Responding to Tragedy
Epidemics, escalation of conflicts, acts of violence, deeds of inhumanity, provide the backdrop for our lives. Tragedy confronts us on every front.
After the tragic suicide of his son, Pastor Rick Warren’s tweet is understandable: “In deep pain people don’t need logic, advice, encouragement, or even Scripture. They just need you to show up and shut up. #Love” (@RickWarren, May 22, 2013).
Reservoir for Tragedies
We don’t have to be incapacitated by tragedies. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can anticipate that tragedies will come, then intentionally choose to respond in a positive way. Simple? No. Possible? Yes.
Biblical role models responded positively to tragedies: Noah and Job (Eze. 14:14), Daniel and the Hebrew youth (Dan. 1-3), Stephen (Acts 7), Paul (2 Cor. 11:23-30), and Jesus Christ (Heb. 5:7-9). By emerging from difficult, traumatic situations with faith intact, these luminaries glorified God.
Trauma and tragedies allow us to:
Provoke remembrance of God’s sustaining providence. He is the sovereign God, all-powerful, in control. We can absolutely trust Him in every tragic and testing situation. We may not understand, but we can depend on Him and keep our faith.
Produce self-reflection. Research demonstrates that tragedy can inspire us to refocus on people in our lives and thus provoke “pleasant feelings of gratitude.” Tragedies can wake us up, remind us of the fragility of life, and inspire us to count our blessings “with regard to close relationships.”1
Profess confidence in God. There is no need to minimize the tragedy or sidestep the pain of the experience. Death and distraction are part of life, and we are not exempt. Our walk with Christ prepared us for experiences like these. Through thought, word, and action we can demonstrate the attitude “though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).
Response to Tragedy
Naturalist Loren Eiseley tells of a remarkable sight he observed. A young bird had just been snatched from its nest by a raven. The outraged response of the birds seemed to him almost human, demonstrating a sense of the tragic.
“Suddenly, out of . . . [the] woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.
“No one dared to attack the raven. . . . The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries. They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer. There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated. . . . He was a bird of death. . . .
“He, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat on there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable.
“The sighing died. It was then that I saw the judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. . . . In the midst of protest, they forgot the violence. There, in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. . . .
“Suddenly they took heart and sang, from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful. They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were the singers of life, and not of death.”2
- In Tom Jacobs, “Sadness Breeds Gratitude: The Value of Tragedy,” Miller-McCune Web site, Mar. 15, 2012. miller-mccune.com.
- Loren Eiseley, “The Judgment of the Birds,” public.iastate.edu/~bccorey/105%20Folder/The%20Judge%20of%20Birds.pdf.