"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15
The Challenger 25 Years Later: Responding to Tragedy
I was reminded that the Challenger exploded 25 years ago today… That means that 25 years ago I was a naïve and immature 10 year old trying to deal with the shock and awe of the tragedy by sitting around cracking stupid and insensitive “Challenger Jokes” in Mrs. Hoblitzel’s 5th grade class (no I won’t be repeating them here). It’s sobering and frankly quite embarrassing to think of how I behaved back then… but as is usual for me; “current” events have gotten me thinking theologically. Specifically today I’ve been thinking about how I’ve progressed throughout the years in responding to catastrophe.
Here’s the progression I’ve observed in myself – and I by no means want to claim I’ve cornered the market on how to appropriately respond to all tragedies – However, I’m hoping that as you read how I have in the past and am now currently responding to troublesome or “evil” events it will cause you to pause and consider what IS the proper response in light of who God is and our relationship to Him (throughout history, currently and in the future). So, here goes (please keep in mind I’m not at all proud of these responses, but I think they will be helpful to our discussion):
Like I said above, when I was a kid I would respond to tragic events (and really pretty much most adversity I experienced) by either lashing out in anger and/or trying to defuse the impact by making light or making fun of the situation and/or the people involved. So what if the nation was rocked by an unexpected and seemingly needless loss of life??? I was gonna have my laugh and try to get others to join along… The problem with this is that it was incredibly insensitive – it didn’t acknowledge the genuine pain people felt over the situation and it in no way considered God (and how HE felt about what happened).
As I grew into adolescence and young adulthood I slipped into a very jaded indifference… Sure, I’d put on a mask of concern and maybe even feign a little contrived and controlled outrage and sometimes I’d even revert back to the joke making… but inside, I really didn’t care. The two biggest examples I remember responding in this way were the Oklahoma City bombing and the OJ trial… Now, again, I have grown to deeply care about what happened in these (especially the OKC bombing), but back then my heart was very hard toward God and that translated in it being hard toward what He most cares about: people… My heart breaks in sorrow in how I used to think and feel, and now I am particularly grieved over the loss of life, especially when that life is one or more people who have not placed their faith and trust in Jesus.
As God got a hold of my attention and my heart I quickly transitioned into another and radically different response to personal, national and even global tragedy – I wanted to discover (and then proclaim) some “greater good” had and/or would come from it all. I was quick to fire out Romans 8:28 “All things work together for the good…” in an attempt to make sense of it all and out of a sincere motivation to comfort and build up those affected by various tragedies.
This is a view and a practice I’ve held to until just very recently… The three basic problems with this: 1) Verses such as Genesis 50:20, Job 1:21 and Romans 8:28 seem to be blanket statements promising some greater good, but when looked at carefully they are NOT actually blanket promises (we don’t have time to go into all the hermeneutics here, but read them for yourself in context and I think you will find me to be right); 2) If there is a “greater good” for a very visible tragedy for things to balance out wouldn’t the good also need to be visible and noticeably better than the evil event? (What is the visible “greater good” for the holocaust, the tsunami a few years back, Katrina, children being raped and brutally murdered, the OKC bombing, and 9/11?) 3) If God NEEDS these evil events in order for some greater scheme of His to come about, would that not make God guilty of and/or dependent upon evil? (I cannot in good conscience and will not charge God with evil – that is a theologically indefensible position and it would be plainly sinful (cf. Job 1:22 & 2:10).
So, how do I respond now? Well, first, I recognize that we live in a broken world – one that has been broken since Adam and Eve sinned. Because this world (including nature and culture) is broken and people’s relationships with one another, with themselves and with God are all broken bad stuff is bound to happen… This brokenness is the REASON for all the garbage that goes on, however, there doesn’t HAVE to be a PURPOSE for the evil (i.e. a “greater good” to be made out of it). Sometimes, out of His goodness, God will take a bad situation and make it better and/or bring some sort of good out of it – but He is under no obligation to do that 100% of the time (and He doesn’t) – sometimes, often even, bad stuff just happens and that’s it, period – no greater good occurs.
The second thing that I recognize is that sin and the evil it produces and has produced grieves God greatly. The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that we are to Cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). He sympathizes with us in our pain and He ready willing and able to comfort us in our sorrow and affliction. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1: “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. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
The last thing that I remember (and this personally brings me the most comfort) is that we know with 100% certainty that God will one day make all things right – The curse will be reversed: Evil and agents of evil will be dealt with, the perfection of the Garden of Eden will be restored, those who have accepted Him through faith will be able to have continual fellowship with God in His presence, the world will be made new, our bodies will be glorified, there will be no sickness, no sorrow, no pain, no death and no tears. He has already taken steps to make this future reality possible. The story of how He has done that and is continuing to do so is the central theme of the Bible.
So, I guess what I’m driving at is the next time something shockingly bad (like Challenger, 9/11, the tsunami, OKC bombing, or something more personal) occurs, don’t joke about it, don’t blow it off as insignificant and don’t try to placate people with promises of some greater good… Instead, I would challenge you to point them to Christ, who wants to have a relationship with them, will one day make all things right and who can comfort them beyond measure with peace that passes understanding (cf. Philippians 4:5-9) in the here and now.
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