On Tuesday I opened my social media account and discovered a talented college football player shot and killed himself. On Thursday I learned of a personal friend who has four children is battling cancer and not expected to survive. On Friday I watched Aly Raisman’s courage as she confronted her abuser in a Michigan courtroom.
Tragedy extends her arms wide. Her culprit doesn’t fit a specific description, but the devastation she leaves is universal.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a tragedy is “a disastrous event, calamity.” The word “calamity”means “a disastrous event marked by great loss and lasting distress and suffering; a state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss.”
The first tragedy ever to occur was in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit God forbade them to eat. This was a tragedy because in that moment death entered the world – physical death, but also emotional and spiritual death. This event caused tragedy to extend her arms to every other soul to live on earth.
At some point in our lives we all experience tragedy. When you are in the midst of it, reading a list of ten ways God draws close to you seems unauthentic. Not much is helpful besides mourning.
However, reading these truths when you’re not going through a tragedy can help prepare your mind and heart for the time when you do.
1. God Gives Us Special Memories
Last February my mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly. We were heartbroken. In the weeks that followed, however, my family saw the gift that God had given us a few months before she passed. That December, my husband’s whole family traveled from Georgia to North Carolina twice to visit us. Everyone coming once was a treat, but to come two times was unprecedented. As we looked back at this special time, we saw that God’s hand was in it. He was preparing us for her death, and He gave us extra time with her.
When God created human beings He gave us the ability to remember. This was not by chance. Of course sometimes our memories are not pleasant. But in times of tragedy memories are God’s gift to us. When tragedy strikes, special memories massage our souls and comfort us. Our memories stay with us in some capacity even when a physical reminder is no longer present.
2. God Gives Us Other People to Comfort Us
There is nothing more comforting than to hear a friend say “me too.” It helps us to know that we aren’t the only ones – God’s not picking on us. The comfort from someone who has been there too is more profound than from someone else. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, we’re instructed to use our tragic experiences to bring people to God. In times of tragedy, God uses other people’s experiences to comfort us through the comfort He showed them.
3. God Gives Us Other People to Meet Our Tangible Needs
The body of Christ is meant for tragedy. God orchestrated us to live in community so that we could meet each other’s tangible needs in times of tragedy. Whether it’s monetary needs to help with healthcare costs, bringing food, praying corporately for the person, or serving through a household chore, the body of Christ is called to help each other (1 Corinthians 12). When we are in so much anguish that we can’t stand up, God uses other people to help us.
4. God Gives Us His Word
The Bible is a compilation of tragedy. Like I mentioned above, in the Garden of Eden tragedy reached out and touched the first humans God created. But tragedy didn’t retreat there.
Not long into Adam and Eve’s family tree tragedy struck again when their son, Cain, killed his brother, Abel. Tragedy continued marching right on through the Old Testament. For the most famous story of tragedy read Job’s story in the book of Job. It continued through the New Testament with its pinnacle being the death of our Savior Jesus Christ.
The Bible is a gift from God because it is a book full of “me too” stories. God shows through His Word that He knows what we are going through. It is not a surprise to Him. We also get to see how people responded to tragedy and how God responded to them.
5. God Gives Us Jesus
God wants us to know that He gets it. He understands the tragedy we face in this world. The only way He could do that was to come to earth Himself and become one of us, and that’s exactly what He did.
No one has experienced tragedy like Jesus experienced tragedy. He is God, sinless, and yet was persecuted to a beaten, brutal death. He willingly gave up His life because He gets it. Jesus knows that we have no hope without His sacrifice, and He gave Himself to us because of His great love.
Throughout Jesus’ life we also see how He dealt with other people’s tragedy. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” This was after Lazarus’s death when Jesus was talking to Mary and Martha. Even though Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He still empathized with His friends, grieved with them, and “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33).
Just like Jesus wept with Mary and Martha, He weeps with us, too. Tragedy grieves Jesus heart. It does not bring Him any joy to see His children suffering. But He also knows that this is not the end.
6. God Gives Us His Promises
When we’re going through a tragedy, it’s hard to see past the day at hand. There’s a fog that clouds our minds impairing our imagination from life moving forward. We become paralyzed by thinking life will never get better, we will never heal, or we will never be happy again. This is where God’s promises come in.
God tells us in Psa 71:20 (NLT), “You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth.” Meditating on God’s promises during times of tragedy comfort us and gives us hope.
Here are other promises from God: Psa 18:2; Psa 23:1-4; Psa 30:5; Psa 46:1-2; Psa 147:3; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:2; Matthew 5:4, 10-12; Matthew 10:29-31.
7. God Gives Us Hope
Jesus is our only hope. When God sent His Son to earth to die on the Cross, He was giving us eternal hope. Without Jesus, God knew we could not be reconciled to Him, and we would perish. This is the best news we could ever receive!
Our lives do not end in tragedy even though it feels like it in the moment. When we give our lives to Jesus we receive the hope that only His gives. So how do we respond to this hope? We wait, we pray, and we rejoice.
We say, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you” (Psalm 39:7). We patiently wait on the Lord keeping our eyes focused on His promise to either take us to be with Him or to come back to earth and get us.
We also rejoice and pray. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Rejoicing is the last response a person has in times of tragedy, but we’re not rejoicing in what’s happening. Instead we’re rejoicing in what’s going to happen. We’re rejoicing because our tragedy is not the end of the story. Prayer helps with this. In tragedy, being in constant communion with God gives us hope, perspective, peace, and rest.
8. God Gives Us Perspective and Peace
In the Bible God does not cover-up the reality that this world is harsh, cruel, and sometimes unbearable. He makes it clear that we will have trouble. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). But He also tells us that “this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
I don’t know about you, but acknowledging the unrest in my soul that comes from living in this world is comforting to me. It comforts me knowing that God knows, and it gives me perspective to not be surprised when tragedy comes, to almost expect it, but also to remember that this world is not the end. We should feel a tension between our current reality and what we know is possible just like the tension we’d feel from homesickness.
Almost eight years ago my husband had a heart transplant. Typically heart transplants are normal medical procedures, but his took a dramatic turn, and he was put on life support and almost died.
For 43 days we lived in another city, him in the hospital and me in the hotel across the street, and people would come to visit us. As our friends and family came, there was a sense I got that they thought I was in denial about what was happening. Sure, I spent many days in the chapel crying and experienced typical signs of distress. But overall this supernatural peace laid over me helping me to know that no matter what happened, it would be okay. It was a feeling I had never felt before, and I knew it was from God.
I am here to tell you that God’s supernatural peace that He promises in Philippians 4:4-9 is real. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Read through this entire passage of Philippians, and allow God to teach you how to prepare yourself for a tragedy and how to receive His supernatural peace.
9. God Gives Us Opportunity
Most of us are familiar with the popular verse Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But what we might fail to realize is that this is our opportunity to use tragedy for good.
In Genesis when Joseph was to the Egyptians by his brothers, he could have let bitterness take root and sought revenge for what was done to him. Instead, he used it as an opportunity to show God’s love and forgiveness. He turned his tragedy into good. Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20 NIV).
People make good from their tragedy by ministering to others going through similar circumstances, to advocating for change, and to bringing other people to Jesus.
10. God Gives Us Rest
In a tragedy we need rest more than anything. The toil it takes on our body, mind, and spirit is unprecedented. Jesus tells us that when we are weary and burdened, come to Him, and He will give us rest.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
Jesus wants to take our burden from us. It honors Him for us to let Him do that. Of course, that’s not easy. We want to fix the problem and stew over the results. But if we can find a quiet place to rest our body and minds, Jesus will be there to take it from us.
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