What To Do When Tragedy Comes?
The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for them who trust in him. Nahum 1:7
There is a line from an old song which goes, “If the Lord be willing, and the creek don’t rise.” While it was neither an English major nor a theologian who wrote those lines, it does bring a powerful question into focus: “To what extent does God will that the creek does not rise?” And there’s a second, “Why doesn’t God stop it when the creek turns into a river that turns into a flood?”
I pondered this issue when Dick Johnson, a pastor and police chaplain, called asking if I had any insights which would help him handle a difficult funeral. A young man, 17 years of age and a star athlete, was killed when his motorcycle went out of control. The young man riding with him was thrown 75 feet and an arm was severed.
Students were asking the question often asked in the face of tragedy, “Why didn’t God prevent this?” Naturally, their hearts grieve. A young life with such great potential was snuffed out. Where is God in times of need? The Bible says simply, “The Lord is good. When trouble comes, he is the place to go! And he knows everyone who trusts in him!” (Nahum 1:7, Living Bible).
We live in an imperfect, broken world, and there is always the tension between God’s love and His honoring the natural laws of cause and effect which control our world. God is a refuge and strength to His children, but this, of course, does not save us from ourselves and our own flaws and mistakes.
There are times when, very definitely, God does will something, but imagine what kind of a world we would live in if every time I wanted to indulge in chocolate eclairs I asked God to remove the calories. Or, when I am running late for an appointment because I didn’t set my alarm to get up early enough and I ask God to keep me from being late by opening lanes through traffic supernaturally. What would happen if students could not bother studying and God would give them a miracle by suddenly allowing them to recall all the answers to questions on the test they had not prepared for?
Of course, no one would die because we would ask God to heal a tired, broken body and everybody would convert to Christianity because no one likes pain and suffering. Hey, what I’ve just described is what heaven is about, and it is true, but in life, we face the consequences of our broken lives and world.
“If the Lord be willing, and the creek don’t rise” goes the line in the old song. When the creek does rise, and you face tragedy, one of two things happens: The circumstances will either drive you to God, or drive you away from Him. When you turn to Him you find a peace and a strength, the kind that David knew as he talked of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. When you turn on God, you deprive yourself of the only real help that is there. I’ve never quite been able to understand why God gets blamed for the consequences of living in a human world.
Is it OK to tell God how you feel, how crushed you are, and how much you wish something had not happened? Absolutely. Read the book of Habakkuk in your Old Testament and you will be party to the dialogue of the man who questioned the way God was seemingly standing back, avoiding disaster. Then, God gave him an answer. And, He too will give you an answer in His own time.
Resource reading: Psalm 23:1-6