It was just days ago that a terrible storm ripped through parts of Oklahoma, sending tornadic tentacles down to Earth to destroy everything they could reach. Over twenty people lost their lives, many of them children.
Just a few weeks ago, a friend and co-worker of mine from a couple of years ago was murdered in her apartment. She was just twenty-years-old when someone, in a fit of rage and senseless violence, decided to take her away from this world.
It was almost one year ago that a giant wildfire blazed through the west side of Colorado Springs, killing two people and destroying over three hundred homes.
Tragedies are real. There is no use denying it. Jesus confirmed this when he said, “Here on Earth, you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33 NLT) There are many different articles and schools of thought that ponder the origins of tragedy and why we must endure them. Although I will be happy to lend my voice to this conversation, the purpose of this writing today is to ask, what is in my opinion, a more pertinent question: What are we, as Christians, suppossed to do in the wake of tragedy.
Before moving on to the meat of this post, I feel as though I should at least address the elephant in the room. Why would a good God allow tragedy to happen? While I cover this in more depth in my forthcoming book The Great God Deception, I will try my best to simplify it here. But be warned, if you are looking for a comprehensive response as to why God allows tragedy and sorrow into our lives, you are going to be disappointed. There is not enough space in this post to fully discuss that topic plus give the attention necessary to the main point of this post.
So, why does God allow tragedy into our lives? The short answer: sin.
“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, because everyone sinned.” (Romans 5:12 NLT) Without sin, there would be no tragedy, no death. That passage goes on to say that death spread to everyone, whether they knew about the law or not. Tragedy is not a respecter of persons. It does not see race, religion, or gender. We are all afflicted by the terminal condition of sin.
How could death and tragedy be a part of God’s will? The short answer: it’s not.
God tends to become the world’s scapegoat when things go awry. Why else would natural disasters and lightning strikes be deemed “Acts of God”? Aethiests and skeptics often use tragedy as an attempt to discredit the character of God, proclaiming that a God that proclaims to be love would never let such horrible things happen to good people.
Even Christians jump on the bandwagon, using phrases such as: “Praise God, anyways” or “It was the will of God.” To those Christians I must firmly say, “STOP TALKING!” How can, as children of God, possibly think that it was God’s will that bad things happen? 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish or be destroyed, but that He wants everyone to come to a saving knowledge of Him.
We all know John 3:16, but if we read down one more verse, we learn that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, the but to save it. So please, please, please, please stop telling people that their tragic loss is a result of the perfect will of God.
Now, that being said, God does have the ability to use tragedies to work out his will. A perfect example of this is in the story of Joseph. In Genesis chapter 50, Joseph reassures his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (vs. 20 NLT)
People have free will. God allows us to make our own decisions about our lives, even though they often go against Him and His plan for us. It was not God’s will for Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, that would mean that God planned out an evil act. But God was able to use that situation to bring Joseph to a position of authority, allowing him to save many lives during the famine.
So what, then, should we as Christians do in the wake of tragedy?
There is no right answer as each tragedy, and the people involved, will require a different and unique response. But there are a few things that we need to keep in mind as we deal with those who have just gone through a tragedy, or as we try to reconcile ourselves with a terrible incident.
Jeff Miller, in his post 9/11 article, advises us that we need to be humbled before God, standing in awe at his mighty power. “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:4 NLT) This statement by David was made after he looked up to the night sky and was in awe of the fact that he served a God who not only created every star in the sky, but also kept them in place.
In the grand timeline of history, we are nothing more than a pin prick. The great oceans, the Rocky Mountains, the great sands of the Sahara: all these were created by God for His glory. We should be awestruck every day that the same God who made everything that ever was and ever will be wants to have a personal relationship with us.
He is not the cause of tragedy, but He will be there to comfort us when hard times fall. “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 NLT) Don’t be afraid to call on God when you need Him. There is only one who can comfort us, only one who truly gives peace. (Philippians 4:7 NLT)
As far as how we treat others who are in the midst of tragedy, honesty is always the best policy. It’s ok to admit that you don’t know why God allowed this into their life. It’s ok to say that it doesn’t make sense to you either. Christians are not robots. We feel. We hurt. Putting on a brave facade, pretending that we are above that pain thanks to our faith, is a disservice to God and the church.
Some Christians even come across as flipant, declaring that we should expressively praise the Lord right at the time of suffering. Not only is this insensitive, but it is also warned against in Proverbs. “Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar on a wound.” (Proverbs 25:20 NLT) While it’s true that God will eventually bring about blessings from this pain for those who love Him (Romans 8:28 NLT), it’s not always easy for people to see that in the midst of their pain. We need to be sensitive to people and their needs during hard times.
Everyone is different, so they way they handle trials will also be different. The best thing we can do for people is to pray for them. “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, annointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to eachother and pray for eachother so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:14-16 NLT)
Prayer is the only thing we can offer those who are suffering. Our words, our actions, our comfort will always fall short. Only God can comfort, only He can provide peace. We must put ourselves aside and give God a chance to shine through the pain of tragedy. For it is only through Him that glory can come from pain.