Why Did Nabeel’s Death Hit Me So hard?
The first time I heard about Nabeel Qureshi was when someone handed me a copy of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. I was on tour with No Longer Music, and I flew through the book on the two-day journey from Germany to Portugal.
I have had the privilege of sharing the Gospel in many countries with predominantly Muslim populations, including Northern Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey, and Nabeel’s story was inspiring and incredibly helpful. I was profoundly affected by his remarkable testimony, and was struck by how difficult it is for a Muslim to convert to Christianity.
Longtime No Longer Music guitarist, Steven Bradley, was the one who first told me about Nabeel’s cancer. The news of his prognosis was devastating, and like so many others, I prayed that God would heal him. I followed his journey from diagnosis to momentary optimism to set back, and finally death.
Although I expected it, the news of his passing rattled me, and in the days that followed, I was led to reflect on my life and the inescapable reality of our fallen world.
Terrible things happen every day, so why did Nabeel’s death hit me so hard?
I’m not sure whether it's a psychological defense mechanism, or an innate means of coping, but when faced with tragedy, we immediately begin distancing ourselves from the possibility that the same thing could happen to us. If we are honest, when someone dies tragically, we feel compelled to ask: Were they old? Were they wearing a seatbelt? Did they smoke?
These questions reveal a need to discover some cause that we can avoid, thereby creating a sense that we can become immune to a similar fate. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it seems we need a reason to believe we are safe and in control, when in fact, we are not.
Upon hearing the news that Nabeel had died, I searched for ways to distance myself, but found none. I had to confront the fact that, deep inside, I’d been believing many lies. For one, I had been convinced that because I was young, a husband and father, God would never allow something like this to happen to me - yet that hadn’t spared Nabeel.
Equally, I’d figured my participation in a fruitful ministry made me immune to tragedy. Yet not many ministries have been more fruitful or as urgently needed as Nabeel’s, and he died at age 34. I couldn’t even take refuge in the idea that the army of prayer warriors I have in my life would move God to intervene, when Nabeel’s army easily outnumbered mine.
All I was left with was the stark reminder of the fragility of life, the nearness of death, and the reality that no one is immune to it. During the days following his passing, I prayed a lot and God really met me in the midst of my confusion, leading me to respond in a few specific ways.
But before I address them, let me clarify that I had and still have no interest in leveraging this tragedy as a way to sound off on the theological implications of his death. I have seen articles written criticizing those who prayed in faith for his healing, or questioning the sovereignty of God - and I find both of these reactions absurd.
Instead, my response is to be heartbroken for Nabeel’s family. As a husband and a dad, I can’t begin to understand the grief they're experiencing.
My response is to be grateful. I am thankful each day for my health and the health of those I love. We can naively believe that exercise and eating vegetables is the reason we are healthy, but truly every breath is a gift, and I am more aware of that than ever.
My response is renewed urgency. I want my life to have meaning, and not as the world defines it. I want to value knowing and loving God first, and out of that growing intimacy with Him, devote my life to loving others. I want to be obedient in fulfilling the great commission, not only from a stage as an artist, but with my neighbors and the people I see every day.
Ultimately, my response is to rest in Jesus as the only real hope. That in Him, death is not the end of life, but rather its consummation. I want to live in light of the profound reality that I don’t belong to this world, that I am just passing through, and that one day I will experience what Nabeel already has: unspeakable joy and total contentment in hearing the words, “Well done good and faithful servant!”