It has been a tough week in Memphis. Even if you haven’t been personally affected by some of the tragedies, you may know someone who has. And even if you don’t, as Christians we’re called to compassion, a “feeling with” others in their pain.
I’ve always found it beneficial in such times to distinguish between the known and the unknown. It restores my soul to trust in God and his goodness and it helps me listen to and counsel others who are suffering. Here are three things I want you to know and be ready to share with others at this time.
1. This isn’t the way it was supposed to be (Gen. 3:14–19; Rom. 8:20–25).
Murder, death, mental illness, mourning, pain, fear—these are all results of Adam and Eve’s sin. God didn’t create his world to house these enemies of human flourishing. The Bible makes this clear even while it doesn’t fully explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.
Not only are anger and distress appropriate responses to recent events, but they’re also welcomed by God. He provides the vocabulary for us to use in such times through passages like Psalms 44 and 88, Lamentations 3, Ecclesiastes, and Habakkuk 1. John Calvin’s most frequent prayer was “How long, O LORD?” (Pss. 13:1; 89:46)—I’m exclaiming it more and more.
2. There’s comfort now for those who suffer (Ps. 46; 2 Cor. 1:3–7).
By praying this way, we must be prepared for God to answer us with himself rather than with answers to specific tragedies. When God showed up in Habakkuk’s prayers and revealed he was sovereignly guiding all of redemptive history in a way that would be best for his people and horrific for their enemies, the prophet’s agitation was quieted. He concluded his prophecy with a resolution to trust the goodness of God’s character regardless.
Not only are anger and distress appropriate responses to recent events, but they’re also welcomed by God.
Similarly, Job put his hand over his mouth and Jonah quit complaining when they each saw that God’s infinite wisdom and unquestionable goodness were sufficient bases for trust until fuller answers come. God identifies himself as the Comforter, a present Help, and a Refuge. We must flee to him as the Good Shepherd; he will bring more solace than a well-reasoned explanation for the existence of evil.
Prayer brings peace (Ps. 4:8). The Scriptures anchor us (Ps. 33). Worship realigns us (Ps. 73:17). Community encourages us (Heb. 10:24–25). Christ uses all these means to bring the peace of heaven to us now.
3. There will be a new creation without suffering (Rev. 21:1–4).
Someday all of these enemies, even death, will be no more, and the world will be restored to what it was supposed to be—and even better (2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15). The Lord taught us that such tragedies should awaken us spiritually. They call us to examine our hearts and repent so we might be prepared to meet our returning Savior unashamed (Luke 13:1–5).
Sudden loss of life and tragic interruptions to the “normal” call us to ask if we’re living in reality, which is that death is coming and eternity lies on the other side of it. Most of our Western world lives as if indulgence, recreation, and hobbies in this life are all the heaven there is.
Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) provides an example of how to respond to tragedies that rock our world. He was a soldier with a bright future ahead of him when a cannonball shattered his leg. Without anesthetics, medical personnel set his leg incorrectly. Tough man that he was, he ordered the medics to rebreak it and reset it. His recovery was long and brutal, but the Lord met him in the midst of it. The wounded man took all the “why” questions of his suffering to God, and God answered them with himself.
Now is a time to exclaim “How long, O Lord,” to put our hands over our mouths and an arm around a sufferer, and to wait until God strengthens us to say,
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no heard in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab. 3:17–19)
A version of this article first appeared on Second Presbyterian Church’s website.