When you look at today’s world news, you realize that while the people of Haiti are seeing the worst that life in a sin-cursed world has to offer, they are not alone in their grief. Historically, the Haiti earthquake will end up ranking high on the list of the worst disasters in human history, but that list of disasters is long. Right now people are suffering in Haiti, but people are dying in other nations too. Violent crime, disease, and tragic natural phenomena have not ceased on the planet since Jan. 12.
Without wanting to take anything away from the compassion we ought to feel for the victims of this catastrophe, I remind you that we have not seen the end of shocking adversity in this world—not yet. We should be pouring out our hearts toward Heaven and our pocketbooks toward Haiti, but there are serious lessons for us to learn while the concrete dust is still settling on Port-au-Prince.
Any quick mental review of the Bible invokes examples of tragedy:
- Job lost nearly everything.
- Israel lost thousands of male babies in the Nile at the command of Pharaoh.
- Daniel and many other bright young Jews were deported and their nation and families pillaged.
- Israel lost many male babies near Bethlehem at the murderous command of Herod.
Now tragedy is in our time and in our backyard. We may feel pretty detached when people are suffering and it seems there is nothing we can do about it. What should we do when tragedies like this strike others?
Pray for them. Beg for God’s mercy to put an end to the general suffering, but ask Him to give His people the grace to represent Him well. Even ask Him to help the dying die in a Christlike manner.
Weep with them (Romans 12:15). Ask God to help you love Him and His purposes more and to love your neighbors more. When you care more, you will be moved to pray more.
Give. Scripture calls the people of God to do more than offer kind wishes of warmth and food (James 2:15–17). We demonstrate that we would lay down our lives for our friends when we are willing to lay down some cash for them. Action and truth are more convincing than word and tongue (1 John 3:18).
Refrain from pointing fingers. If you want to know who is to blame for this tragedy, do not go digging to see who sacrificed a pig to the Devil. Look in the mirror. You sinned when Adam sinned, which means you are as responsible as anyone else for the calamities that fall on a sin-cursed planet.
Say to yourself, “I deserve far worse.” When people told Jesus of a brutal killing by Pilate (Luke 13:1–5), Jesus responded with an example of another tragedy in which a tower fell on 18 people. Instead of deflecting blame, He reminded them twice, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The real question people should be asking is not, “How could a loving God do something like this?” We should be asking, “How could a just God spare me from something far worse than this?”
After looking around the globe, you need in times like these to consider the smaller-scale crises that are going to touch you. They will come. If you have not experienced great loss in your life, the primary reason is that you have not lived long enough. What should you do when tragedy like this strikes your life?
Ask why. The psalmists did so in the context of worship (Psalms 10; 22; 42–44; 74; 80; 88). This is not the same as assigning blame to God. That is blasphemy. Asking why, as Jesus did on the cross, can be a confession of weakness and submission to the Father’s decrees.
Mourn. This is not a waste of time. Jesus said this is a blessed activity (Matthew 5:4). Only mourners can know the sweetness of the God of all comfort.
Rehearse the attributes of God—before the next tragedy strikes.
- Rest in the knowledge that God rules.
- Delight in the knowledge that He is good.
- Give thanks in the knowledge that He is merciful.
Get back to work. God’s mission is all about Him, not about you. Elijah had to learn after a personal crisis that the “still small voice” was not telling him anything new (1 Kings 19:11–16). It told him to finish the course.
Steven Svendsen Sr. is pastor of Rice Lake Baptist Church, Rice Lake, Wis.