Written By, Pastor Mark Shupe
Responding to Tragedies of Life
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12
Sadly, it was a tough and trying week for our community as we heard about yet another school shooting and this one taking place close to where we live. We were once again confronted with tragic news of senseless acts that resulted in terror and the loss of human life.
Such acts of evil tend to surface questions difficult to grasp and much harder to answer. “How can a good and loving God allow such evil to happen?” “Why didn’t God intervene to protect those children from the horrors they experienced?” Those questions are real and can be rather unnerving as the ultimate answers are beyond our comprehension. Part of the answer to these tough questions includes God creating mankind with free-will choice to do good or to do evil. But that explanation still falls far short of a fully satisfying answer.
As real as those tough questions are, I think there is a better question to wrestle with when it comes to facing and dealing with the tragedies of life. That question goes something like: “How does God want me to respond to the trials and difficulties of life this side of heaven?” It is not a matter of if we will face tough times, the reality is that we will be challenged by all kinds of trials and difficulties. Knowing how to respond in a God-honoring manner is something that will serve us and others well as we navigate our way through our life journey.
Over the past 23 years of pastoring and counseling people who have encountered all kinds of trials (death, disease, family and marital struggles to name a few), I have learned some helpful principles and practices for responding to difficult circumstances. I offer these not as one who is perfect, but rather as a fellow journeyman who continues to be in the process of learning to respond to situations in ways that reflect the heart of God.
When faced with our own difficult situation, or when we witness a dear friend facing their own trial, there is a tendency to want to flee, escape, or remove ourselves from the presenting circumstances. However, I have found that the best way to deal with tough things is to remain present – to be aware of our emotions and thoughts, to be there with and for another person, to persevere (to remain, to abide, to bear up under) as the above verse from James reminds us.
While coming alongside a friend who is facing disease or death, we often find ourselves not knowing what to say so we may awkwardly fumble over our words, or we distance ourselves from the person. But we don’t have to come up with the right words of encouragement. We can simply sit with the person, listen to them and communicate through our presence the care and comfort of Christ.
As we face our own trials and tribulations, we may be tempted to blame God or others for the circumstances. A better path is to approach God with an open and humble heart, choosing to abide with Christ and cooperate with the maturing process He is working in our lives. In other words, stay present in the moment and allow God to use the difficult trial to bring about the further development of a Christ-like heart and character.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 describes our God who is full of compassion: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That’s a lot of “comfort” in those two verses – the idea being that our Heavenly Father is a God with a compassionate heart that moves Him to comfort us in our own afflictions so that we can then be agents of that same comfort to others who are suffering.
To be a compassionate person means to feel inwardly what others are experiencing. Another way of thinking of compassion is to try and put yourself in the shoes of the person who is experiencing the suffering or trial. That provides a perspective or posture that will better enable you to come alongside a suffering person to offer comfort through your presence, encouraging words or loving actions.
With shootings and other evil acts becoming more frequent and common, I have to guard my own heart from becoming de-sensitized from the sheer overwhelming exposure to such horrible events. Asking God to keep my heart full of His compassion is something I have to do on a regular basis to make sure I am in a position to offer His comfort to others in a time of need.
Trials, tribulations and sufferings will be part of our journey through this life. Our good and sovereign God invites us to stay present with Him and with others through the process of maturation that comes from persevering. Through the journey God provides the comfort and care for our personal lives and the opportunity to pass along that same comfort to others.