When Tragedy Strikes a Community
A tragedy struck our community on Wednesday, March 15. An 18-year-old young man died in a workplace accident. He was in his grade twelve year at our local Christian high-school; part of the first graduating class for this secondary school that started four years ago.
In a post by his place of employment, they described him as a, “Bright light with a beaming personality who did his job with passion and enthusiasm.”
Many questions arise in our hearts when tragedy strikes. How could a loving God let this happen? Why did he die so young? He had a whole future ahead of him. What now? Why such a heartbreaking death? What can I do to help?
Elisabeth Elliot, a woman who was well-acquainted with grief, explained in her study on suffering that more often than not, God doesn’t give us the why or what answers we’re looking for. But, in His grace, He always gives the Who. In the book of Job, after he and his friends tried desperately to sort out the reasons for his suffering, God answered Job in chapters 38-40. God didn’t give him the why or what answers at all. Instead, He described many of His attributes to Job, which left Job humbled and in a posture of worship. That’s all Job needed to hear to be comforted and gain perspective.
But it’s hard to think that should be our response when our hearts are grief-stricken. We want to mourn, to be angry, or to go into action and do anything to help those hurting deepest, but often ourselves feeling helpless in the situation.
We know we can’t take away the pain, especially when the tragedy strikes the hearts of so many people. It’s too far beyond us. So, we pray. But even then, we say, “At least I can pray.”
Is it the least?
Prayer is more powerful than we’ll ever understand this side of heaven. Every single prayer is heard by the Lord and answered. The prayers of many move the heart of God to compassion.
“When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.
You made them a kingdom
and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Revelation 5:8-10 (Bold added)
Prayer can stir our compassionate God into action. Though we don’t have control over the situation, our Father most certainly does. This passage brings Him glory and also reminds us that Christ understands our suffering.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.
We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (bold added)
Christ endured the worst of our suffering. He felt the full weight of it upon Himself, so that He could understand and adequately comfort and encourage us through our suffering. It is a beautiful cycle. Christ comforts us in our pain, then we’re able to comfort others in, “Any kind of affliction” because Christ’s comfort is transferrable. In turn, we receive these gifts and this brings worship back to God.
Paul and his friends also deeply understood suffering and loss. Paul literally thought he might die in prison at the time he wrote this letter. Grief can feel like it’ll lead to death as well, as purpose, and will to fight, are crushed by the confusion and weight of suffering. Note what Paul said about prayer in this passage – “While you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.” (Vs. 10-11)
Your prayers help our brothers and sisters in Christ. They offer gifts to those in need by way of the Good Lord answering. It brings hope to the hopeless. “He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again.” (vs. 10a)
True hope and comfort come from God alone. He knows how to minister to each individual heart the best way they need it.
Therefore, prayer is the best thing you can do when tragedy strikes, and something we are called to do. “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18 (bold added).
But prayer isn’t the only thing we can do.
We were also given beautiful gifts by Holy Spirit to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We can come together in times of need, to minister in our special ways, enabling the entire body of Christ to be felt by those hurting, so they can tangibly see the love and care of Christ at work.
Are you gifted in:
- Hospitality/helps? Make them a meal, clean their house or yard, help with their pets, etc.
- Mercy? Sit with them and let them cry. Listen to their memories.
- Exhortation? Write them a letter of encouragement or journey with them through the grief toward healing
- Prophecy? Ask the Lord what is something edifying you can share with them & pray over them
- Evangelism? Share the gospel! There are many who need to hear it right now!
- Generosity? Help them pay for the funeral, unexpected needs that arise, or donate to the charity the family requested
- Preaching? Use this opportunity to share Christ’s love and hope to the community
Together, we can magnify the Lord’s love and care through this situation. Share testimonies of where the Lord is evident in this.
Remember – there’s always hope, even in tragedy such as this. Perhaps this will lead people to start a relationship with Jesus, or to turn those wayward back to Him. It will strengthen the faith of others, refocusing our attention to the eternity awaiting us and the hope of our calling. It will create stories of seeing God’s hand at work, where everything seemed hopeless, like in Job’s story.
Grief is healthy. It isn’t something to run from or suppress. Jesus grieved over many things. God’s people often grieved the suffering and death of others. We are told to “… weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
For Christians, we’re in a complex position with grief. In a way, we grieve the most because we know that death is a result of the fall of man and living in a sin-affected world. We understand the larger scope of it. However, we also have the greatest hope, knowing that those who love Jesus Christ will have an eternity of peace with Him where there’ll be no suffering, death, or grief. So, it’s okay to take time to grieve the loss and to feel the weight of it, without losing focus of what’s to come. Christ’s comfort and hope will lead you to healing, and even once again, embracing joy.
To Ryan’s family, friends, school, and church community, please know I have been and will continue to pray for you all through this time of deep grief. It was a pleasure to have met Ryan. He was a talented, deep-thinking, passionate young man. May Christ’s presence and comfort be your ever-present help in this time of need. And through all, may God receive the glory for His love and hope to which He gives us all.
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