As time goes on, it seems as though the number of bad things that happen just won’t diminish. The Middle East. San Bernardino. Paris. And now, two unspeakably horrible shootings in one weekend in Orlando. As of yesterday, 176 mass shootings have occurred in 2016 in the United States, and countless more across the world. With all the tragedy that takes place all around us, it’s so easy for us to give up. To become hardened to reality. To be apathetic toward future tragedy. To think twice about visiting a place where many others frequent. To be fearful. And essentially, to let the enemy win. In the face of adversity, there are a few things we must not forget that I hope will bring encouragement to all of us reeling from the pain of the events that have transpired this past weekend:
Nothing is wasted. In times of mourning, you’ll always hear the “everything happens for a reason” speech. A lot of times, this speech is given too early as people are still reeling from their losses – sometimes, it feels like a slap in the face to the pain they’re experiencing. No matter when it is best to remind those who are mourning, it is true. Often when disasters occur, whether natural or man-made, even the staunchest skeptics will ask why a loving God would allow such bad things. These questions are valid and hopefully come from a very honest place. Sometimes the reason is clear, but most times it’s not. We may never know the why of a tragedy, and that fact alone is enough to make us angry, confused, and sad, but we have to relinquish control (or rather, our illusion of control) and understand Who really holds it. If we believe in a God who works all things for good (Romans 8:28), we have to trust Him when even the most senseless acts of terror ensue. What we know is that God is just (Job 34:12) and nothing happens without a good reason.
Pain is an invitation. It can be an invitation for a lot of things, good and bad. We can use the tragedies that face us as an opportunities to push our political agendas, to produce more hate-fueled debates, and to tear us apart. We can use this event to declare war on a religion rather than on evil itself, our real enemy. On the other hand, we can see them as chances to band together against evil and refuse to let it split us up. The enemy – whether to us it’s satan, a dangerous ideology, or a man with a gun – wants to cause divisiveness, to turn us against one another, and distract us from the good. Once again, we cannot let them win. Thanks to media, we have been able to see firsthand how much we have grown since past tragedies like 9/11, putting proper standards in place to demonstrate growth and prevent future situations from arising. We have to use the pain we’re experiencing to unite and show our resiliency, not tear down. To do the latter is to lose.
Look for the helpers. One of my favorite quotes on tragedy is from Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ If you look for the helpers, you will know that there’s hope.” I am not downplaying the carnage and the adversity that occurs when tragic events take place. They deserve to be mourned and never looked over too quickly. But once we have taken the time to truly count our losses, we must always look to the light. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, we saw video after video of bystanders helping carry the wounded to vehicles to rush to the hospital. Just yesterday, videos surfaced of hundreds (thousands in total across Florida) of people standing in line to donate blood to the injured victims. There will always be people who will help and heal. Sometimes, you will get the opportunity to be apart of that helping and healing, but if you can’t, and all you can do is pray, take the advice of Mr. Rogers’ mother – look for the helpers and find hope.
We cannot cower in fear and let anxiety rule over us. Like I said, it seems so easy to resort to avoidance and disillusionment when tragedy strikes. We want ourselves and our loved ones to hide away and not put ourselves in a situation where something like that could happen to us. I get it. But we must show that those who seek to to tear down, to strike fear in the hearts of the masses, will not win. We will rise from this stronger. We will not give in to the pressure to shrink back in worry. We have to show our enemy that they won’t get what they want and that we won’t be controlled by their attempts, no matter how scary and devastating they can be.
All hope is not lost. Jesus warned us that things like this would happen, but it’s never easy when it actually does happen: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). When tragedy strikes, it’s never not a shock – or at least, I hope it never happens so much that it’s not. It’s always going to be hard to take, and unfortunately we should not be surprised. In light of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, John Piper said these things about Jesus in the wake of tragedy:
“We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink. And that is how He came. He knew what this world needed. Not a comedian. Not a sports hero. Not a movie star. Not a political genius. Not a doctor. Not even a pastor. The world needed what no mere man could be. The world needed a suffering Sovereign. Mere suffering would not do. Mere sovereignty would not do. The one is not strong enough to save; the other is not weak enough to sympathize. So he came as who he was: the compassionate King. The crushed Conqueror. The lamb-like Lion. The suffering Sovereign.”
Christ points us to a time when events like these are no more, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). Because of that, we can have hope and comfort even in the toughest tragedy.
Feel free to offer any other words of encouragement below in the comments!