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Recently, I did a radio interview with David Griffin, one of the lead pastors of Community Life Church in Forney and Sunnyvale, Tx. David has some great insights into the questions we often ask when we suffer loss. If you are interested in the two part radio interview, check out the “For Christ and Culture” website and search “Responses to Tragedy” to hear the full programs. Here are some frequently asked questions:
- Is God really omnipotent? Tragedy tempts us to question God’s power. We are not alone in asking this question. The Israelites asked it over and over again in their 40+ year journey from Egypt to the promised land. They faced many tragedies (some of their own making), but God made good on His promise and blessed those who continued to trust Him. Israel’s journey to the promised land has been used as a metaphor for our life’s journey. We can take courage, knowing that the God who parted the Red Sea at the beginning of Israel’s journey and dried up the Jordan River at the end is the same God who leads us through the sea of loss and tragedy. Cling to Him and He will carry you through.
- Is God really omniscient? Tragedy tempts us to question God’s knowledge. We wonder if He was as blind-sided as we were when the pain struck. Psalm 121, however, reminds us that He is the God that “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” He knows all, is prepared for all, and has the answers for all situations that confront us. Confusing is one of the worst parts of suffering unexpected tragedy. Thankfully, we have an omniscient God who can see past the shadows of the valley to the radiant sunshine of the mountains beyond.
- Is God really benevolent? Most often, tragedy tempts us to question God’s goodness. This isn’t a new temptation. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve with this question thousands of years ago. Fortunately, we have an answer for that too. Tragedy comes as a result of sin. Sin taints every aspect of our humanity: body, soul, and spirit. God’s goodness, however, makes him infinitely just and infinitely loving. In our finiteness, we have trouble understanding how God can bring about perfect justice and perfect love at the same time. The Bible tells us that His means can be summed up in one word: REDEMPTION. Redemption is the transformative process that turns tragedy into triumph. That which was meant for evil is used for something good. Brokenness now becomes perfection. When you face tragedy, don’t limit God by demanding that he simply take away your pain. Allow Him the time He desires to provide perfect redemption for your circumstances. In the interim, allow yourself time to grieve, but not as someone who has no hope. You have no idea what miracles He may have in store just over the next hurdle.
QUESTION: What tips have you found helpful for ministering to people who have suffered a tragic loss?
Some of you may have heard about the recent article published in the Archives of General Psychiatry calling into question the wisdom of the FDA’s 2004 decision to issue a “black box warning” about the purported link between antidepressant use and suicide. I have found it interesting to study the trends associated with antidepressant prescribing and its effects on depression and suicide after the issuing of the black box warning. Ironically, suicide rates in teens actually increased after the issuing of the warning. It is believed that many doctors became fearful and stopped prescribing antidepressants even though many who were suffering needed the help.
I thought about how this mass hysteria created by the news media is a parallel to our own lives. Each of us has a black box that we carry around with us. It may be the fear of an impending job loss, a spouse’s betrayal, a financial crash, an injured child, or a potential life-threatening illness. We carry this black box with us whereever we go, allowing it to rule our thoughts and our behaviors, but never once do we consider opening it to examine the evidence for what we fear. The ultimate fear that all of us carry is the fear of DEATH, or as I like to call it, the fear of “an unlivable life.” In confronting this fear we must do three things:
1. Live Realistically. Don’t ignore the black box. Unpack it. Examine it’s contents. Consider what it would really mean for you if the dreaded contents came true in your life. I had a client who had a morbid fear of having his personal identity stolen. He never thought beyond this fear to the end result. He just knew that he could never survive it. As we unpacked his black box, he realized that his identity being stolen would mean significant hassle in getting his bank accounts changed, his money refunded from his credit card company, and his credit resecured. As we walked through the steps of doing each of these things, he came to realize that, YES, it would be difficult but it would not destroy him. The mysterious fog that loomed over him lifted and he could come through sucessfully on the other side.
Live Responsibly. We’ve all heard that Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” I get his point but I disagree with some of the things he would change. If we knew that we were dying, I don’t think we would need to quite our jobs, move to the mountains, sky-dive, or party until we drop. I believe the truly responsible act would be to continue our normal daily activities but with a deeper intentionality and commitment, knowing that we may be doing them for the last time. With this attitude, even the most mundane of activities would be magnificent.
Live Resiliently. Our fear of the unlivable life can stir within us a desire to give up on life completely. Fight against that desire! Even as treasured aspects of life are lost (your health, your job, your loved-ones, your valuables), recognize that you can always draw deeper from the LIVING WATER and discover that the depths of HIS LIFE are unfathomable. How do we do this practically? I was once asked in a Florida Television interview what I would say to the elderly invalid watching the program from the prison of their bed. My answer was this. “Even if you can’t make it from your bedroom to the kitchen. You can still do something more powerful than any human act imaginable. You can commune with an Almighty God and intercede on behalf of those who desperately need God’s presence in their lives.” Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work. Prayer is the greater work.” The older I get in this life, the more I believe this is true.
So what is your black box? How are you dealing with it? Can you say that you are living realistically, responsibly and resiliently in the face of death? I hope your answer is a resounding “YES!”