Where is GOD in Times of Tragedy?
I'm not a person who watches the news every day, my heart just can't take it. I usually "check in" with some news outlet about once a week.
But even with such a limited news "diet," I can't escape the fact that as of late there seems to be some major, horrific calamity every week.
This week it's the thousands of lives affected by the monster earthquake in Iraq and Iran.
Last week it was the gut-wrenching shooting at the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The week before that it was a deranged man running over unsuspecting pedestrians in Manhattan.
And how can I not mention the sickening shooting in Las Vegas, or those STILL trying to rebuild in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, or the hundreds of lives devastated in the Caribbean and in Texas due to Hurricane Irma.
And the list goes on...
With each breaking news story, I can't help but feel that even with the initial outpouring of support, the large majority is desensitized—whether it's man-orchestrated violence or natural disasters.
Yes, most of us, at the very least will take the time to shake our heads in disbelief, we may even shed a tear, we bring it up in conversation. Others of us may be moved to make a monetary donation, or even find a way to give of our time.
But it still doesn't change the fact that after our comfortable "contribution," life goes on, for those of us who were not affected. As the headlines fade from news outlets, so the event seems to fade from memory. And we almost forget about how awful the world can be, until we hear the report of another tragedy. And then the cycle repeats itself.
Meanwhile, those who have been directly impacted have either literally lost their lives, or lost a loved one, or lost the life they once had in some way. The world stops turning for them, if only for one terrifying moment that feels like it may never end.
Those who escape with their lives are often traumatized, some are scarred not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. They don't have the luxury of just moving on, once another news story hits.
Desensitization as a Coping Mechanism
But for the rest of us desensitization is almost required. It's the way we cope, and continue to function in a world filled with such uncertainty. If everyone took every tragedy to heart, we would be crippled—afraid to leave the perceived safety of our homes. Perceived because the truth is no where is safe, no matter how many precautions we take.
So it helps to distant ourselves—to say, "That's terrible. I'm so sorry to hear that. I'm pained for them." And then we continue to make our plans. We continue making our Christmas wish lists, while others prepare to face the holidays without a loved one. We buy tickets to attend festivals. We make our homes in areas where natural disasters may strike—be they hurricanes, earthquakes, snow storms, tornadoes, mudslides, etc. We keep living.
WHERE IS GOD IN TIMES OF TRAGEDY?
Still, there are those who are deeply affected by tragic news, no matter how far or close to home. While desensitization due to media may be the norm, those who are deeply in touch with their humanity and empathy may wonder, "Where is GOD in times of tragedy?"
I think its human nature to question GOD and His existence in moments of anguish and despair—Does GOD really exist? If He does, where is He? Why did a good GOD who has the power to intervene allow this? Does He care? Why doesn't He do something?
When those questions go unanswered anger and frustration may rise to the surface.
Trying to Make Sense of It
As humans we want so much to embrace the concept of karma (retributive justice brought on as the result of one's past deed). We desperately want to believe that bad things only happen to bad people. And that consequently, only good things will happen to good people.
But life quickly teaches us that bad things can still happen to those who seem good, innocent, and undeserving of catastrophe.
An intruder's gun. A cancerous tumor. Mental illness. A car accident. A freak accident.
Disasters abound, and it seems as though GOD refuses to intervene, or at the very least He is silent. How do we make sense of it?
WORDS OF COMFORT
Recently in my reading, I came across these words of comfort from Jesus, spoken within the context of tragedies.
"1. About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. 2 “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? 3 Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. 4 And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? 5 No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” - Luke 13:1-5 NLT
In this passage, Jesus addresses both tragedy that is caused by humans (i.e. Pilate murdering people from Galilee) and tragedy that occurred naturally (i.e. the tower in Siloam collapsing).
Jesus made it plain that the people who lost their lives, in both types of tragedies, did not die as a punishment for being terrible people.
The truth is everyone dies ("You will perish, too,"). But those who die in Christ will live again with Him in heaven. It's not their end. They enjoy a better, more vibrant, more abundant life!
So what is the takeaway?
The notes on the above verses in my study Bible summed it up well:
*NOTE* I used ellipsis (...) to abbreviate and added my own commentary using brackets ([...]).
"...anything can happen to anyone at any time...because that is the nature of the world we live in....Given this [information] it is better to get things right with God and others sooner rather than later....God is a God of grace. He does not give up on anyone's life...We may die at any time. In the meantime, God keeps at it [calling us to repentance and offering us salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we may know Him truly and intimately], giving us more time, more chances, offering us years of opportunities [be it 14, 44, or 104 years], lavishing His Spirit and His love upon us."
As we enter the holiday season, let us remember those who are still reeling from all these tragedies, including the ones that don't make news headlines. Let us remember and care for the hurting. And let us make the most of every moment we are given with loved ones.
Life is precious. We should hurt and grieve any time it seems to be snatched away suddenlyand senselessly.
We should grab hold of each other and seek to preserve life and persevere.
We also need to turn to Christ, while we have the time and opportunity.
Life is fleeting. Even if we lived a hundred years, anything less than the eternity (the desire to live forever) that has been built into our hearts, would be too short.
But in Jesus we can find comfort in times of mourning, and strength in times of weakness, and peace when it seems the world around us is falling apart.
In Christ, we see exactly where God is in times of tragedy. He is right there, in the midst of it, as Emmanuel, God with us.