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OUR CHOICES

In The Midst of TRAGEDY

STANLEY

CHARLES F.

Our Choices in the Midst of Tragedy Copyright 2007; all rights reserved. Printed in the USA. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE , Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

in the MIDST of TRAGEDY


N April 16, 2007, Americans turned to their local news channels only to hear that tragedy had struck, carrying an impact that would be felt across the nation. This time it happened in one of the most unlikely of placesa college campusa place of higher learning and a place once thought to be a sanctuary, a bastion of safety for thousands of eager young minds. In a matter of moments, a lone gunman had killed two students then vanished in the steel-gray early morning mist only to surface two hours later in a classroom building at the opposite end of the Virginia Tech campus. He was heavily armed and ready to strike again. He did not speak; he didnt have to. The chilling look in his eyes revealed his deadly intent. At the end of his rampage, the 23-year old senior had killed not only himself but also 32 others. Once more Americans had to find a way to deal with their shock, grief, and sorrow. While under lockdown in a dorm room, a Virginia Tech student logged on her computer to update her Internet blog, I am safe, she wrote to her family, but I feel numb inside. Why did this happen?
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OUR CHOICES

By Monday evening, she was struggling to cope with the tragedy that had taken place earlier that day, and she was not sure how she would come to grips with what she had experienced. In the aftermath of any disaster, one of the first questions people ask is: Why? This is usually followed by heart-wrenching thoughts and questions beginning with God, why did You allow this to happen? Why didnt You prevent it? These were innocent peoplefriends, daughters, sons, and in some cases, husbands and wives. Wasnt there a way to stop this from happening? Our First Response: Why God? Tragedy pushes us to rush through a series of emotions. Denial pours in followed by disbelief, shock, sorrow, fear, regret, and anger. At each turn, we look for an answer and for some way to wake up from the nightmare that has descended upon us. Frantically, we search for hope and for someone to tell us that what we have experienced really did not happen. Surely, it was a dream. All too soon, reality sinks in and we are left to deal with our broken hearts and shattered emotions. Even before tragedy strikes, God knows all about it. Could He have stopped it? Yes. He is omniscient and omnipotent. He is infinite in wisdom and there is no one with greater power than Him. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us, The secret things belong to
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the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us. There are some things in this life that we will not understand. No amount of human reasoning can change this fact. God knows things that we cannot understand and tragedy is one of them. How do you handle disaster when it comes? How do you deal with the news that a loved one has diedthat the one person you believed would come walking back through the door never will. How do you handle grief and go on with life? Is there a way? I believe there is. David writes, My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation (Psalm 62:1). There is only one way to face the tragedies of life and that is with Gods help. You may wonder, Where was God the day my loved one died? The truth is: He was with you and with him or her. Nothing escapes His omniscient care. We live in a fallen world where thoughtless acts of violence take place. Evil exists. However, it was not a part of Gods original plan. He never wanted us to face sorrow so deep that we cannot imagine going on another day. But many times this is exactly what we are forced to do. We must deal with the unbearable and find a way to make sense out of senseless actions.

God Understands The Hurt We Feel If you are struggling with sorrow of any kind, you need to know that God loves you. He has not abandoned you, and as hard as it is to imagine, He has a plan for the brokenness you are experiencing. You dont have to worry about how this will unfold. Just know that He cares for you, and He will walk beside you as you travel through this time of emotional darkness. Once again Davids words comfort us, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4). In times of trial, God understands the wide range of emotions we feelanger, frustration, bitterness, and hopelessness are natural responses to any tragedy or disappointment. Once the feelings of denial fade, feelings of anger will tempt us to become bitter and even cynical. People respond to heartache and disappointment in several ways They try to deny their feelings. Many people who have been through a serious trauma may act as if nothing is wrong, or as if they will get over the incident quickly. Usually, nothing could be further from the truth. Healing takes time. It also takes a great deal of understanding. Friends and family members may need to hang tough with those who are dealing with deep sorrow. Often those left behind
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feel guilty that they are alive when their loved ones are gone. Therefore, we must also be willing to take the time needed to heal emotionally and mentally. I have talked with women who have buried their husband and never taken time to grieve. God wants us to know that we do not have to be so strong that we never call on Him or others to support us with their love and prayers. They want to escape. Once reality hits, the tragedy or loss can be overwhelming. This is when many turn to drugs or alcohol. They cant bear the thought of living without their loved ones. Others simply escape into thoughts of the past. One father told me that he could not go on after his sons death. He wanted to keep his sons room just the way he left it. After a few months, his wife walked into the room, opened the curtains, and told her husband, He is not here and we cant live as if he is. He is with God and now we have to focus on the fact that one day we will join him there. Now is the time for us to do something to honor our sons memory and the Lord, too. They moved on and moved into a new ministry working with young people. But they never would have taken this step, if they had given in to their feelings. They become involved in relationships that only lead to a deeper sense of sorrow and regret. God is the only Person who can
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heal the brokenness you are experiencing. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul personalizes this thought when he wrote, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. How can God possibly comfort us? How can Paul say that He is the God of all comfort? The answer is simple: God watched His Son die on the cross for you and me. He understands what it means to lose someone you love. He knows the pain that comes with separation and He understands the hopelessness that accompanies loss. When we hurt, He hurts with us. When we are angry, He listens but He also knows how to redirect our anger so we can move beyond the feelings of depression and anxiety. He holds us close when we cry and finds ways to motivate us not to give up or to give in to doubts and confusion. In fact, many times we may not feel like saying a single word. And from Gods perspective, this is okay, too. He knows how to listen to our silence and how to offer the help we need when we are ready to accept it. We may not understand all of His ways, but we can be sure that even though He allows sorrow to touch our lives, He
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has a plan to use it for good. The apostle Paul faced one trial after another. He was rejected, stoned, left for dead, and ridiculed but he also wrote these words, We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. . . . He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all (Romans 8:28, 32). You may wonder how any good can come out of a loss this deep? Darkness always gives way to the light and the hope of God. During World War II after a bombing raid in England, this inscription was found on the small grave of an old womans pet: Nothing is great enough to put out the light of one small candle. No matter how great evil may appear, it is not strong enough to darken the light of God. Nothing can prevent His eternal love and care for you. The sorrow you face may be deep, but you are not facing it alone. He is with you and He is the light of all hope. Therefore, cling to Him because He cares for you. David cried out in distress to God and you can, too. Be gracious to me, O God . . . for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me (Psalm 57:1-2). In the midst of hardships, in times we
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dont understand, and in moments when we feel helpless, we know God is still here, caring for us regardless of whether we can sense His presence or not. Steps to Healing and Hope You can begin the healing process by following these steps and also by asking God to open your heart to the truth of His Word. Take time to pray and know that He hears every word you say or even whisper in your deepest thoughts. Ask God to give you the strength and courage you need to face this situation. Understand that getting through any tragedy can be a moment-by-moment action. You may not know how you will face tomorrow, but God does. He knows and understands the burden of your heart and he has promised to bear it with you. He is your burden-bearer. Realize that God loves and cares for you. You may not understand why a trial has come your way but when you acknowledge that fact that He loves you, something changes inside. You may even be angry at the situation and angry with Him, but when you admit that you know He is sovereign then you open a door to healing and to hope. God never wanted this tragedy to take place. He loves you unconditionally, and while He did not initiate these circumstances, He knows how to work
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within them to bring hope to your life and the lives of others involved. You may find yourself praying, God I dont understand why this has happened. Why did You allow it? Even though I dont want to accept it, I do accept the fact that You still love me and You know how to help me face this time of heartache. Ask God to give you the ability to accept the hurt, anger, grief, confusion, and fear that accompanies any tragedy. Learn to look at sorrow, not through your own eyes, but through His. Ask Him give you His perspective, but dont be surprised if you still feel tremendously sorrowful. Acceptance is crucial to any healing process. You may not feel like doing this, but thats okay because God will show you how to accept this sorrow. This does not mean that you will ever forget those you love or dismiss what has happened. It means that you are willing to acknowledge the event, the depth of the trial, and the need to continue on with your life. Usually, this involves talking through the event with a trusted Christian friend, family member, or pastor. It also means talking it through with God in prayer. As we said earlier, He understands. He knows when sorrow becomes too heavy for us to bear alone. Confess your feelings to God. Be honest: God, I am hurting so deeply I cant take another breath. I feel sick. Everything I had was lost when she died.
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Please show me how to continue because right now, I dont see how I will ever be able to move past this. God knew the trial was coming. And He knows how you are coping with the news. Therefore, you might as well tell Him exactly how you feel. Confession is healthy as long as it does not turn into an avenue for depression. Be sure you have someone to hold you accountable for your words. Friends need to know how to listen to those who are struggling in the aftermath of a serious trial. Like Jobs companions, however, some may want to offer advice and spend very little time listening to the heartache that is being expressed. Be assured however that listening is the first thing the Holy Spirit does. He listens, He empathizes, and He comforts those who are hurting with the eternal comfort of God. He is the Parakletosthe Comforterthe One who comes alongside us, giving us aid, never leaving us to face lifes tragedies alone. He is our intercessor, the one who pleads our case, and encourages us when we feel frightened and alone. Tell Him you need Him and cannot handle this burden alone. God does not expect you to carry on by yourself. Have you ever noticed the countenance of someone who is truly being sustained by God through times of trouble? There is a look of peace and surety even in times of
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adversity because his faith is in Christ and not himself. Trust God to comfort and sustain you based on His promises and His eternal love. God by His very nature is a compassionate comforter. Before His death, Jesus told His disciples, I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14:18). He knew that following the crucifixion their hearts would fill with anxiety and fear. Even though He had talked about His death, they still could not imagine the sorrow that they would feel. Their minds would not accept what was about to happen. Therefore, the night of the Saviors arrest, they fled the scene and went into hiding. It wasnt until they realized Gods promises were truth that they could begin to heal emotionally. Jesus appeared to them and said, Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful (v. 27). The world may offer you many things but the one thing it cannot give you is lasting peace. Only Jesus Christ can offer this to the person who is hurting and lonely. We also need to recall the truth that Jesus loves us with an eternal love, which is not based on anything that we have done or anything we will do in the future. He loves us because He created us in love. He is not the author of evil; that byline goes to Satan. He is the one who brought death
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and destruction into this world. However, we are not left without hope. Jesus Christ has overcome death and evil has no power over Him. Mediate on His Word and saturate your mind with His promises. Jesus told his disciples, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:10). The enemy of your soul would like nothing better than to see you give up. Satans primary goal is one of destruction. He wants to destroy the good that God has given you. He wants you to give up, and he especially wants you to close Gods Word and never read it again because he knows it contains the hope you need to get through not only this tragedy but also every difficulty that comes your way. The psalmist writes, This is my comfort in my affliction, that your Word has revived me (Psalm 119:50) Later, he writes, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). When we saturate our minds with the truth of Gods Word, we have the hope we need to go on and not give up. Recall how God has worked in your life in the past. Remember times that you have seen God work in your life or in the life of those close to you. He has not changed and will not leave you comfortless
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now. However, if you have never accepted Christ as your Savior and dont have that relationship that leads to the peace that comes from knowing Him, you can have it right now by praying this simple but heartfelt prayer, Lord, I dont understand what has happened and I certainly dont know how to deal with the circumstances surrounding me. Even so, I believe You are the only One who can help me through this painful time in my life. I confess my need for You and ask You to forgive my sins. I pray that You will come into my life and that you will give me the ability I need to walk through this valley. I trust You to save me and to make my life a life of blessing to someone else who is hurting and in need of hope. Give me a love for Your Word so that I might know Your truth. Thank you for saving me and for loving me. Please give me a desire to know You better each day. Amen. If you do know Jesus then you know there is hope. No matter how deep the struggle or how much you want to question your circumstances, you have a Savior who is beside you and understands the heartache you are feeling. David writes, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea . . . God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns (Psalm 46:1-2, 5).
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Although it may seem as if the morning will never dawn again, it will and when it does, you will find that He is right beside youright where He has been from the beginning of time. Will you trust Him to take this tragedy and bring something good out of it? More importantly, will you trust Him with your life and with all that you hold dear? When you do, you will find fresh hope and strength to face even the deepest sorrow.

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