks I tiptoe across for fear of getting run over, of getting dragged alongside. Then I consider the cliff toward which I've pointed my own life more than once, only to have people who love me stand on the tracks, refusing to let me go.
Those of us who are saved are saved by grace, and those of us who claim to love God are called to love our neighbor. So I think it's worth asking: Who needs me to step in front of his runaway train? I suspect if we look around, we'll find plenty of runaway trains, driven by scared, angry, desperately lonely people. Step on the tracks. Not with a lecture or a handy verse, but with the wild love of a God who adores the likes of you and me. Step on the tracks.