How should a Christian respond to tragedy?

There was a grenade of emotions that exploded inside me this morning when I heard of the massacre in Aurora, CO.  I don’t know about you, but a mix of horror, sorrow, bewilderment, and fear was running through my thoughts as I tried to process all that happened last night at a movie theater in a suburban town.  It’s during times like this that I am so thankful for a faith, and even more than that, a God, that shepherds my heart through tragedies.  Of course, any emotions we may be feeling today are small compared to the depth of emotions and pain that is felt by those who have been directly impacted by the actions of this murderer.

Events that happen like the one last night lead to a host of questions and conversations.  It’s easy to shake our heads and talk with our neighbors and co-workers about how sad and tragic it all is, but as followers of Jesus, there’s a way that I think we should respond to the tragedies of our day that sets us apart as His witnesses in our world.  We must ward off any temptation to respond politically or pragmatically to these things.  Instead, we need to filter our thoughts, emotions, and words through God’s Word, the Bible.  So here are some things to keep in mind that God’s Word tells us:

1. Weep with those who weep.  Usually the first thing that Christians and other groups try to do is give explanations for “why” this happened.  The political pundits will try to make this about gun control or political affiliations.  I can even hear the talking heads in the Evangelical world saying something to the effect of, “this is what happens when we take God and prayer out of our schools”.  There’s will be a time to assess the “why” of any tragedy, but first we must weep with those who are hurting.  Paul tells us in Romans 12:15 to “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and weep with those who weep”.  Jesus modeled this perfectly in John 11 when his friend Lazarus died.  Upon coming to his friend’s tomb, he wept publicly.  The chapter tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha.  He could have gone into the town with theological guns blazing and given them a theological lesson on what was going on and why it was happening.  But instead he listened to the hurts of two people he loved first.

We must be very careful to give simple explanations and answers to situations that are emotionally explosive.  When Jobs life fell apart and he lost everything, the first thing and the best thing that his 3 best friends did was sit silent with him for 3 days.  It wasn’t until they opened their mouths and gave their opinions of why Job had suffered that they got into trouble with God.  It’s important to have answers, but first we must show true and genuine compassion to those who are hurting, and point them to Jesus.  If there is anyone who can identify with acts of injustice and pain, it’s our Savior who endured the cross.

2. Learn to ask (and answer) the right questions.  In the face of such horrific events, it’s easy to ask the “where was God” questions.  The human heart and mind desires transcendent answers to problems that are too big for us.  So God is usually labeled either as not powerful enough to stop these kinds of things, or not loving enough to do anything about it.  When it comes to these questions though, we usually are looking at the situation from the wrong perspective.  Because of Adam, the curse of sin has infected all of mankind and God’s creation.  We live in a broken, fallen world.  God has every right to leave us to our own depravity.  The wrong question is, “why did something bad like this happen?”  The right question should be, “why do good things happen at all?” or “why don’t bad things like this happen more often?”

The truth is, we very rarely get the answer to the “why” questions that we all struggle with.  God reminds us often that He answers our “why” questions with “who” answers (see Job 38-41).  He is Sovereign.  He does all things for His glory.  He is holy and just and nothing takes place outside of His will. Do I understand that at all times?  No.  Read Romans 9 sometime and try to wrap your mind around the Sovereignty of God.  When you get it all figured out, let me know so you can explain it to me.  God gives life and He takes it away, and He has every right to do so.  God was in complete control last night in Aurora, no matter what we feel.  It’s how we respond to events like the one last night that truly shows the depth of our faith.

3. The gospel is the only solution.  From the victims to the suspected gunman, James Holmes, the gospel is the only solution to heal what is broken.  The world will offer more laws and limit human freedoms, but no new law can ever prevent another disaster from happening.  It’s only the redemptive, transforming power of Jesus that can renew what has been destroyed by sin.  We come into contact with people everyday who are plagued by their sin or the effects of sin.  Do we believe in the power of the gospel to share it with them?  Are we so drunk with the glory of God and His amazing love that we cannot help but share it with others?  May God open our eyes to those around us who are lost and desperately need a Savior.

It’s hard not to wrestle with big questions when terrible things happen.  There’s a quote by C.S. Lewis that, I believe, helps us maintain the right perspective in the wake of times like these.  He said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.  It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  

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