To Whom it May Concern,
I’m sorry this has to be written. I’m sorry the circumstances dictate this discussion. I’m sorry that tragedy affects all of us. I’m sorry I don’t have all the answers. I’m sorry we face terrible things.
Several events have recently plunged my community into deep bouts of disbelief. On New Year’s Eve, a young lady from our county went missing with her car in a local creek. The waters were up and unfortunately, she wasn’t aware. After a week-long search, her body was finally found. A young boy who attends the same elementary school as my two oldest children is fighting cancer. He spent Christmas in the ICU at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. On top of that, this week one of our member’s father passed away and a deacon’s mother died quite suddenly one morning following a prolonged illness. Needless to say, the old statement, “when it rains, it pours” is very apropos this week.
Last Sunday night, considering all that had happened, I felt the need to preach about tragedy. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but something I felt was necessary. I have addressed it many times before, but usually, it was in connection to something like Job’s story or Jesus and Lazarus. This time, I let loose and went after the topic head-on. Here’s what I felt was important to remember when we face tragedy, especially the unthinkable moments of life.
First of all, we are not the first nor will we be the last to face tragedy. Several verses came to mind. When Matthew 5:45 says, “He (God) makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” we see this world as something that brings both blessing and suffering. Galatians 6:2 implies tragedy is unavoidable when we’re told to “bear one another’s burdens.” And even Jesus says it’ll be a fact of life in John 16:33 as He prays for His disciples and says, “in the world you will have tribulation.” While we don’t like it, Christians have faced uncertainty in this world from the very beginning of the Church. I feel it’s also worth noting a few passages from Ecclesiastes. There, Solomon writes:
3:1 To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.
3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
1:9,10 That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new?” It has already been in ancient times before us.
To think the tragedy we’re facing is something new or something reserved only for us is just plain naive. It may seem in the moment that no one has ever suffered like we are, however, that just isn’t true. It may not be comforting to you, but it is to me knowing that I’m not alone in my pain and the tragedy I’m facing has been and can be endured.
Secondly, as much as we try to ignore it, death is unavoidable. Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed for men to die once.” You can’t escape it and neither can I. That idea has been true from the beginning of time. Genesis 3:19 says, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Our life on this earth isn’t permanent, yet we wish it was. We’re only human and can only see through that perspective at this time. There will come a day when we see death as we should, unfortunately, that time will more-than-likely come after we’ve already experienced it.
Right now, I hope that Christians fundamentally see death differently than everyone else. We might not, but it is possible. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 which says:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We can see death as nothing more than a passage from this world to the next. Until the day of Judgment, it is merely a journey to Hades, the realm of the dead as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ (see the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 for details). Hope can be found in knowing that in the world to come (i.e. heaven), the Lord has promised to “wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away,” according to Revelation 21:4. In the face of death, we can even find hope knowing that “in Adam all men die, even so in Christ, all shall be made alive,” according to 1 Corinthians 15:22. Our faith in Christ and His power over death and tragedy should take some of the sting away, unfortunately, that’s just not always the case.
Finally, if nothing else helps, may I remind you that you’re not alone as you face the unthinkable. Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all,” and 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” God is always with us. In fact, 8 times in the OT, He specifically said to one of His followers, “I will be with you.” Jesus, in some of the last moments He had in this world, said to His disciples, “I am with you always.” We are not alone. God is with us.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of that is found in Exodus 3:7. As the Lord spoke to Moses about his upcoming journey back to Egypt, He said, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” God is not uninterested or uninvolved in our lives. He knows our pain and sees our tragedy. He is with us, even if He doesn’t miraculously intervene and fix all our problems.
I wish I could tell you everything will be okay in this world. That’s just not the case. Life can be difficult and tragedy can befall you at any moment. May I encourage you to remember the example of David in 2 Samuel 12. Upon hearing the news that his young son had passed verse 20 tells us:
David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate.
His servants were shocked at his actions and so are we as we read those lines. Yet David, at that moment knew something about God that many of us overlook. He is worthy of our praise when tragedy is avoided and when it isn’t. He is good to us, despite the outcome of this world’s daily grind. He is a blessing, even when it seems the whole world is against us. He is to be praised at all times, especially in our moments of great weakness. He is with us, even when He doesn’t give us the answer we want.
When you face tragedy, know I’ll be praying for you. When you face tragedy, know, you’re not alone. When you face tragedy know, God is good. This world is far from perfect, that’s the result of our sin and its temporary status. Remember there’s a better world coming, do what’s necessary to get there so you can leave tragedy behind forever.
One Who’s Been There
All Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.