Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 25, 2003


There are mysteries in life that none of us can explain


            After many years in the ministry, I finally learned that the best answer to many questions is simply, “I don’t know.” The accidental death of my friend Joe Spano reminds me again that there are mysteries in life that no one can explain.

            Joe was only 62, too young to leave us. Recently retired from the Vet School Faculty at Auburn University, Joe was ready to enjoy a few years without the pressure of his splendid work. He deserved the rewards of a lifetime of service to his students.

            Now he is gone. Jane is suddenly a widow, the love of her life stolen from her by the Grim Reaper. The guidance of a gentle father has been robbed from three fine young men, Josh, James, and John.

            Death sometimes invades our lives rudely, without warning. Events move so quickly. There is an accident on Saturday, a funeral on Tuesday. Grieving family members and friends are in shock, unable to comprehend why such a senseless thing had to happen.

            Longtime friend and pastor Earl Ballard delivered the eulogy at the memorial service last Tuesday. He offered a touching and fitting tribute to Joe. It was not an easy assignment for Earl, but one he handled with typical excellence. The capacity crowd of friends reinforced Earl’s splendid affirmation of a good man’s life.

            Wisely, Earl did not wrestle with the mystery of Joe’s sudden death. Despite our advanced knowledge of many things, the inscrutable remains. There are mysteries no man can explain. Many try. All fail.

            In the face of such unfathomable questions, “Why?” may be the last query we should raise. We can ask, with greater profit, these questions: 

            What can we learn from this tragedy that will help us better to live until our own death?

            What lesson is God trying to teach us in this experience?

            Faced again with the brevity of life, are there changes in our priorities we should consider?

            How can we respond to our friends in caring ways that alleviate their pain?

            Should we not resolve with all our hearts to receive each new day as a gift of God’s love, and live each day to the fullest?

            Since none of us knows what a day may bring forth, should we not give our time and energy to things that have eternal significance?

            What may we learn from the example of a good man like Joe Spano?

            Wrestling with any of these questions may give us insights that we can use to shape the balance of our own days. Struggling to answer “Why?” is like trying to draw water from a dry well.

            Who was Joe Spano? He was a pathologist, a teacher at Auburn. That is true.

Joe, however, was so much more than a pathologist! Though I knew he worked in pathology, I did not know Joe as a pathologist.

            To me, as one of his pastors, he was a Christian brother. As much as anyone I have known, he was a genuinely humble servant of God. His arena of service was the school in which he taught at Auburn University.

            Quietly, without fanfare, he helped manage the financial aid fund for seminary students from Trinity. My own son, Matt, knew Joe’s name, for Joe had assisted Matt in his seminary work with both money and encouragement. Joe cared, and the seminary students knew it.

            I learned from Earl’s eulogy that the students and faculty friends at Auburn had earlier honored Joe by purchasing and displaying a painting of “The Good Shepherd” at the Vet School. Beside it they placed a picture of Joe, with an inscription that honors Joe for his shepherding ministry at the school.

            How appropriate! Those who worked with Joe, and who sat under his teaching, saw him for what he was – a dedicated, humble servant of God. He lived to make a difference in the lives of others.

            Perhaps the best evidence that he succeeded is the obvious influence of his gentle spirit in the personalities of his three fine sons, Josh, James, and John. What a legacy in Christian character Joe left them!

            Some time ago, I asked a local friend and veterinarian, Dr. Charles Bryson, if he knew Joe Spano. “Know him?” Joe responded, “Why, he was the finest Christian I met while I was at Auburn!”

            Joe slipped away before I had a chance to thank him for what I learned from him. I was one of his students too. He taught me humility by his example.

            I will miss him but I will never forget him. + + + +