What Kobe’s Passing Teaches Us About Life Today

I was standing in the front of the church sanctuary, saying goodbye to a few volunteers helping with the worship team when my brother said, “wow, um, Kobe Bryant just died.” At first, I didn’t believe him, which is probably more of a statement of my own cultural enmeshment than anything—nothing can be taken at face value—but the news was true.

The death of Kobe Bryant quickly became international headline news and a consistent conversation piece with everyone I talked to for well over a week. As a basketball fan, I was struck by how many seemed to be deeply affected by his passing. The responses consistently came in 2 forms:

  1. “I don’t even know why I’m sad, but I’m so sad.”
  2. “I’m going to do a better job of loving people.” This was the response of Kobe’s former teammate Shaq, while weeping on national tv.

One of the concepts Charles Taylor speaks of in A Secular Age is our understanding about life today as existing in an immanent frame. Immanent meaning things we can see, feel, and touch, the factual realities of life, the opposite of a transcendent reality. Life without God in the immanent frame creates god-like figures we call celebrities. Their deaths have a way of shaking up our notions about life.

The immense outpouring over Kobe’s death reminded me of Alan Noble highlighting the inconceivability of death within the immanent frame in his book Disruptive Witness:

“So tremendous a thing is the death of a single person that we feel that the world ought to cease its motion. Being itself is contingent on the existence of each person—or at least, that’s how it feels when someone dies.”

What often results from death is an increase in existential angst, the increasing wonder of whether the life we have is all there is. It’s why so many would say to me, “I don’t even know why I’m sad, but I’m so sad.” When all there is in life is the tangible realities we see, and when a god-like figure within this reality can be taken so quickly, we realize how insignificant our lives are in comparison.

Death causes us to ponder our significance. We are driven by meaning. We want to know our lives matter, but the problem is without transcendence to intervene in our lives (an impossibility in the immanent frame which has disregarded God), we’re constantly searching for the next thing because none of it ever truly satisfies our deepest longings. 

This is where it’s important to point out that life in the immanent frame is an illusion. Those who say “you only live once” or this is all there is, can’t see with the eyes of faith beyond the horizon in the distance. Life focused only on immanence is not only an illusion but it’s an unsatisfying answer to our deepest longings.

The answer to the discombobulation of death or loss or hardship in the immanent frame is to overcome through self-empowerment. There are no answers beyond, because there is no beyond. So we turn our eyes toward ourselves, hoping to find an answer or create one. This is why self-help books continue to grab a larger market share every year.

But if life is actually a transcendent frame, seeing far beyond the realities of our day to day existence, then we can look to God for an answer. In Luke 8 there’s a story about Jesus’ disciples finding themselves in the midst of an out-of-nowhere violent thunderstorm. Their boat is taking on water. Panic is setting in. They could die. And Jesus is asleep.

What a perfect picture for how life can often feel in the immanent frame. We go through immense struggles of loss, hardship, and pain, and God is either asleep or he doesn’t exist. Answers can’t be found. But in a transcendent frame God intervenes. Not always in the ways we imagined. Not always with the timing we’d prefer, but the good news of Jesus is that God has and will intervene. The answers we seek are found in Him.