As Independence Day approaches this year, we have many reasons to be thankful, but there’s also cause for concern as we observe the tragedies that have happened in our country in the last few years. When we hear about school shootings, terror attacks, and bombings that take innocent lives, we may wonder where God is in all this. Why does He allow these tragedies? Couldn’t He do something to prevent them?
The most basic answer to these questions is that we live in a fallen world. Disasters, crime, evil, violence, hatred, and death are the result of sin, which entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Everything and everyone has been affected by it, and none of us are exempt.
Yet knowing this, we may still question why God allows these tragedies to occur. If He’s good and loving, wouldn’t He protect His creation from harm? The truth is there are some things in life we will simply not be able to understand. In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways’ ... ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
So how are we to respond to tragedies when we don’t understand what God is doing? For believers, our first response should be to trust God (Prov. 3:5). It’s easy to trust Him when we can feel His loving hand reaching out to strengthen and guide us. But when God’s wisdom and purposes transcend our limited minds, and we aren’t capable of comprehending His ways, we must rely on what He has told us about Himself in His Word and trust Him like small children trusting their parents.
We need to get into God’s Word to see what He says about Himself. And the best time to do this is before tragedy strikes so we’ll have a firm foundation to support us in times of need. Once we have a scripturally accurate view of God, we will understand how to respond and go through calamity because we’ll know the God who loves us and holds us in His sovereign hand.
Second, we should respond with courage. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings naturally cause fear. For those who don’t know Christ, this can be overwhelming, but Christians have a confidence that transcends circumstances. Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?”
Third, we should respond with compassion. When we hear about the atrocities done to people, our hearts should go out to them in sympathy. This is an essential character trait of anyone who is a follower of Jesus. Look at His response in Matthew 9:36: “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
Sometimes our reaction to a national tragedy is to shrug our shoulders and say, “I’m glad I wasn’t there.” But Christians are told to put on a heart of compassion and kindness (Col. 3:12). This applies to both those whom we know and those we’ve never met. Although we may not be able to put a comforting arm around strangers on the other side of the country, we can express empathy for them by bringing them before the throne of God in prayer, not only for physical and emotional healing but for salvation as well.
Fourth, we need an eternal perspective. The unexpected loss of life has a way of opening our eyes to the fact that life is transitory. James reminds us not to presumptuously expect our lives to turn out as we’ve planned, saying, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). If there’s one thing we can learn from calamities, it’s that we will die, and we don’t know when. That’s why we must always be ready to meet the Lord and to share the gospel with the lost so they will have the opportunity to be saved.
It may be tempting to withdraw in fear as we see the world becoming a more dangerous place, but this is the time when Christians need to be salt and light to a dark world. Although we don’t have all the answers to why tragedies happen, we are the only ones who have the message that can change someone’s eternal destiny. And offering them the good news of the gospel is the most compassionate and loving thing we can do in times of calamity.
As we walk in these uncertain times, let’s make it our ambition to live godly lives that are honoring and pleasing to God. Although we have no assurance that tragedy will not one day come our way, we can have confidence in the goodness of God. He has promised to work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. Even though our nation has experienced increasing evil and the resulting calamities, we can still rejoice in the freedoms we currently have to worship God and share the gospel. Let’s thank the Lord for these blessings as we celebrate the Fourth of July this year.