Where is God in the midst of tragedy?

When horrible tragedy strikes, one of the first questions breathed through our lips is Why?

Why would a good God allow this to happen? Why did this person live and another die? Why would someone do something so evil? Why, God, why?

We ask the same question when a young neighbor is diagnosed with cancer or when a child dies in an accident.

I certainly sobbed this question when my own husband lay frightened in a hospital bed, his heart monitor beeping and alarming at each run of irregular beats. Why, God? What are You doing here? This doesn’t make any sense to me. 

And I’ll be honest with you – it doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t understand why a seemingly attractive, gifted, intelligent young man would load up on weapons and ammunition and walk into a crowded theater and start shooting. I don’t understand why good men who shielded friends with their own bodies would be among the relatively few who died. I don’t understand why some families are celebrating miracles while others are burying children.

When much-loved mothers fight breast cancer with all they’ve got and still lose, my heart cries out. When parents have to identify the body of their child in the morgue, my heart breaks. When children lie in bed wondering if Daddy will live or die, my soul wrestles with Why.

There is so much suffering in this world. Indeed, our world is broken.

But in times of tragedy, when my emotions are rising and falling like the waves in the ocean, I have found it helpful to focus my mind on the things I believe to be true. These beliefs anchor me. Though I still bob and ride the waves of emotion up and down in grief and sorrow, I am not tossed too far about and I do not drift away.

• God is sovereign. Deut. 4:35, 39  I may not understand, but I am not God. He is. And though it may look like everything is in chaos, He is still God. And though I don’t know how everything looks in light of eternity, He does.

• God is good. Psalm 25:8 People may do bad things; natural disasters may occur; sickness may come; but God is good. By giving people free will, God allowed the opportunity for sin and destruction and sickness to come into the world, but God Himself is good. Always. And the badness breaks His heart — so much so that He sent His own Son to be the remedy for the badness.

• God promises to work all things for my good. Romans 8:28 Believe me, this one is hard to see when you’re in the thick of the mess and the hurt and the overwhelming pain. But looking back on the awful things that have happened in my life, I do see some of the good that came from them. And I trust that for each tiny glimmer of goodness I see there is much goodness I don’t even know about yet.

• God is compassionate. Psalm 116:5 He is full of compassion. On earth, Jesus suffered in many ways emotionally and physically. He understands pain and heartbreak, and He responds to our pain with compassion. I always find comfort in the story of Jesus’ weeping when His friend Lazarus died and He saw Lazarus’ sisters mourning. When I am sobbing and grieving, I imagine Jesus sitting beside me weeping with me. He is compassionate.

• God is near. Psalm 145:18 God is near to everyone who calls on Him. Psalm 34:18. God is near the brokenhearted. I may feel very far away from Him at times, but the Bible promises me He is near.

• God is full of lovingkindness. Psalm 26:3 Though people may behave in evil ways, God offers His lovingkindness to us, sometimes in tangible ways. I have seen God’s people, His Body, respond in lovingkindness in the midst of tragedy or loss. I saw it in the days after 9/11; I saw it here in Southwest Virginia in the weeks following the killings at VA Tech; I see it now in the stories I hear from Aurora, CO. When my husband was sick, God’s Body baked cookies for my children, cooked meals for me, babysat my kids, sat with me in the hospital and prayed and cried with me. I believe this was God’s lovingkindness worked out through His people.

• God loves me. John 17:23 In fact, He loves me as much as He loves Jesus because I am in Jesus now. Sometimes I allow my children to experience the consequences of their actions. This doesn’t negate my love for them. In the same way, sometimes God allows us to experience the consequences of living in a broken world. This doesn’t negate His love for us.

• God is always with me. Matthew 28:20 While I am weeping and screaming and questioning, while my heart is breaking, while I am surely not feeling any of the truths I’ve named, He is with me.

And that’s been the key for me in the face of suffering – to choose to believe what I know is true even when my emotions aren’t there yet. In my own times of grief or when I’ve faced huge struggles, I have actually written these truths over and over in a journal and repeated them many times a day in prayer back to God.

Lord, I am angry and scared, and I have no idea what You’re doing. I don’t feel any of the warm, fuzzy emotions of any of what I’m about to say. But I believe You are in charge and good. I believe You are compassionate and kind. I believe You’re working everything out for my good and Your glory. I believe You are near to me now. I believe You love me, even though I certainly don’t deserve it. And I believe You won’t leave me because You promised You wouldn’t. I don’t know much else now. But I do believe these things. Please help my unbelief.

 So many of us are asking Why? And I honestly don’t know.

But many are also asking Where was God? And to that I say – God is near. His heart has also been broken by evil, just as it was when evil first entered the world in the garden. But He is working good somehow. He is responding with compassion and lovingkindness. Look for the evidence of His compassion and lovingkindness, and you will find Him. He’s nearer than you might expect.


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