Transforming our Response to Tragedy

When tragedy strikes and the unthinkable happens, we’re left with so many questions and pieces to sort through as we try to figure out how to put life back together. These days, the immediate backlash of rage and fury and disgust to tragedy is overwhelming and leaves no time to actually grieve or take in the situation. The demand and compulsion to immediately take a side and find a stance seems the right thing to do to, but to me it feels like we haven’t had a chance to even take a breath and absorb what’s happened and who it has impacted.

Here are my thoughts on how those in the Church can respond in the face of disaster:

Mourn with those who mourn

Comforting those who have been wounded in tragedy is a much higher priority than finding who’s to blame. Often in tragedy, the frustration of seeing the wounded causes us to immediately look for the culprit and furiously find who is to blame and what they did or did not do to cause the situation. In doing this, we miss the needs of those who are in distress right in front of us, and we distract ourselves from the wounds we ourselves are feeling. When our reaction in the face of tragedy is anger, it’s not typically out of concern for the victims as much as a way to avoid our own pain and instead refocus it on an emotion that is more comfortable and makes us feel in control. Instead of making safe spaces for the wounded, we instead focus on creating unsafe spaces for those we perceive as at fault. That response can keep us from truly engaging with the experience in ways that can actually be damaging to ourselves and to those who are looking for arms of comfort. As we try to bring comfort to those in pain, we mourn also, but we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. The best gift we have for survivors of tragedy is the gift of hope that can only be passed on if we have truly allowed it to take root in us. We know the Hope-giver, we are sons and daughters of his home, and we have words and places of comfort for those who are in need.

Let it change us

Instead of jumping right into how others need to change, we need to go through the pain ourselves and let it change us. We need to let our perspectives grow and allow God to reveal areas of our hearts that are still unyielded to Him. It’s appropriate to be hurt. Confused. Broken. But we have to allow it to be transformed into something more. If we pour back out the unfiltered pain and anger, we perpetuate the cycle of wounding instead of ending it. Only an impatient heart thinks the lesson of pain is over as soon as it is felt. If we want to comfort those in pain, we have to first encounter the Comforter ourselves and receive what He has to offer. Tragedy and pain open the cracks of our hearts and give opportunity for more fear or anger to get in, or a greater measure of trust and peace. Any time there’s pain, we have an opportunity to grow, and to use it to allow greater freedom, but we have to allow God to examine us and seek out where he’s hidden life in the rubble of what’s left.

Bring the kingdom

The truth is we are heirs to a King, and a king has resources. Every tragedy and setback is an opportunity for us to either try to overcome with only the resources we have at hand, or to allow God to intervene and show himself strong. If we serve a God who is powerless to act on our behalf, than we might as well quit the church and go join a rotary club, but I’d rather trust in the goodness and power of God than trust in my own human reasoning to explain a seemingly unanswered prayer. We will always reflect the nature of the world we are most aware of, and we need to be more aware of God’s greatness than we are of the struggles of this world if we are to fulfill our call of making earth look like heaven. If we truly believe He is who He says He is and we are who He says we are, we’ll walk as princes and princesses who are aware of our position and what our God can do no matter the circumstances we’re facing. When the resources of heaven are brought to bear in a situation, lives and circumstances collide with freedom and joy and abundance in ways that make no human sense given the devastation that seems so visible. When our words and actions are focused on bringing the culture and power of heaven, that’s when societal change happens, lives and cities are transformed, and violence and oppression decline.

Prophesy to dry bones

Tragedy almost always coincides with an increase in prayer. When the unthinkable happens and we feel powerless, we run to the one who is powerful and seek divine intervention. Some have disparaged prayer in tragedy because they feel it is powerless, disingenuous, or “not enough.” Others pray but with no hope that things will change, believing that our violent or corrupt culture holds ultimate power over our fate. When we turn our words into weapons, either against those who “aren’t doing enough,” or against the culture or institutions we live in, we further decimate the things we want to have more life. When my children disobey or fail, I would only reinforce their failure if I yell at them out of anger or frustration. Instead I can encourage the beautiful and courageous parts of them that I know are there and remind them of who they were made to be. Again, anger is a natural response to tragedy, but we can’t stop there. If we live in response to darkness, it means darkness had a hand in setting the agenda for our words and actions. When we go through the process and measure our words before releasing untamed fury and pain into the air, we can begin to be a part of the solution and break the power of death that has been spoken over so many people. Can these bones live? Even if we don’t have the answer, in our brokenness we can pursue the one who does, and He is faithful to answer.

I speak life over our country and over our youth. Our young people are not full of violence, but many of them are wounded and confused. Our culture is not beyond control but people are longing for true power to overcome depression and devastation.

Lord, bring your peace and provision to those that have been impacted by tragedy. Bring about healing and resolution that would not be possible with just human intervention. Where death has made its mark, multiply life, and may the families and friends of those impacted find your hope and make these moments a turning point where your presence and Kingdom moves deeper in and through them and your restoration brings joy to far more than have been touched by grief.