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A Reflection On The Christian Response To Tragedy

Crossroads Fellowship, in pain and anguish for our brothers and sisters in Christ, wishes to extend the deepest sympathy and prayer for the victims (friends and family) involved in yesterday’s shootings. In light of the tragedy yesterday involving the merciless shooting of 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, I felt it would be helpful for us to revisit how Christians are to understand tragedy. There is no doubt that tragedy brings about the deepest and toughest questions we face. My thoughts below are from an older response of mine written to address an article suggesting that, despite God’s control, Christians should see that some things happen without reason. I understand why that argument is made. It is easier to suggest that things happen aimlessly in our world. It is a simpler explanation with no ethical ideas attached. However, from Scripture, I believe Christians have a deep need to ponder the sovereignty of God and its connection to human suffering. I pray that God would use his Word to open our hearts to His goodness towards us, even through the most tragic of times. 

I’m responding to a post from faithit.com titled, Why Christians Need to Stop Saying “Everything Happens for a Reason.” 

Suhan’s post addresses an age old issue, namely, the problem of evil. How are we to respond to the suffering we see and experience in our world today? I am currently heartbroken over the family who lost their two-year-old last week to an alligator while they were vacationing in Disney World. There are no words for such a tragedy. How does this family move on? How do they cope? Suhan’s response is correct in that she attributes pain and suffering in the human experience as a result of the fall. Death and suffering spread through the world as a result of sin (Romans 5:12). This does not mean, as Suhan concludes, that pain and suffering have no purpose. The answer to the problem of evil is not that it was a cosmic accident and that God is there to make it better. This would leave us with a bigger issue: Why are there forces happening outside of God’s control and purposes? Are there facets of reality beyond God’s design that leave him coming up behind and mending for the betterment of his creation? The Scriptures are not silent on this issue.

Suhan argues that “not everything happens for a reason.” In the context of her article, I take that to mean, death, disease, illness, suffering etc. Let’s take a quick look at some verses to see if Christians can really believe that these things do not happen for a reason:

  1. Deuteronomy 32:39 has become a refuge for me. As I have grown older and begun a family of my own I am beginning to see the preciousness of my time with them. Naturally I fear death. This verse is where I run. It reads: I kill, and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand (Deut. 32:39). Now, if you’re not a Christian, this is bad news. For what comfort would it be to someone in rebellion to God? But as a Christian, I trust God (by his grace). I believe His intentions are best for the world even when they disagree with mine. And this verse tells me that my death will come by the hand of God. He secured for me the short span of life that I have on this earth and so I trust him in his decision to end my life.
  2. 1 Samuel 2:6-7 similarly says: The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap 
  3. Isaiah 45:6-7 states that God has designed everything for its purpose: I am the Lord and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.
  4. God has even created the wicked, Proverbs 16:4: The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
  5. God is behind disasterAmos 3:6: Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? 
  6. God is behind human limitations, Exodus 4:11: Who made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
  7. God is behind Job’s suffering that included loss of family and sickness: The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away…shall we receive good from the Lord and not evil (Job 1:21, 2:10)?
  8. Everything happens according to his purpose, Isaiah 14:24, 27: The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?

Time would not allow for me to list every text that argued for God’s sovereign purpose in everything. But the above verses certainly remove doubt about where the Christian Scriptures land on whether or not God is purposing pain and suffering. This leads to the inevitable question: How can God be good for ordaining human pain and suffering?  Click the link if you have time to read up on this subject or save it for later. But for now, the purpose of this blog is to show that there is no room in the Christian faith for believing that God does not have purpose in everything. God even planned the death of his own Son: This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23).

This shows us that God is not reacting to the suffering in the world. Therefore, Christians are not dismayed by purposeless suffering. Rather, we are interpreting suffering in light of what God has revealed to us. Paul understood this well in the midst of his own suffering: For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. Butthat was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Paul saw his suffering in light of God’s grand purpose. He saw that reality was designed in such a way that his followers would be jerked out of idolatry. Human suffering teaches us that God alone is our rock. Nothing else will last. Nothing else can satisfy. We are not entitled to this knowledge. God is not bound to teach us the truth. And yet, mercifully, he designs the world in such a way that we are taught to let go. Suffering is a source of hope in the life of a believer because we know it has purpose. Spurgeon knew this well: I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the rock of ages.

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