In the Wake of Tragedy

Sometimes you think you have it all figured out. It's not that you really believe that you have all the answers, but you think that you have good answers to all the important questions. We tend to become content and confident in our present understanding, easing the fear of our own error and continuing need to question, learn, and grow. Then something happens which takes your sturdy legs out from underneath you, but this isn't about me. It's about the tough questions, and the immediate victims who are groping for answers.

My wife's best friend was killed in a car wreck last Tuesday, which could only have been described as tragic. She was the mother of three, a five-year old boy, just about to start kindergarten; a seven-year old boy, who was just beginning to come into his own by the patience of his mother; and a ten-year old girl, who just got her ears pierced, and was beginning to play with "grown-up" make-up. Her husband leaned and depended on her in ways that are difficult to explain. She was quiet, gentle, and full of smiles and faith throughout the most difficult trials. At work, she taught the children, who are forgotten by most. At church, she meekly labored in the church classrooms. In the community, she volunteered her time and resources, humbly serving those needing true compassion. There was so much more to follow - so much potential, but it was all cut off, because of the negligence of a truck driver, who "just didn't see her".

Staggering from the loss and crushed by the perceived betrayal, her loved ones and friends turned to God and in the heaviest of sorrows, asked "Why?". Many thoughts rush through a person's mind when they hear of situations like these, but when you are husband to the best friend's wife, the need for real answers becomes not just a little more pressing. Although there are many explanations, only one source can be trusted for answers, so we turn to God to hear His answer. We desire a specific explanation of the past events from God's own mouth; however, we have access only to God's recorded Word for insight. At first it may seem unsatisfying, but when mixed with faith, it does bring lasting comfort.

"I Demand an Explanation!"

When the shock begins to wear off and the impact begins to sink in, the first question, which contritely escapes is "Why?". "How could God do this?" "Why did God let this happen?" As we consider the vanity of the past events, the sorrow turns toward fury, and we begin to feel that we are owed an explanation. Of course, this is not a "new thing under the sun", but it is common to all men, although some must face the question under more tragic circumstances.

The power of our emotions and the force of our injustice is most directly illustrated in the book of Job. We are all familiar with the story of the righteous man, blessed by God, who lost everything, including his health, children, and support of his wife. His "friends" accuse rather than comfort Job, believing that only the most wicked man would be punished so greatly by God. Job defends himself and demands:

"Know then that God has wronged me, And has surrounded me with His net. If I cry out concerning wrong, I am not heard. If I cry aloud, there is no justice. He has fenced up my way, so that I cannot pass; And He has set darkness in my paths. He has stripped me of my glory, And taken the crown from my head. He breaks me down on every side, And I am gone; My hope He has uprooted like a tree." Job 19:6-10

"What is man, that You should exalt him, That You should set Your heart on him, That You should visit him every morning, And test him every moment? How long? Will You not look away from me, And let me alone till I swallow my saliva? Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself?" Job 7:17-20

"My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me; Show me why You contend with me. Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, That You should despise the work of Your hands, And smile on the counsel of the wicked?" Job 10:1-3

Job had seemingly suffered a great breach of justice: being a righteous man, he suffered the punishment of the wicked. He thought his plight demanded both a reckoning and an explanation. Finally, after several rounds of discussion between Job and his friends, God speaks from heaven, offering this explanation:

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. 4 Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? ..." Job 38:1-5

More questions followed, which Job could not even begin to answer, but in all of these questions, no explanation or justification followed - God only asked questions. Eventually, Job was given an opportunity to answer these questions, thereby displaying his right and ability to contend with God; however, Job answered as follows:

Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said:

"Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it."

Then Job answered the LORD and said:

"Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further."

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:

"Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty." Job 40:1-10

Just as Job could not answer the first round of questions, he could neither affirm God's questions of Job's ability and might. He was no peer to God. Job was unable to approach God on His level.

God never answered Job's questions. He never explained what we understand through inspiration. We have no record of God detailing the temptation and malice of the Devil. In fact, we understand that Job was entirely ignorant of the wicked enemy, who sought to destroy him (Job 9:24). He was unaware of any one else beside God working unseen in the affairs of man; however, two forces influence the course of men's lives. Of one of these powers, Job was ignorant and therefore did not consider him, the Devil - the enemy and accuser of both man and God.

Why did God not answer Job's questions? Did he not need answers? Did he not deserve an explanation from God, justification for all he suffered? Yet, God only reminded Job of his own humble state and God's awesomeness. I think the lesson to be learned is that answers are not what we need, but faith. When John the Baptist was looking for a simple affirmation that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus instructed the messengers to only return record of the miracles, which Jesus then worked (Luke 7:18-30). He never answered John's question. He just strengthened his faith. In the final analysis, that is what faith really is: trust in God when He doesn't make sense to us. If it always make sense, then it's not faith. It's just confirmation of our opinions and our own understanding. We need to learn to lean on Him, not to depend on our own understanding. It's the same trust, faith, and respect that every parent seeks to instill in their children. Parents don't always have time to explain, and often children are too young to understand the reasons; consequently, unwaivering trust in their parents is essential. This is one of the lessons from Job. God gives us what we need: not answers, but a stronger faith.

"Why Has God Done This To Me?"

Almost the first thought that rushes through our mind in the wake of tragedy is, "Why has God done this to me?" "Why did God take the one I love?" "Why did God kill my closest companion?" Immediately, we often blame the one who is rules over all things. If He controls all things, then He certainly is responsible for all things, even the evil events of our life, or so it seems to us at the time. However, we often latch on to this question, ignoring the more painful truth, which hurts beyond that of the void left by a mere unsatisfactory explanation.

We must first recognize that God is not the author of sin or evil. He punishes the wicked; moreover, it is against His very character to return evil upon the heads of the innocent (James 1:13-17). God never kills the innocent, although He make take those who are killed to a place of comfort (Luke 16:19-31), or send the wicked to a place of torment.

The answer to these questions involve three parts. First, good people suffer in part because there are no good people. Each of us have sinned (Romans 3:23); consequently, we are all deserving of both the suffering and death that we endure in this life (Romans 6:23). Sin produces many consequences: the hardening of our conscience, the darkening of our mind, damage to our bodies, and emotional turmoil. The way of the sinner is hard (Proverbs 13:15; Ecclesiastes 10:8-10); fraught with headaches and the repercussions of his foolishness. When we blame the reward of our thoughtlessness on the One who made us, we are like the one who stubs his toe and kicks back with his other foot. It is not the fault of the unseen furniture, but rather it is the fault of the one who did not bother to look. Therefore, we often suffer because it is a consequence of our bad choices; however, this does not cover all the cases. ...

More to come...

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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