After a summer of senseless shootings, gorillas and gators killing kids in safe spaces, and discovering all around depressing and horrific news every time I open my Facebook app, I feel like I can’t post another blog until I tackle this question: how should we respond when awful stuff happens to someone else?
In the Christian community, we occassionally get things really right in the face of tragedy. We shine especially well in the face of natural disasters. But when things get a little more politically or emotionally charged, we have a tendency to get…a little weird, at best or damaging, at worst. Whether the tragedy or loss is large scale (like the Pulse Night Club shootings in Orlando) or small scale (like your neighbor’s mom being diagnoses with a disease), we can often respond in a way that does more harm than good, despite our intentions.
Well meaning people use platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” or even “I’ll pray for you,” as a defense mechanism, so they don’t have to wrestle with the wretchedness of a given circumstance. The goal here is to lessen the blow, and I understand the desire to want to do that, but I submit that feeling the weight of the tragedy is exactly what we all need to do. There is purpose to the weight, and healing comes through letting the weight rest on us and not discarding or minimizing it in any way, or through any shallow platitude.
If there is a reason to be had as to why awful things happen, it is this: the world in its current state is not as God originally intended. The reason that bad things happen is that the world is broken, and has been broken since Adam exercised his free will and out of his fear and mistrust, acted outside of God’s plan for the world.
Sin and death entered the world and brought with them things like hurricanes, cancer, hate crimes and apathy.
This is not what was intended, and as a Christian, I believe this is not what WILL be. But it’s where we’re at today.
Christians that respond to these tragedies with platitudes of “God has a plan” or “I’ll pray for you” miss the point entirely. Statements like that come across as aloof, disconnected, irrelevant and uncaring…the opposite of God’s response to pain and suffering. God has never been anything but with us and present in times of tragedy. He rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn, and what is more, knows when to engage in each option perfectly as each person and circumstance merits.
When Christ returns…whenever that may be, He will make things right once again and for good. He will restore beauty from ashes and undo the consequences of the wrong that we have done and what has been done to us. He will bring justice and healing and true and lasting peace. Both externally (nature) and internally (even emotions and strife, I believe). That is the ultimate hope of Christianity.
But let’s be real…who knows when that will be?
The hope of Christianity NOW is for all people, but especially Christians, to lead the charge of this redemptive work of “making the fullness of God be reflected on earth as it is in heaven.” Hate crimes are not God’s fullness. People feeling afraid to live their lives is not God’s fullness. Tornadoes are not God’s fullness. The part of us that rises up and says, “This is not how things should be, I want to help,” is a reflection of the image of God inside of ALL of us.
Treating everyone with the respect and compassion that is due each human being is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When we do this, we are engaged in the work of making things on earth as they are in heaven. Not judging moms for accidents is a foreshadowing. Fighting for everyone to feel safe is a foreshadowing. Making sure every child has a loving home is a foreshadowing. I could go on and on and on. Here’s an outside of the box example of Christians being compassionate and protective. Most of us have opportunity to do something much simpler than this, but just wanted to give it as an example of something kind!
The bottom line for me is this: most of the things that are a foreshadowing of Jesus returning and everything being made right involve action and using your voice, and not prayer alone. The point of truly joining in the loss as best we can and feeling all that is shaken within us when tragedy strikes is that once we can identify with the loss, the “wrongness” of it points us back to the need for Jesus, and Jesus points us on to joining him in restoration work.
Those who are directly involved in these tragedies may be thankful for your prayers, but would also appreciate your voice and action to fight injustice. This could look a thousand different ways, but it’s each person’s responsibility to figure out what that looks like for them and then to do it. Christian’s have done so much to damage our own reputation by how we deal with wrong doing in the world. Let’s refuse to meet tragedy and injustice with empty statements that reveal our own discomfort and diminish the weight of the grief of loss. Rather, let’s be brave and use our words and deeds to work towards the restorative process in making all things new, as it once was and it will be again one day.
If these tragedies, or any element of loss, grief, injustice or the like is something you’d like to process in therapy, please contact me. We are all in this together.