When Tragedy Strikes
(Romans 8: 28,35, 37-39)

Some terrible and unthinkable tragedy strikes somewhere in the world like a massive earthquake, huge tsunami, devastating hurricane or tropical storm that causes massive damage and loss of life, or a mass shooting resulting in the senseless murdering and wounding of countless innocents, and the questions gets asked. Hey, you’re a Christian, so how can you still believe in a merciful God after you’ve seen what just happened? In their pain, anger and frustration they want to lash out at someone so they seek us out so they can vent and, maybe even get some answers. We can only hope the answer they get isn’t something like “everything happens for a reason”, or “it was the will of God”, or “it was God’s punishment for sinful behavior”.

Suffering, unanswered prayers, and the unfairness of life naturally lead us to question God’s goodness and sometimes to question God’s very existence. This is what the atheists point to and sometimes it even overwhelms us to the point where we too have questions. We wrestle with these questions too. It’s just natural. They try and draw us into the debate. If God is loving and just, then God must not be all powerful they say. Or, if God is all-powerful, God must not be loving and just, they counter. Then they say, if God were all-powerful and loving and just, then he would stop the evil, pain, and suffering in our world.

It’s easy to understand why so many people have turned away from God when they have been taught that every disappointment, every tragedy, every loss and every painful experience was the will of God. How do you explain to them that God doesn’t plan for tens of thousands of people to die of starvation or disease or malnutrition or as the result of some natural disaster? They ask, if this was a part of God’s plan then why do we even bother with relief efforts? They’re told that everything happens for a reason. God caused it to happen. God has a good reason for it. Just trust God. Is there any surprise that people aren’t interested in a God who would allow such things to happen or would purposefully rain down some sort of tragedy or disaster upon scores of innocents?

The prescientific explanation to these natural disasters like hurricanes, erupting volcanoes and earthquakes for example were that they were “Acts of God”. It was God venting his wrath against a people who had offended him. Why else would something like this happen? We know now that this is nature’s way of cooling the earth and controlling our climate. The volcanos release the extreme heat that builds up in the earth’s core, the earthquakes are a shifting of the earth’s plates that relieve pressure and the tropical storms cool the atmosphere. We get in trouble when we populate areas too close to volcanos, or build cities over fault lines, or populate flood prone areas. We either avoid living there or construct our cities and homes to withstand what we know is eventually coming. We’ve learned by trial and error to adapt to these circumstances. We know there is a cause and effect to much of what happens. The Dust Bowl wasn’t the result of God’s anger against mid-west farmers and ranchers. It was the result of poor farming techniques that made the land susceptible to wind erosion. The bubonic plague wasn’t a result of God’s disgust with medieval Europe. It was a result of a bacteria carried by fleas and transported by rodents compounded by poor sanitation and pest control.

We know that God created human beings and gave us the responsibility to manage and oversee his creation. We are charged with acting on God’s behalf in managing, tending, and ruling over the planet. So, when God wants something done in the world, he calls on people who have been empowered by the Spirit to do it. God’s provision for human beings who face these natural disasters is to send others to provide care and to help them put the pieces of their lives back together again. These natural disasters and widespread poverty that affect so many in our world are calls to action. The question is, will God’s people heed the call?

That’s what happens when disaster strikes. People watch to see how we, as Christians, react. Will we heed the call? Our response shows the world that our faith in God is how we deal with fear and tragedy. We show the world that God does promise to deliver us and that God promises to sustain us and force good to come from the painful events we experience in this life. We know that a loving God does not bring unjust suffering upon his children. We know that God will, however, force such things to serve his good purposes. This is what the Apostle Paul was telling his readers in Romans 8: 28, when he said; We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Christianity does not promise that we will not suffer, but it does promise that suffering will never have the final word. God brings good from evil. God takes our sorrow, suffering, and sin and bends it, redeems it, and sanctifies us through it. This is what Paul means when he asks; Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Paul answers his question by telling us that he is convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord; not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.

Rejecting God doesn’t change the situation that has caused our suffering; it only removes the greatest source of hope, help, comfort, and strength we have. Adam Hamilton, in his book Why? Making Sense of God’s Will says it is hope that God is with us all the time. It is hope that God works through us to help others and through others to help us. It is hope that God redeems suffering and forces evil to accomplish good. And ultimately it is hope that the day will come when there will be a new Jerusalem where God will ultimately triumph. This hope sustains us.

The task for us is to make ourselves available to God each day and to pay attention. To pay attention and be ready to act when God calls.

Please pray with me.

Most merciful and compassionate God, stand by us in these times of trouble and turmoil. Call us, O Lord, to go where we are needed to bring comfort to those who are overwhelmed by grief and are suffering from their loss. Empower us with the Spirit to act as your agents of love bringing help and hope to those in despair. Help us to use what we have so we may assist those who have been affected by tragedy to put the pieces of their lives back together as best they can. Through your good work in us put us where we are needed so we can reassure the afflicted that you will deliver them and sustain them in their trials and tribulations. Empower us to bring the assurance that suffering will never have the final word and that a better life lies ahead for those who put their faith in you. In the name of your most loving son, Jesus Christ, we pray, amen.