Pillar Journal

A Christian Response to Tragedy

How should Christians respond when tragedy strikes someone we love? There are many ways to answer that question.

This post was written with heartfelt prayers for those grieving after the school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. May God strengthen your hearts with grace, and may His people wrap arms of love around you to hold you up in this very dark time.

How should Christians respond when tragedy strikes someone we love? There are many ways to answer that question. At first, we simply react to the pain. We may weep, sob, pray, lament, wail, or fall into the arms of friends. But as time passes, our minds emerge from the shock of traumatic loss and the fog of exhaustion, and we begin to search for answers—truths to which we can cling. We need solid ground on which to stand and rebuild our lives, the foundations provided in God’s Word. In this blog post, we will present some of those truths in the desire that they may help the mourning to find comfort, strength, and hope.

  1. God did not create a world of tragedy and death.
    After calamity strikes, our hearts may cry out, “Why?” It helps us to remember that God did not make the world to be this way. After God created the heavens and the earth and all they contain, including the human race, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). The Lord God made man and woman for paradise. Death came because of sin, disobedience to God’s command (2:15–17; 3:19; Rom. 5:12). As we grieve over suffering and death, let that grief drive us to hate sin and turn to God. God is perfectly and entirely good. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
  2. We now live in a dangerous world because mankind is evil.
    Tragedy, when the cause is human, reminds us that we are fooling ourselves if we think that people are basically good. Paul describes our state after our fall into sin: “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:10–11). People may express their dark impulses in violence: “Their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 15–18). We should be thankful that sinners may still care about their friends and family (Matt. 5:46–47; 7:11). But we must realize that others are so hardened by sin as to be “without natural affection” (Rom. 1:31; 2 Tim. 3:3).
  3. Faithful Christians can suffer heart-breaking losses.
    We might want to believe, and some preachers will tell us, that if we just trust God and do what is right, tragedy will never strike our lives. But that is a lie. Job was an upright, God-fearing man who turned away from sin (Job 1:1). However, he suffered the death of his children, financial disaster, and painful medical problems. To make matters worse, his wife turned against him, and his friends told him he was to blame. We, too, can blame ourselves. We begin to wonder whether things would be different if only we had “done this better” or been “wiser about that.” We may think that God is punishing us for our sins. On the contrary, we need to remind ourselves that sorrow comes to the righteous and the wicked (Eccles. 9:2).
  4. Christians need not live in fear, for God is still in control.
    What people did to the righteous Son of God was horrific—the supreme atrocity in the long history of humanity’s atrocities. But the apostles declared that the wicked did only what God in His purpose and power had “determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). Thus, the apostles prayed for “all boldness” to stand for Christ and His kingdom (v. 29). The Christian can develop the ability to see all events on two levels: man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Sinners have their evil purposes. But God rules over all for His good and wise purposes. Therefore, Christians can say by faith to those who have wronged us, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Gen. 50:20). And we can face the future knowing that “all things work together for good to them that love God,” so that even if “we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. . . . we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:28, 36–37).
  5. We cannot understand the depth of God’s purposes.
    We may be tempted to try to figure out the reason why evil events take place. But that is a burden too great for a mere creature to bear. Only God can fully understand God. For a while, Job demanded a meeting with the Almighty so that he could lay out his complaints and demand answers. But when the Lord came in His majesty, Job put his hand over his mouth and acknowledged that he didn’t know what he was talking about (Job 40:1–5; 42:1–6). Though it is humbling, it is also liberating to recognize that we don’t need to know why things happen. It is better for us to embrace Christ’s profound words in John 13:7, “What I do now thou knowest not, but thou shalt know hereafter.” Then we can simply take the posture of a worshiper and exclaim with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).
  6. In any trial, we can find in Jesus Christ the grace we need.
    Consider Christ. He suffered the sinful rage of man and the holy justice of God, for He bore our sins (Isa. 53:3, 5–6). He has the power to give us the grace to bear our sufferings (Heb. 2:18). Child of God, Jesus is with you in your pain, and He never ceases to intercede for you (7:25). He understands how you feel, for He also suffered deeply (4:15). Even if you were to lose everything, the Lord will be your portion, and He is the best portion of all (Ps. 73:25–26). O believer, as much as your affliction may pierce and break you, would it not be worth it if it makes you more like Christ so that you may know and enjoy Him in a far greater way? Fix your eyes upon Jesus and follow Him. (For more on this subject, see my, “Consider Christ in Affliction” [2009], at the Reformation21 blog.)
  7. Dear afflicted believer, wait on the Lord.
    In the end, no answers given in this world are sufficient. But Christians are pilgrims on their way to meet Him who is the Answer. Trust Him, submit to His will, and hope that He will make all things right. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Ps. 27:14). Learn by grace to say with Job in your darkest hour, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Though the righteous suffer many afflictions, the Lord is near to the broken-hearted and He will save those who trust in Him (Ps. 34:18–19). And in due time, you will see His glory (John 17:24).

–Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley

Enjoy this free Ebook on grieving to God’s glory