When Tragedy Falls…

I was all fired up today about some stupid comments Rob Parker made on ESPN’s First Take about Robert Griffin not being “black enough” for his tastes. Really torqued me. Then, I read that a man went into a Connecticut elementary school and killed at least 26 people, at least 18 of whom were children. Kinda puts stupid comments about sports into perspective, doesn’t it?

Obviously, twitter and Facebook have lit up on the topic – that is what social media are all about. We pronounce our outrage and grief. I do not intend to say much about the Connecticut tragedy – not today anyway. Coverage can be found here. My concern today is more theoretical, having read a smattering of social media responses from Christian friends.

However, we need to be careful when we respond to things like this. As Christians, we have a responsibility to express our outrage and grief in such a way as to bring glory to God and advance the cause of Christ. I would offer the following observations.

1) Be careful about using tragedies to trumpet your message. 

This was an unspeakably evil act. There are 26 families and an entire community in shock, anger and grief. This is not the time to make your political and theological point using this tragedy to buttress your logic. Yes, this is a wicked world and people need Jesus badly.  But we ought not use this as a means of bashing our political or theological opponents or of making some point about our beliefs.

It won’t be long before the gun control crowd begins a new round of calls for limits on weapons, based on this tragedy, and conservatives who prize their second amendment liberties will decry that opportunism. If opportunism by those you oppose is wrong, it is just as wrong for causes you support.

This is about dead children and grieving families, not about making whatever point you want to make.

2) Be slow to speak.

How often have people jumped the gun and then later found that their immediate proclamations were false? Remember Richard Jewell? We should be very slow to make broad declarations as if we know the facts when we do not.

Express grief. Promise prayer. But avoid declarations until all the facts are settled.

3) Do not try to explain the unexplainable.

God is sovereign and he is good. But there are times when we simply do not and cannot understand him. Why would God allow this? Why?

There is an answer to that question – a biblical one. “I don’t know and neither do you.”

Job’s life was ravaged by Satan with the permission of God. He struggled to understand why it happened, lashing out at his friends and God in the process. How could God have been so cruel?  We know that God had a cosmic purpose, but Job did not know this and never found out. Job learned what we need to learn – to trust a God we do not understand. Habakkuk could not understand why God did what he did, but he learned to stand in awe of the sovereign God.

When we give easy, simple answers to difficult questions about evil and its effects, we generally end up doing more harm than good. That was the mistake that Job’s friends made.

We believe in a sovereign God, but we do not always understand his purposes and should not act as if we do.

4) What do you say?

What do we say in a time like this? In my opinion, as little as possible. Acknowledge the horror of the tragedy. Communicate grief and concern; express sympathy and support to the hurting, wounded and grieving. We need to avoid acting as if we have the divine playbook or using the tragedy to forward our purposes.

The best thing to do in times of grief and hurt is to express genuine sympathy, to be there and to give what support we can. Everything else can wait until the crisis passes.

5) Christians talking to Christians can seem really strange to non-Christians. 

There are things we understand and believe that the world views as crazy, even offensive. Some Christian political candidates have run up against that when they said things that we all believe but were seen as scandalous in the secular world.

In social media, we need to be aware of how our statements will appear to our friends and family who do not know Jesus. We can sometimes come across as arrogant know-it-alls who are more interested in sound bites than in serious thought.

We need to fight that. Yes, our duty is to see things through a gospel filter and exalt Christ in everything. But sometimes our pithy statements, well-intended by us, serve to create anger and disdain in the world instead of leading people toward Christ.

Tragedies like this are hard on us. We want to fix things. Sometimes, we have to realize we are living in a broken world and seek to be agents of healing in that world.

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    Alan Cross shared this on Facebook. I thought it was great.

    “No more let sins and sorrows grow,
    Nor thorns infest the ground;
    He comes to make His blessings flow
    Far as the curse is found,
    Far as the curse is found,
    Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

  2. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    “Yes, our duty is to see things through a gospel filter and exalt Christ in everything. But sometimes our pithy statements, well-intended by us, serve to create anger and disdain in the world instead of leading people toward Christ.”

    Interesting. What would Jesus, John the Baptist, the 12 Apostles, and the Apostle Paul say and do in a mass murder situation like this? Is Scripture harmonious about what and how disciples of Christ should say and do in situations like this? Further, does it glorify God that there are Christians judging and criticizing other Christians for pointing others to Christ and the Gospel in a time like this?

    • David Rogers says

      I don’t think Dave was talking about not sharing the gospel, but rather the danger of responding in a trite way that doesn’t do justice to the pain and grief that others are going through right now.

      • Dave Miller says

        My point exactly – that trite cliches do not really share the gospel – they harm the effort.

      • Truth Unites... and Divides says

        “I don’t think Dave was talking about not sharing the gospel”

        Good. Any faithful Christian sharing the Gospel with someone during a time and situation like this is to be encouraged.

        • Debbie Kaufman says

          And I would disagree with this statement Truth, sometimes now is not the time. Just being there is all that should be done. Sometimes doing and saying nothing, is sharing/doing the Gospel.

          • Truth Unites... and Divides says

            o “Any faithful Christian sharing the Gospel with someone during a time and situation like this is to be encouraged.”

            o “And I would disagree with this statement Truth, sometimes now is not the time.”

            So in your judgment, you would discourage faithful Christians from sharing the Gospel, is that right?

          • says

            2 Timothy 4:1I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

            Debbie, it sounds like you’re saying that a time like this should be considered out of season for sharing the Word of God. What did Paul tell Timothy to do out of season? Preach the Word.

            And Jesus didn’t hesitate to “use” a tragedy to illustrate a larger point.
            Luke 13:1Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4“Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

            But I 100% agree with the article’s main point – let not our words be trite in the face of this horror.

          • says

            I think you might also want to consider being a little more careful with your verbiage, Debbie.
            Respectfully, I’d submit that “doing the Gospel” is an incoherent phrase. The Gospel is *proclamation*.

          • David Rogers says

            Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

            “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

          • Truth Unites... and Divides says

            Mike Leake in his post about this Connecticut school shooting wrote this post, What Will End the Hate?

            Excerpt: “Extend the Gospel. That’s the only answer. Not moralism. Not legislature. Not medicine. People need the gospel. Everything else is but a band-aid. While band-aids might be helpful they don’t heal only Jesus does that.”

          • says

            Can we maybe accept that there are good ways to share the Gospel in these situations, including by being present, hopeful, and mostly quiet, and also by speaking of the Hope of Christ?

            And also acknowledge that it is not a good time to be an irritating evangelistic bozo who cannot shut up from reciting the FAITH outline long enough to let people cry?

            Share the Gospel in tragedy through presence, words, deeds, silence, stillness, and whatever other ways are Biblically appropriate and compassionate.

          • says

            “Truth”

            I did not say we shouldn’t share the gospel. I said we should be careful in our Facebook/Twitter statements to make cliched statements that mimic sharing the gospel.

            Again, I think that was clear in my post, had you been inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt.

          • Truth Unites... and Divides says

            Dave Miller: “I said we should be careful in our Facebook/Twitter statements to make cliched statements that mimic sharing the gospel.”

            If you would, please provide an example of a 140-character tweet that in your opinion is a careful way of sharing the Gospel.

    • says

      The hardest thing about being a blogger is responding to smart-aleck, condescending, self-righteous statements like this and “Truth Divides” above.

      I spoke theoretically about how to respond to tragedies. I did not opine on the tragedy itself. That was my point.

      But I suspect you were more interested in insulting me than it really hearing my point. So, you got under my skin. Point to you.

  3. volfan007 says

    Wouldnt Piper and other fatalists say that God wanted this tragedy to happen today in Connecticut?

    David

    • Truth Unites... and Divides says

      “Wouldnt Piper and other fatalists say that God wanted this tragedy to happen today in Connecticut?

      David”

      No.

      • volfan007 says

        Truth,

        That’s not what I’ve heard about Piper, and those who believe like him. I think we should face up to the things we believe….if you believe that God, in His sovereignty, dictates everything about history and man’s existence, then you must say that God wanted this to happen…. and, at times like this, we have to face up to what our theology really is….and what it exactly means….even in the face of terrible evil….

        God did not want this to happen today. An evil person wanted this to happen. God did allow it, but He did not want it to happen….He did not make it happen….and, I reject any theology which would make God the Author of such evil, as what we’ve seen today.

        But, if that’s your theology, then face up to it. Own it. And, look at it in the ugly face of reality.

        David

  4. volfan007 says

    “And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” This sounded like a political statement to me…. for gun control. At a time like this, the President was trying to promote his liberal agenda. Sad.

  5. volfan007 says

    Also, let’s not forget….that today, 27 people lost their lives in Connecticut…very tragic….also, 3,700 babies murdered, today, by abortion. Kind of puts things in perspective, does it not?

      • volfan007 says

        The point I was trying to make was that the USA stands in shock over the 27 killed….as do I…..but, they sure dont mourn this way for the 3,700 babies. On facebook, people are shocked and in mourning over this tragedy today….and rightfully so…..but, they sure dont mourn over the thousands of babies being killed every day….they have no shock and outrage for them…instead, there are many people in the USA, who celebrate a woman’s right to choose….while they are shocked and in mourning over today’s events.

        David

  6. Jess Alford says

    David Rogers,

    You just don’t know how much I agree with you, brother. I just don’t
    have the words to express the sorrow I have for what those precious children went through and what the families are going through.

    I weep with them, and for them, this is the Gospel in it’s purest form.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides says

      Jess Alford: “I weep with them, and for them, this is the Gospel in it’s purest form.”

      Suppose atheists and other unbelievers are weeping with them. Are these atheists and unbelievers sharing the Gospel in “its purest form” too?

          • Bruce H. says

            Divides,

            Your comments do not have any life in them. There is something different about you. Are you a believer like those on the blog?

          • David Rogers says

            The deal is this. I think all of us here (at least those who are not just here as trolls) are fully committed to the importance of sharing the gospel. We may have different perspectives on the best method, etc. of doing so. There are plenty of good times to discuss that. There are many posts, and no doubt will be many more in the days to come, in which these issues are discussed and debated openly, and hopefully in an edifying and God-honoring manner. But when people are grieving over tragedy like this, it is a time for sensitivity. When Jesus heard from Martha that Lazarus was dead, Jesus wept. He did indeed use that circumstance to dialogue with Martha in order to reveal Himself further and build her faith. But He did not jump right into it without first identifying with her pain and weeping together with her (even though He knew full well He was going to raise him from the dead shortly thereafter).

            This circumstance right now is not the time for making points with regard to our disagreements on methods of evangelism, Calvinism, gun control, etc. There is a time and a place for that. And others already have jumped into the fray, so we will need to learn how to be winsome in our response.

            If we were at the funeral, and were asked to give a word, we would not get up and make a political speech, or lay out a theological argument on a controversial point of doctrine, at least, I hope we wouldn’t. We would seek to minister comfort to those who are grieving, and point them gently and sensitively to the grace and mercy of God. In a sense, it is like we are all there at the funeral now, and we need to keep the same sense of decorum and respect as if we were. That’s all.

          • Truth Unites... and Divides says

            “We would seek to minister comfort to those who are grieving, and point them gently and sensitively to the grace and mercy of God.”

            At the last funeral I attended, the pastor both ministered comfort to the grieving and preached the Gospel.

          • Jess Alford says

            I’m not being theological here, and I really didn’t expect a return comment. When a Christian weeps for someone we not only show human compassion, we show Godly compassion
            also. God is love, This is the most important gift a Christian
            can have. I also think a lost person shows love, and I’ll leave
            the rest up to you to figure out. God can use the lost to perform his will.

          • Truth Unites... and Divides says

            “I’m not being theological here, and I really didn’t expect a return comment.”

            Thanks for your answer.

            FWIW, this is a theological statement:

            “I weep with them, and for them, this is the Gospel in it’s purest form.”

          • David Rogers says

            Truth Unites,

            RE: “At the last funeral I attended, the pastor both ministered comfort to the grieving and preached the Gospel.”

            I don’t think any of us are arguing against that. We are just calling for sensitivity in the way we express ourselves.

            In the meantime, we are supposedly all on the same team here, aren’t we? Let’s join together to minister God’s love instead of looking with a magnifying glass to find fault with one another. If we are seeking to win others to the gospel, that might be a good place to start.

          • Truth Unites... and Divides says

            David Rogers, yes, we’re on Jesus’ team together.

            “Let’s join together to minister God’s love instead of looking with a magnifying glass to find fault with one another.”

            That’s what Dave Miller’s post was doing.

  7. says

    I do not think this is the time to make points about gun control or abortion or the President or politics or fatalism or any of that.

    Can we not have the basic decency to just do as David Rogers suggests – weep with those who weep?

    Why do we have to use tragedies like this to advance our causes and make our points.

    • John Fariss says

      Perhaps it is the time to practice the Ministry of Presence. A few will have the opportubnity to do it in Connecticut. Others will have the opportunity to do it in their own communities, or even over the internet. Just be there for those who are grieving, those who are hurting, and those who are crying: the ministry of presence.

      John

  8. Bruce H. says

    My daughter is the only one I have discussed this with. She is in Middle School and asked me if I heard about what happened in Connecticut today. I told her yes. We talked about how the parents were going to be devastated this Christmas and every Christmas thereafter. She was quite. I told her that I pray for her everyday and I loved her. She told me that someone called her school and said that there would be a killing there on December 21st. I told her that it is God’s hands and if she felt scared that she could stay home. The school notified all the parents and assured us that the children would be safe. I kind of feel a little like I did on 9/11. I just wish the media wouldn’t give these murders so much air time. It seems that this attention fuels the next wacko to top the last.

    Great advice, Dave. Thanks

  9. Bruce H. says

    The one’s who have the right to do anything in a tragedy of this nature are the one’s who have experienced similar and have been comforted by God. They would know exactly when and how to present the gospel.

    “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4

    • Truth Unites... and Divides says

      “The one’s who have the right to do anything in a tragedy of this nature are the one’s who have experienced similar and have been comforted by God. They would know exactly when and how to present the gospel.”

      So only faithful Christians who’ve had loved ones killed in mass murder “have the right” to do anything in a tragedy of this nature?

      • Bruce H. says

        Maybe “qualified” would be more appropriate. Yes, a faithful Christian would be more effective if there was one available and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be under the heading of “mass murder”, just murder or any needless killing. Read the verse again with qualified in place of “have the right”.

        Do you have any positive input of your own on this comment stream?

        • Truth Unites... and Divides says

          Me: “Any faithful Christian sharing the Gospel with someone during a time and situation like this is to be encouraged.”

          Mike Leake: “Extend the Gospel. That’s the only answer. Not moralism. Not legislature. Not medicine. People need the gospel. Everything else is but a band-aid. While band-aids might be helpful they don’t heal only Jesus does that.”

          “Everything else can wait until the crisis passes.”

          Rhology: “Except the Gospel. The Gospel is paramount.”

          • Truth Unites... and Divides says

            I fully agree with Rhology’s comment earlier:

            rhology December 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm

            2 Timothy 4:1 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

            Debbie, it sounds like you’re saying that a time like this should be considered out of season for sharing the Word of God. What did Paul tell Timothy to do out of season? Preach the Word.

            And Jesus didn’t hesitate to “use” a tragedy to illustrate a larger point.

            Luke 13:1 “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4“Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

            But I 100% agree with the article’s main point – let not our words be trite in the face of this horror.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    Russell Moore: “Let’s not offer some pat, easy answers to the grieving parents and communities in Connecticut. We don’t fully understand the mystery of iniquity. We don’t know why God didn’t stop this from happening. But we do know what this act is: it’s satanic, and we should say so.

    Sufferer: “Why did this happen?”

    Christian: “This is Satanic in origin.”

    Sufferer: “You believe the Devil did this?”

    Christian: “…. (expressive sympathy)…. Gospel…. (expressive sympathy)….”.

  11. Dave Miller says

    Truth Divides,

    It seems to me that you are being unnecessarily contentious.
    We all (I think) agree about proclaiming the gospel. You are fighting against a straw man of your own creation, and I think that has run its course.

  12. John Wylie says

    My family and I just prayed for the victims and their families and also the family of the shooter. These people will need grace for a long time to come especially Christmas day.

  13. Dave Miller says

    I just found out that my cousin lives in Sandy Hook. I’m assuming their family is well or I’m sure I’d have heard something. But it puts a face on things for me.

    • Dave Miller says

      Yeah, I’m no fan of the current occupant of the Oval Office, but he was classy today. Give him his due.

  14. says

    And the angel said to them,
    “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’”
    Luke 2:11, 13, 14

    Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long,
    Beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
    And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring,
    O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.
    It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, verse 2

  15. says

    I recall standing in the Nazi Documentation Center at Obersalzberg, Germany, where the atrocities of Nazi Germany were clearly documented, and most graphically (and extensively). I recall thinking as I read the extensive attribution, that this was the logical outcome of prejudice, carried to its logical and unchecked extreme. That gave me an intense distaste for prejudice of any form, especially in myself. It made me cringe, standing there, thousands of miles from home.

    What happened today, it seems to me, is the logical conclusion to sin running unchecked, to its logical (or hopefully, to us, illogical) conclusion. My hope is that it would drive me toward a similar distaste, a cringing, at the thought of even the beginning of sin within me.

  16. volfan007 says

    Matthew 2:18, ““A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.”

  17. cb scott says

    I have now read this post and every comment.

    Of the people on this thread, I know that John Fariss, as have I, has witnessed some very hard things. I am sure there are others whose backgrounds I have no knowledge have also witnessed hard things.

    However, I would like to state, that Dave Miller and David Rogers, although they have, due to their backgrounds, not seen some of the very hard things that others of us have.

    Nonetheless, it is my opinion that both men have stated truth here — Dave Miller in the original post and David Rogers in his comments.

    This is a hard thing. This is a thing that makes a man’s gut wrench and his very soul weep, especially if he is a man who knows Christ as Savior and Lord.

    This is also the kind of hard thing wherein Dave Miller’s words are of absolute truth. “Why did this happen?” “I don’t know and neither do you.”

    What we do know is this: We need to pray for the families, and all involved. We need to weep before God for the sickness of men’s hearts and souls that bring them to do such horrible things. We need to share the gospel in all humility. For we are all sinful men who without the gospel could be guilty of unspeakable things.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides says

      “What we do know is this: We need to pray for the families, and all involved. We need to weep before God for the sickness of men’s hearts and souls that bring them to do such horrible things. We need to share the gospel in all humility. For we are all sinful men who without the gospel could be guilty of unspeakable things.

      Amen. And amen.

  18. volfan007 says

    A culture adrift.
    Unanchored from truth,
    God is excluded,
    Self is exalted,
    And yet we wonder

    When the evil within
    Rears it ugly head
    Why did it happen?

    -Don Dunavant

    Don pastors a Church in Clarksdale, MS, and has been a seminary prof. in the past….

  19. says

    While I lift my eyes to Heaven,
    My heart is sunk down low.
    While people grieve from senseless death,
    It is the gospel they need to know.

    While words to say escape me,
    Maybe it is silence that they need.
    While I then think of the Savior,
    It is His words they should heed.

    While those with heavy hearts are burdened,
    Jesus can set them free.
    He calls on all to trust in Him,
    That He rose on the third day defeating His death on a tree.