Sunday, October 14, 2012

Where is God in the Midst of Tragedy?

It's an age-old question, isn't it?  Where is God when it hurts?  Why did God allow this to happen?  Why didn't God stop it?  We search for answers, combing our Bibles for a verse to explain it all away and to dull the pain, yet it still squeezes our hearts and minds and brings floods of tears all over again.

Some questions just do not have answers, as much as we would like them to.  And yet, we feel compelled to speak, to offer words that can end up hurting more instead of helping.  Our empty platitudes come from a place of wanting to fix whatever the problem is, of wanting to make it better, of wanting to stop the pain from taking over.  We say things like "God needed her more" or "It's God's will" or "Now she'll be an angel" or "You can have other children".  None of those are comforting and all are theologically questionable, if not downright theologically incorrect.

When someone is suffering an inconceivable tragedy,we need to simply be a presence and let them (and ourselves) mourn.  In a world where we want everything neat and orderly, death brings the brokenness (or fallen, or sinfulness, if you prefer those terms) of our world front and center and confronts us.

I posted the following for friends and family members who were mourning a distant cousin of mine who was killed in a car wreck early Saturday morning.

For all who are suffering the loss of Keri Perotti:
"All of us have to face pain and difficulty, sometimes even tragedy. As we come to know and draw close to the God Jesus knows we find a new kind of strength to deal with our struggles. If we do not know God as our Abba Father, then we will never have the courage to face our problems. But as we come to know the good and beautiful God that Jesus knows, our struggles take on a whole new meaning. If God is truly good and is looking out for our good, then we can come to him with complete honesty. We can practice honesty when we pray--baring our soul and confronting those hurts that make us doubt God's goodness by handing them over to him for healing."
"Jesus knew he was loved by his Father and was therefore able to trust him through the pain. The reason Jesus could trust God in his darkest hour is because he had lived closely with his good and beautiful Father for all eternity. I now see how love that has been proved can be trusted even when things don't make sense. So when I encounter a world full of tsunamis and child molesters, airplane crashes and methadone-addicted moms, I don't try to force myself to say all is well. Rather, I say, 'Jesus trusted his Abba, and I will also trust in the God I know to be good.'"
--James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God, pages 64 and 65, the chapter in which he recounts the story of the death of his daughter Madeline.
We want to find the happy verses in the Bible, the ones that make everything better, yet if we take a better look, we can find the verses that affirm our despair and let us know that we are not alone.  We can connect with the Psalmist:
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. --Psalm 38:6,8
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? --Psalm 13:2
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. --Psalm 31:9
We can connect with the one who chose death for us:
And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah."   At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.   But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him."   Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. --Matthew 27:46-50  
And after that, after we have let ourselves grieve and feel the pain, we can reach out in our grief and accept God's comfort:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff -- they comfort me. --Psalm 23:4   
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. --Psalm 34:1 
This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life. --Psalm 119:50
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.       --Isaiah 49:13
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  --Matthew 5:4
We can also participate in God's comfort by being the ones to comfort others.  We can partner with God as we live in this world that is fractured and not all that we want it to be.  Put your arm around someone's shoulder.  Hold a hand.  Simply be there.  Weep with those who weep.

And look forward to a future filled with hope.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."                            --Revelation 21:3-4 
Let God cry with you.  Let Him know all of your heart's pain and suffering.  And let Him comfort you, let Him hold you in His arms as the child of His that you are.  Let Him be with you in the midst of your tragedy and suffering.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. -- Romans 15:13 

Bring Christ Your Broken Heart  (click to go to a page to listen)
by Sierra

If you've carried your burdens, as far as you can go
If you've reached the end of your own strength
And you just can't go on
If your days are filled with questions
And the answers they just don't come
If you've put your faith in those who let you down
If the road you're on seems like shaky ground
Turn your eyes toward heaven, He is waiting there
You'll find the peace you're longing for in His care
Bring Christ your broken heart
And He will comfort you
With love to heal your deepest hurt
And grace to see you through
Fall into His open arms
Bring Christ your broken heart
Bring Christ your broken heart
If you've prayed for the sun to shine
Only to watch it rain
And if you find you're weary from the struggle
Don't think you can try again
When love is just an empty word
That echoes through the canyons of your soul
And you wonder just how long you'll feel this way
Will you have the strength to hold on one more day
There is One who hears you and who understands
Place your wounded soul in His nail-scarred hands
Bring Christ your broken heart
And He will comfort you
With love to heal your deepest hurt
And grace to see you through
Fall into His open arms
Bring Christ your broken heart
Bring Christ your broken heart

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