Faith in the Midst of Tragedy

Shocker Memorial

Wichita State University and Marshall University will compete in the NCAA basketball tournament today. Even though it’s their first meeting in basketball, the schools share an inseparable bond.

A bond of shared tragedies.

Early in October 1970, an airplane transporting Wichita State football team players and supporters crashed in the Rocky Mountains. The crash left 31 dead and a community devastated.

I was a child, but I remember the crash. The tragedy affected us personally. Neighbors were on that plane. Friends lost parents in that crash. When I attended Wichita State, each year I would visit the campus memorial to the victims around the anniversary of the crash.

Less than two months later, an airplane carrying the Marshall football team crashed, killing all 75 people.

I have visited with witnesses of the wreckage. Men and women who offered prayers through their tears as they watched the fire and smoke. Christians who in some ways are still today trying to come to grips with the tragedy.

I was in West Virginia Tuesday. Usually, when my alma mater is playing a local school, I’ll needle the opponent’s fans. This trip, I said nothing about the game. As I was driving home, I realized it was because of the shared tragedies. All these years later, and a little levity between fans still didn’t seem appropriate.

The commute took a few hours, so I had time to ponder again why a loving God would create a world with the potential for such tragedies. I think the recent school tragedy in Florida subconsciously spurred me on. It’s my prayer my thoughts may in some way benefit you or someone you know.

It is healthy to vent to God.

Often our gut response to tragedy is to lash out at God. God could prevent such tragedies. For many Christians, this leads to instant feelings of guilt. Guilt over being disrespectful to God. Guilt about complaining to God. In fact, some Christians repress their emotions rather than vent to God.

If these descriptions fit you, please read the Psalms. It can literally transform your attitude toward God.

I am amazed at the raw honesty of the Psalmists. Some of them absolutely unload on God. After you finish this post, read Psalm 22 and Psalm 38 and Psalm 142. They hold nothing back in crying out to God.

If it was acceptable for the Psalmists to vent to God, it’s acceptable for you and I as well. Repressing emotions is not healthy. Suppressing grief is unhealthy. God wants to receive our hurt and pain. It’s healthy.

It is possible to go too far in unloading on God. We are instructed to not sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26). As one who has crossed this line, know that God also accepts our confession and forgiveness our transgression (1 John 1:9).

God may not provide what we want, but will provide what we need.

The Psalmists didn’t just vent their spleens to God. They celebrated the Lord’s deliverance (Psalm 66:8-12, Psalm 54). I’m sure there were times when that deliverance wasn’t want they wanted, but what they needed.

Earlier this month I was with a group of pastors, discussing how to provide hope in the midst of tragedy. One of the pastors shared a passage that has long helped me in difficult times:

“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared evil.” (Isaiah 57:1)

I can say unequivocally, when this passage first comforted me, I wanted something else. I wanted a full and clear explanation of why tragedies are allowed to happen. I didn’t get what I wanted. But, I definitely needed the hope provided in Isaiah 57.

Walk not alone.

When grieving a tragedy, we are driven more by emotion than reason. This can lead us into emotional and spiritual black holes. I think that’s one reason we are encouraged to “…weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Companionship his vital to healthy grieving.

The biblical instruction is backed by scriptural examples. I’ve written previously about how a daughter-in-law named Ruth choose to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi. When Jesus faced his most difficult hour, He asked friends to stay close to him (Mark 13:32-42).

It’s amazing how just the presence of a trusted friend or family member is helpful in the midst of tragedy.

Acceptance is hard, yet essential.

In the face of tragedies, I am convinced we must reach the point of acceptance. We need to reach the point where we acknowledge that, this side of heaven, we will not fully understand why tragedies are allowed to happen.

Grief is a cycle. The reality is, we will reach “acceptance” a number of times. Given human nature, I’m not sure full acceptance of every tragedy is possible. But, we can reach a level of acceptance that allows us to move on with life.

What lessons have you learned about dealing with tragedies? Share your insights in the comments or send me an email.

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