One blessing of being a Christian teacher is extra time over the summer to watch movies. I love inspirational flicks. Throw in a sport, and it instantly makes it better. And it has to be a true story. Not just a fantasy made up in Hollywood. Finally, a Christian theme is always a nice touch. Lucky for me, I found all those qualities in the movie I finished last night about the life of offensive lineman Brandon Burlsworth. The movie, Greater, idolized the spirit of Burlsworth that refused to quit and was never content with mediocrity. He launched himself from an overweight puff ball middle schooler, to a high school starter, to a walk on at Arkansas, to an All- American by his senior year, to being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts.
Sounds pretty inspiring, right? But one thing miffed me throughout the whole movie. It began with Burlsworth’s funeral, flashed back to a chunk of his life, and proceeded on that way through the entire two hours. I got impatient midway through and simply had to find out what happened to the poor guy, stopping the movie and googling his name. As I typed in the name Brandon Burlsworth, one of the options below the Google search was “Brandon Burlsworth’s death.” I cringed, expecting the worst, clicking on his name. Car crash. 22-years-old. It made the rest of the movie that much more tense as I awaited how Hollywood would portray the fatality.
The camera panned out on Burlsworth as he was listening to “I’ll Fly Away” on the radio, driving to take his mom to church. Classy move not to show the crash. The movie did, however, explore the pain of losing a loved one in the final scenes. Burlsworth’s brother was sitting in the bleechers mourning the death of his beloved brother. He was struggling mightily. Heart torn. You could feel the question of Why, God? echoing in his confused mind, and it makes the scene even more painful to see a local farmer being the voice of a cynic right next to him. This poor guy’s view on life is sad to hear. He whispers sweet nothings into Burlsworth’s brother’s ear. God has abandoned you. Where’s your God now? Why do bad things happen to good people?
I wanted to smack the dude upside the head with a Bible. He just didn’t get it! It wasn’t until Burlsworth’s brother clinched his teeth and said, “I think I have had enough of your company for today,” that I cheered the voice of reason inside him. He abandons his cynical acquaintance and runs to the top of the bleechers to see what Brandon Burlsworth’s friends have been doing all morning. With tearfilled eyes he looks out on to the field to see all the flowers they have been putting into formation and sees the words WE TRUST. Burlsworth’s brother runs back into the funeral and embraces his mother in a hug, joining in the joyful hymn singing of “I’ll Fly Away.” End movie.
I wept watching the credits. Pictures of the real Brandon Burlsworth painted the screen. He was my age. Dead at 22. A true child of God. The entire movie shows Burlsworth reading his Bible, leading Bible studies with his teammates, praying, and submitting to God’s plan for his life every day of his life. So, I asked myself the question of why God would take the life of someone so honorable, pure, and right. Shouldn’t God allow people like Brandon Burlsworth to live a long fruitful life, preaching the Gospel and making disciples for 80 or 90 years? How would a Christian answer these questions? I wept even more knowing that events like Burlsworth’s death make others lose faith. So, I ask you, how do we answer these difficult questions? How do we speak truth to cynics like that farmer who might shake their fist at God during moments like these?
First of all, let me be honest. I don’t have answers to all these questions. What I lean on are some core words of our faith that lay the foundation for Christians. Trust. Faith. Unconditional love for God no matter what. I love to look at the Book of Job. Here you have a guy that had everything and lost it all. Did Job question God? Sure he did. He’s human, just like all of us. A sinner. Yet Job had the heart to submit to God in the end. Although he lost everything, he knew God was up to something good. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He? “He does great things too marvelous to understand. He performs countless miracles” (Job 5:9). When things happen that I don’t understand–things like Brandon Burlsworth’s death–I lean on scripture like that.
I likewise look at other scripture to put perspective on life. Scripture that encompasses trust. There is no better verse about trust than Proverbs 3: 5-6, which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” It hurts me when others lose that trust. That trust is a message from God that says I’ve got this. My ways are so much higher than your own, so trust me. Can you live in that moment? When your world comes crashing down on you and all seems bleak and dismal, can you find peace in scripture such as that? The flowers that decorated the field that Burlsworth played on spoke so much truth. We trust.
Other scripture like Romans 8:28 answers plenty of questions. “And we know that God works everything for the good of those who love God and who are called according to His purposes for them.” Sometimes it takes a while to find that good but it is there. In the case of Brandon Burlsworth, all you have to do is watch the ending credits of his movie. Every year they give out an award to the top walk-on college football player to reward him with a scholarship. The Brandon Burlsworth Foundation was founded by his friends and family to promote physical and spiritual needs of children. The Burls Kids Program reaches out to underprivileged kids to attend Arkansas Razorbacks and Colts’ games. These are just three incredible things that have happened since the untimely death of Burlsworth.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Only God knows. What He wants us to know is that we must submit our complete trust to Him and His perfect will for our lives. I have seen God work all too many times in my life for the good. Interestingly enough, there have been countless occasions when I have questioned God throughout my life, wondering if He was really doing things the right way. Both my grandmothers died one day apart, yet God used it to strengthen the love in my family. My first year of teaching was a nightmare, yet God used it to land me a job the following year at Indian Trail Middle School, my home away from home the last 14 years. I suffered through a severe depression for two years, yet God allowed me to find Jesus Christ waiting for me at the end of it. He does indeed work for our good.
What about you? What are you questioning in your life right now? Where do you lack faith and trust? Get down on your knees and pray about it. Ask God to take your worries from you and give you peace. Ask for wisdom to discern His mysterious path for you, and submit to what He needs you to do. Finally, realize that a little perseverance and endurance can do a man well. It was Paul who said, “My brothers, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when you faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. Make sure your endurance carries your all the way so that you can be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). Sometimes those trials in our lives can be our biggest blessings. Or in the words of Laura Story’s song “Blessings” … “What if trials of this life are our mercies in disguise.”