What Do You Say in the Midst of Unspeakable Tragedy?

Many have written on the disturbing events of the last few days, and I suppose I couldn’t help but add my voice to those who have already spoken. Of course, what I really wish I could do is hug some of the family members who lost children and even more so – to introduce them to the one who 41 years ago wrapped His powerful arms around me and gave me peace and comfort that I did not even know existed.

There are so many thoughts swirling in my heart and mind. For a couple of years, my family and I lived about a mile from the school where these innocent children and brave adults were killed, so I suppose I feel closer ties to the events of the past week. I have good friends who live in the area who are in the thick of the grief counseling, trying to bring comfort to grieving families.

Of course, everyone wants to know why this happened and the answer is as elusive to me as anyone else. One of my closest friends, who is not a believer in Jesus, asked me, as a “person of faith,” how I made sense out of the tragedy. I would like to tell you what I said to my friend, but I’d like to preface this by saying that anything said would sound terribly hollow if I were speaking to the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters or friends of those who lost their lives.

After all, what can you really say at a time like this? I do not think it is even possible to use words to bring comfort to the mourning at this moment, although so many are sincerely and wholeheartedly trying. Intuitively, most people understand how to behave at this time and thankfully there has been quite a bit of silence as opposed to trying to explain what happened. Most people are sitting with the living victims of the tragedy; holding their hand, listening to them weep, crying with them, offering a hug and a listening ear and just simply being there for them. This is about all you can do right now to provide comfort.

I told my friend that my soul was deeply disturbed by the events of the week and that my faith was rocked and challenged as well. I do not have an answer as to why God allows suffering, any more than what the Bible teaches about our living in a world broken by sin, and that for some reason God has not yet chosen to remove suffering from the palate of human existence.

I quickly added that God’s side is only part of the equation, and that we as humans need to take responsibility for continually doing things that we hope God would prevent. The tragedy in Newtown has again brought us face-to-face with pure, unmitigated evil. This is not a time to blame the poor mother who also lost her life and perhaps taught her son to shoot the weapons and even made these weapons accessible to the perpetrator. It is also sad to find out that the young man who committed these crimes had some type of mental illness that for some reason could not be controlled by his parents, mental health professionals, his friends nor himself. It’s not a time to take political advantage of this terrible moment and promote new efforts towards gun control, though this will surely be considered carefully in the days ahead.

Without ignoring the complexity of human factors, responsibilities and whatever will be concluded at the end of a thorough investigation, there remains no doubt that we have witnessed evil – overwhelming, terrible evil – and our lives will never be the same. We now have a new generation who have lost their innocence and will grow up pointing to the events of this past week as the day they recognized that evil exists. The recognition of evil cannot bring comfort to a mourning parent, nor does it provide an adequate explanation for the tragic events of this past week, but it is a sober reminder of the character of the world in which we live.

We have also been reminded of the goodness of others. We witnessed the outpouring of love towards these families, and there is much to commend in our fellow man. This has also been the case in recent tragedy along the Eastern seaboard when thousands of volunteers helped flood victims recover from the destruction of their homes. Sometimes I find that believers in Jesus focus far too much on evil and man’s sin rather than on the goodness of humanity, which is also part of being created in the image of God.

Yet as much as we might try to focus on the goodness of man in the midst of this tragedy, when the dust settles, most will look back on the horror of the moment as a reminder that evil does exist and that we need to find a way to fight evil.
Many people will also be quoting from the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People. The question he articulates weighs heavily on all of our hearts at this moment.

The truth is – we don’t know why bad things happen to good people. We only understand that evil exists and that we do not want to live in its dark shadow, but rather to live in hope not fear – and to find a way to believe in innocence and purity without ignoring the harsh realities of the world which we live. This tragedy makes the underlying dichotomy of life all the more difficult to handle. Evil is usually easier to ignore!

For those of us who do not live in Newtown and might live hundreds and thousands of miles away – our hearts have been broken by these events. For some reason, probably because most of the victims were innocent children and brave teachers, we have felt this corporate pain more deeply and have joined in the sorrow of people we have never met and felt part of a community we might never visit. For the parents, friends and relatives of the victims – there is only a hunger for comfort at this time – not for finding meaning in the midst of the tragedy. But for those who are somewhat removed, we have the luxury of being able to try our best to draw some meaning and understanding of what has happened. We simply need to find some way of processing the deaths of so many innocents.

My only answer is Jesus. Consider with me for a moment.

God sent His only Son – whom He loved as much as any mother or father loved any of the children who were tragically lost this past week – to experience the joy and pain of being human. Furthermore, because of the depth of His love, He allowed His Son to suffer the unthinkable as for one moment the Son of God experienced separation from His heavenly Father, enduring judgment as He removed the sin of mankind in one self-sacrificial act.

I am thankful that, by His grace, I came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that He bore judgment for my sin in order to destroy evil. I am thankful that Jesus found me and enabled me to recognize that although evil exists and our world is broken, this is not God’s ultimate design and one day Jesus will return, lift the curse of sin and make everything right.

I’m so glad that Jesus found me, as I now know that a day of ultimate justice will come, when evil will no longer exist. A kingdom is coming that will be characterized by love, joy, purity and goodness. This gives me hope and allows me to live in peace in what at times is a very dark and difficult world. During this season of the year – I hope you will experience the same peace. Let’s pray that those who mourn will be comforted by the sweetness of His presence and His promise to one day restore everything that was broken by evil, sin and death. One day He will return and wipe every tear from our eyes.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “What Do You Say in the Midst of Unspeakable Tragedy?

  1. Israel Cohen

    Thank you Mitch.

    Israel

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Well thought out, and beautifully, and sensitively said. Thank you for sharing, Helen

  3. Susan Burger

    The Church of Jesus Christ needs to mourn together with the families. We cannot understand, but we can express His agape love through us. He died on the cross so that we could agape in and through HIm and He in and through us. We cannot understand, but we can and must agape these families who are desperately in need and bring glory to His name.

  4. Thank you, Mitch for all your considerate and compassionate response. In addition, we cannot help but reflect on the Lord Jesus when HE said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. HE said this to show the kind of death HE was going to die” [John 12:32-33]. As time passes, we must sincerely pray that everyone who was directly or indirectly touched/affected by this tragedy will recall the deepest ever love that mankind has ever known in the Person of Christ. After all, HE took the epitome of evil upon Himself at the very moment of the greatest love mankind has ever known. And of course, we all know in our hearts just how badly we need God in our lives when we are guilty of that seemingly inherent evil within the human nature…that nature we can indeed overcome only by the Grace and mercy of the Lord God.
    I like to envision all those innocent children are in God’s Presence as we speak—sitting on the lap of and around Jesus as HE hugs each one and comforts them with His joy and heavenly glory. Plus, Mitch, I honestly believe, all those moms and dads can take deep comfort knowing they will definitely see their children again, because God promises just that, that eternal hope available to everyone who so desires to name Jesus as Lord. And may it be so, dear friends.

    • JIM

      IN KEEPING WITH WHAT WAS SAID, I WOULD NOT SEEK TO CONSOLE THE GRIEVING WITH THEOLOGICAL STATEMENTS. SO,
      FROM AFAR, IT’S NOT UNREASONABLE TO THINK OF ELIZABETH (THE MOTHER OF JOHN THE BAPTIST) AND MARY (THE MOTHER OF
      JESUS). THE LIVES OF THEIR TWO SONS WERE HERALDED SO
      GLORIOUSLY AS THEY CAME INTO THE WORLD. ON A HUMAN
      LEVEL, IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE THAT IT EVER ENTERED ELIZABETH’S
      MIND TO THINK THAT HER SON WOULD SUFFER DEATH THE WAY HE DID. ALSO, IT PROBABLY WAS THE LAST THING THAT ENTER-
      ED MARY’S MIND WHEN POSSIBLY SEEING A ROMAN CROSS WITH
      IT’S SHAME AND UNFATHOMABLE PAIN TO THINK THAT HER
      PRECIOUS SON WOULD SOME DAY SUFFER THAT FAIT. GOD WORKED IT OUT SO WELL. THE MOST UNJUST THING THAT EVER
      HAPPENED (THE CRUCIFIXTION OF CHRIST) BECAME THE
      GREATEST THING TO HAPPEN FOR US. SIMILARLY, WE MAY
      KNOW THAT GOD WILL EVETUALLY BRING MEANING AND
      CONSOLATION IN THIS UNFATHOMABLE TRAGEDY(NEWTOWN).

  5. Dr. Arch Culbreth

    Well said Mitch
    Arch

  6. JIM

    ONE MORE THOUGHT, THINK OF DANIEL. HE WAS TAKEN CAPTIVE FROM THE HOLY CITY.THE TEMPLE AND THE HOLY CITY WERE DESTROYED MAYBE AS HE WAS LED AWAY. THIS MUST HAVE BEEN A TERRIBLE CIRCUMSTANCE WHICH RAISED A LOT OF QUESTIONS IN HIS HEART. DANIEL WAS MADE TO SERVE AS A EUNICH IN THE
    PALACE OF THE KING OF BABYLON. YET NOW, THROUGH THIS DIFFICULT ORDEAL, HAS COME TO US THE GLORIOUS PROPHECIES WHICH CONSOLE US WITH KNOWING THAT NO MATTER WHAT, GOD IS IN CONTROL. AND, CAN YOU IMAGINE THE ANGUISH IN MARY’S HEART?
    UNCERTAINTY? YET, IN FULFILLMENT, WE SEE GOD’S CERTAIN HAND AND AS ONLY GOD CAN DO, THINGS TURN OUT FOR OUR GOOD AND HIS GLORY. (THANKS).

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