When Tragedy Strikes

April 11, 2014

How long, Oh Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.

The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

 

Life is hard. The woeful poem above could easily have been written by a Pennsylvania school student just this week. It could have been written by a Ukrainian protester last month. It could have been written by a Boston marathoner last year. Maybe it was penned many years ago by a soldier in Iraq; a young victim of apartheid; or someone widowed by the Titanic.

 

The poem is actually the opening of the Old Testament’s Book of Habakkuk (1:1-4). It was written in the late seventh century BC just before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. Habakkuk was unique among the Biblical prophets in that he openly challenged God’s reasons for what He did. God answers the questions above by revealing His plan to use the Babylonians to impart justice on the sinful people of Judah. When Habakkuk expresses surprise that God would use an empire so evil to mete out his justice, God assures Habakkuk that the Babylonians will ultimately be judged as well.

 

Whenever something bad happens, we want answers. We have grown accustomed to getting explanations. Officials puff their chests and declare they will get to the bottom of what happened and prevent it from ever happening again. Sadly, many of us just want to know who to blame and maybe take to court.

 

Inexplicable horror and sadness injects itself into the lives of too many unsuspecting and ill-prepared people every day. Accidents, fires, violence, sudden death and devastating illness show no favoritism or prejudice. Broader tragedies can mark us personally as well. I’ll never forget where I was when the terrorists’ plane crashed through the second tower; or when pieces of the Challenger sprinkled all over the Atlantic.

 

Why? Why do these things happen? It is a legitimate question, but to whom is it most important that we ask? Congress spends millions of dollars asking why a child shoots up a school. More than twelve years later, people are still questioning what “really” happened on 9-11. Not too long ago, someone dug up a hundred-year-old corpse to test for cyanide residue because “people need to know the truth”. The truth is evil happens. It always has happened. It will continue to happen as long as we are here on earth. It is a result of the fall. That is not to say it is God’s will, but it is part of the new plan.

 

No. No one can tell me that it is God’s plan to see school children cut down in a violent rampage. I cannot fathom that it was God’s plan that hundreds of innocents died under rubble in Oklahoma City. It’s difficult to think that God’s plan included Israel’s descendants gassed and shot by the thousands.

 

After Hurricane Katrina, more than one “prophet” preached that it was the partying lifestyle of New Orleans that led God to push the waters over them like He did. But unlike the countless ancient kingdoms wiped from the map by God’s wrath, New Orleans is coming back. The disaster was horrific, but when we read the stories of courage, sacrifice, charity and love that are rebuilding the area, we see how God is using that tragedy to build His kingdom. Trust God to make it right.

 

In previous blogs, I’ve used the expression “sometimes the devil wins a round”. If we believe in Jesus and the Trinity, then we also know the devil exists and he has his own plan. The war between Good and evil is very real. But evil doesn’t win by killing innocents or causing destruction. Evil wins when it causes us to doubt or lose trust and faith in our Lord.

 

We know that innocents who are lost are rewarded more gloriously than we can imagine. Sometimes that doesn’t sound as consoling as it should. School shootings, airplane crashes, and other tragedies change lives. God’s plan is to make the best of that change. Renew our trust in Him. Draw nearer to Him for support and love. Do not worry about justice here on earth and do not pray for revenge. Trust that God will make it alright in the end.

 

Recently, I listened to a presentation by Ravi Zacharias, the noted Christian apologist. He spoke of a young mother bringing her child for an immunization. “Why mommy?” asks the child. “Why will you let that man hurt me?” The child is too young to understand the importance of immunizations and how they work; so the mother offers soothing words and a brightly-colored Band-Aid, but she really can’t make it hurt any less. Someday the child will be old enough to understand what was going on and how important it was. He will be happy his mother cared enough about him to let him be hurt. 

 

Life really is good. My prayer for all of us is that when tragedy strikes, we will grow stronger in faith and trust God to make things right. I pray that we ultimately wind up where Habakkuk winds up at the end of his oration:

 

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

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