Grief, Goodness, and God



From May of 2015.

We are one day away from our hardest day.

I'm up tonight writing a funeral for my brother. I don't believe the thought of such a thing has ever crossed my mind. I know it isn't a rational perception, but Rob has always possessed a certain invincibility in my eyes. I've never dwelled on the prospect, but because of my selfish recklessness and immaturity, relative to Rob, I've always suspected that if anyone ever introduced grief to my family through tragedy it would be me.

This feels all wrong, and I am wrestling with this irrational and futile compulsion to fix it.

Rob has always been the thoughtful one, the careful one, the thinker and planner. He analyzes and designs, and implements, and nearly always does the most rational thing. Not to say I have no capacity for such things, but I have always leaned more in a "let's try it and see what happens" direction.

When I learned that Rob was lost in an accident involving a tractor, very near the top of the list of a flood of thoughts was "that can't be right"- I'm the one who would do that.

I have been out to the accident site repeatedly. I have been surprised by my desire to be there. I have wondered how, and exactly what happened, and I desperately want to have that conversation with Rob. I suspect this is because there simply is no why. I'm stuck on the how.

I have two theories. The property (at least part of it) that Rob and Brandie purchased is the remnants of an old Christmas tree farm. They have 6 cows, and various other assorted creatures well suited to provide some type of food. Rob had been using his small farm tractor (small by farming standards, but still a beast) to clear an area for additional pasture by removing these pine trees. Most of them are between 8 and 12 feet tall. The soil is a little sandy, and most of the trees pop out by the roots with a few tugs of the tractor. Some hold on better than others.

If a tractor is tied to something it cannot pull immediately, and the tires do not spin, the front of the tractor will rise. The motor is strong enough that it will spin something. If it can’t rotate the tires it will rotate the tractor. The motor doesn’t really care what rotates. A little bit of this is to be expected when you pull with a tractor, but a lot can flip the tractor over. There is a hand throttle on the dashboard and you use the clutch to control forward movement. As Rob pulled on this last tree, I'm about 90% certain that one of two things happened. Either his foot slipped off the clutch pedal, or the bolt which connects the pedal slipped out, and he lost the clutch all together. When I first looked at the tractor, this bolt I speak of was dangling (by a thread) out of the hole it was supposed to be fastened into. It was supposed to have a nut holding it in place. The nut was missing. I’m fairly confident that this bolt dropped from an upper adjustment hole and wedged itself into a lower hole which rendered the clutch pedal nearly useless.’


The tractor lifted up in front and flipped completely over backward. It happened very quickly, and whether Rob’s foot slipped off the clutch or the bolt released from the mount he would have had very little time, maybe a second or two, to decide whether to jump clear or try to get the tractor back under control. It is likely that there was nothing he could have done. My 46 years with Rob tell me if there was any correct decision to make at that point he would have made it. Medical personnel told Brandie that his injuries were absolutely not survivable and his death was instantaneous.


While it may sound dangerous to pull out trees by the roots with a tractor, it is pretty standard practice, very common, and it is easily the most efficient way to get rid of unwanted trees on a farm. It should have been no more dangerous than any other work you might do on a farm with a tractor.

My brother in law, Wayne, and I will “preach” my brother’s funeral tomorrow. We will do so while we grieve, and while we watch his wife, his children, his parents, his sister, nieces, nephews, cousins, dear friends from different times and places all grieve with us. Though I plan to do this, I have no idea how I could. I will seek strength and peace from the only true source at such a time. Rob believed, and I believe, and my family believes that man is not an inexplicable (and unscientific) result of some bizarre cosmic accident, but that we were created by a God who loves us. If there is no God, none of this means anything. Our lives, our accomplishments, our joy, our grief, our deaths- it is all utterly meaningless if there is no God.


We choose whether we believe. God does not force it on us. Many who deny and doubt are fond of saying God’s existence cannot be proven, or that His goodness is questionable given our suffering, but it is definitely true that we can not disprove the existence of our Creator. This means that regardless of what we believe it is our choice. If we reject God, we reject our own value, our own meaning, any real purpose we might have served, and any source of comfort when we face the very worst parts of life in this world.

I am grateful for what Rob chose. I hope that at my passing, those who love me can find the same comfort. I hope that at your passing, those who love you can find the same comfort.


Just one last thing- ultimately, my confidence is in the goodness of my God. This is not to say that I am not confident that Rob was a good person- I am simply saying that our goodness (Rob’s, mine, yours, anyone’s) could never be sufficient to merit what God has in store for us. Rob knew that too, and his life was a good life for it.


Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

Luke 18:18‭-‬19


Daniel Starr