Archives For tragedy

During the last few weeks Tim has asked us to consider traditions, specifically Christmas and holiday traditions. He described these traditions as anchors—present practices that remind us of a shared story. Traditions communicate belonging. They remind us of our place in history. They show us where we have been and situate us within history’s unfolding story.

Traditions can be fun or somber. They can be new or ancient. Traditions can also vary in their scope. Traditions can be personal, familial, geographical, cultural, or religious. But whatever their designation, most traditions situate us within a tribe; a group of insiders that share a common story.

But what happens when tragedy hijacks our stories? We were reminded this weekend that we live in a world where evil and suffering exist.

Friday morning was just another day for the students, parents, and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Life was normal. They lived in a safe place where evil was real but distant. Horrific acts happened, but they did not happen in Newtown. But at 9:30 a.m. the world changed forever. Evil marched into Sandy Hook Elementary School. Shots rang out. And in a few short moments just over 2 dozen families were forever altered. By 10 a.m. on Friday morning these families became part of an unwilling tribe of mourners.

What happens when tragedy and evil hijack our stories, pull up our anchors, and pollute our traditions? When these kinds of events take place, they shock and sadden outsiders and threaten to completely tear apart insiders. They leave all of us groping for answers to nagging questions: Why my child? Who would do something like this? Could anything have been done to prevent it? How could a good God allow this to happen?

For those who find themselves in this newly formed tribe of sufferers, family traditions will never be the same. The unopened presents under the tree only serve as a heart-wrenching reminder that their stories have been forever altered.

At times like this, our hearts break as we watch the pain and struggle of others. We sympathize as best as we can but very few of us will ever know pain and sorrow like this. And let’s be honest, none of us really want to know how they feel. We all want to remain sympathizers and outsiders because none of us ever want to experience their pain.

In times of intense suffering, sympathizers often wonder what they can do to help. We want to offer hope; we want to soothe the pain. But what can we do?

Here are just a few things we can do for those who belong to this or another tribe of sufferers:

  • Acknowledge that there are things we just don’t know.
  • Listen to and tell their stories.
  • Live the hope of resurrection.

Here is the hard truth: We don’t know why God allowed the tragedy in Newtown to happen. Yes, we live in a fallen world. Yes, evil is real. And yes, sometimes human beings visit terrible evil upon one another.

But we don’t know why God allowed the Sandy Hook shooting to take place. And while the truths about sin, death, and the fall might bring us some measure of understanding in the abstract, they often fall flat when gripped by tragic loss and inconsolable grief.

When we acknowledge that there are things we just don’t know, we accept our place as finite creatures. But we must not stop there. Redemptive love demands that we look events like these full in the face, for within them we see our Savior’s heart and our desperate need for Him. In this one event, we see both the depths of human depravity and the heights of redemptive love.

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung began the day as an anonymous principle of a small elementary school in Connecticut. By 9:30 a.m. she had showed us what Jesus looks like. She stood in harm’s way, dying a martyr’s death, for her students. She lived the incarnation, and her sacrifice provides us with an anchor within the midst of terror and grief.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 NIV). This is why the actions of Dawn Hochsprung and her colleague Vicki Soto resonate so deeply with us. There is something noble, right, and just when a person sacrifices themselves for another. The events of last Friday remind us that we live in a fallen world where evil and injustice not only exist but at times seem to triumph. The actions of these heroes move us so deeply because they reflect the story of God’s love manifested in Christ toward all humanity.

In recent days, many have offered ideas about why God was not at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Some have guessed that he abandoned all those precious little ones because we have pushed him out of our society. I could not disagree more. I think God was there. He was there standing in harm’s way—just as He was 2,000 years ago. When Vicki Soto was shot trying to protect her students, He was shot too. Anytime redemptive love shows up, the spirit of God is present.

Today we mourn, but as followers of Christ we mourn with hope. We mourn because of senseless violence and reckless evil but have hope because Jesus has conquered death and presently rules and reigns. We have hope because we know that, even though evil seems to have won on Friday, evil will not ultimately win. We mourn the loss of so many lives and so much potential. Our hearts go out to the families and friends in their grief. But we are reminded even in the midst of Friday’s great tragedy that light is greater than darkness, that good will conquer evil, and that resurrection hope is more powerful than the steely hands of death.

This past Friday, many stories were hijacked by evil, but even in the midst of this horrific scene God continues to write the story of courage, grace, and love—a story He started some 2,000 years ago.

Dennis Moles
Bible Teacher/Content Developer

Beautiful & Broken

Tim Jackson —  April 30, 2011 — 1 Comment

The vast contrast in the news from either side of the Atlantic couldn’t be more stark:

The triumph of a celebration over the much anticipated royal wedding in England . . .

Photo by Gerard Stolk













. . . and the path of destruction left in the aftermath of 173 deadly and unexpected tornadoes that has left much of the Southeastern United States scared under mountains of debris scattered across 16 states.

American Red Cross photo

One nation mourns over the loss of over 320 lives in the single most deadly day of tornadoes in US history. Another nation celebrates the union of a new royal couple that stands in line to be the next King and Queen of England.

How gloriously beautiful is one . . . and how grotesquely broken is the other. And while we may struggle to understand why some get to celebrate while others are grieving, we know this:

While none of us are fully in control of the circumstances or situations we encounter in any given day of our lives, we are all responsible for how we respond to those circumstances and situations. We need to offer up prayers for protection, provision, and comfort for those who are suffering tragic loss. And we need to offer up prayers for protection, provision, and gratefulness for those who are rejoicing.

The New Testament writer, Paul, stated it simply in Romans 12:15:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

But mourning feels a whole lot more helpless than celebrating. But even in mourning there is hope.

For more help for those who are mourning over tragic losses either suffered in the recent tornadoes or from any number of other deadly circumstances, please check out our free booklet, When Tragedy Strikes.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.


Soul Surfer

Jeff Olson —  April 14, 2011 — 1 Comment

Last weekend my family took in the excellent film Soul Surfer.  The film tells the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton who beat incredible odds to become a competitive surfer again.

Life was anything but easy for Bethany after she lost her left arm and nearly died after being viciously attacked by a large  tiger shark.  She not only had to rise above her fears of going back into the water and to learn how to surf again with only one arm, but she also had to struggle with how to come to terms with why God allowed such a terrible thing to happen. Although she wrestled to understand God, her faith, like her determination to surf again, remained unshakable.

With the help of family and friends, she came to trust God with her unanswered questions. Eventually, she began to see how God takes something as traumatic and awful as a shark attack and turns it into something beautiful and powerful for good.

Anyone struggling with severe loss or thinking about quitting on life and God might want to consider seeing this film. It is so much more than your typical shark attack movie (I’m thinking Jaws). It’s an amazing story that will move your heart and remind you that while God isn’t always safe, He is good!

You may also want to check out the Day of Discovery program When God Takes What Matters Most, Part II: They Mayer Family.

When Tragedy Strikes . . .

Tim Jackson —  January 11, 2011 — 1 Comment

“When tragedy strikes, safety evaporates. Security is undermined. Uncertainty abounds. Fear invades. Human frailty is exposed . . . It can strike unannounced from just about any direction . . .  Tragedy strikes the deepest when it hits where we least expect it, ripping apart our sense of security and shaking us with feelings of loss and vulnerability.” (When Tragedy Strikes, p. 2)

I first wrote those words in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001. I slightly revised them  in the devastating wake of the December 26, 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Last year witnessed natural disasters throughout the world that claimed 295,000 lives, of which 222,570 were lost in Haiti’s earthquake on January 12, 2010. I revisited them again after the fateful shooting in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona just last Saturday.

How tragically ironic.  Safeway. We won’t think of that the same way any more, will we?

Tragedy. It’s an ugly word. It refers to a violent event in which one or more losses, usually of human life, occurs.

Tragedies can be natural disasters, catastrophic accidents, or violent attacks. This one had its source in one man’s evil intention to reek havoc, destruction, and murder through violence. He did. And innocent people died. Some are left fighting for their lives while others are beginning the long road of recovery from less life-threatening wounds. All are scarred for life. That is the mayhem caused by this tragedy.

This wasn’t merely a tragic event. It wasn’t a natural disaster or an accident. Make no mistake. This was evil.

Evil is an ugly word. It lurks in the shadows. It lies motionless and waits for its moment to pounce.

My mind is immediately drawn to the words of Jesus as He described evil intentions in the 1st century:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

It’s the thief part that sticks out in my mind today. The intention of Satan, the Evil One that Jesus is referencing here, is to foster murder and mayhem in the world: to steal, kill, and destroy. And he’s very good at it.

But there’s hope. Even after a brutal attack that is so devastating?

Yes. Evil doesn’t have the last word.

Jesus didn’t stop with evil flourishing. He ended with hope: “I have come so that they may have life.” He continued with an offer, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He didn’t offer to stop evil in it’s tracks. Not yet. Instead, His offer was to help us when we hurt, when we’re distraught, when we’re devastated, and even when we’re on the receiving end of the worst tragedies that the violence of evil can hurl at us.

There are no easy answers when life is stolen from us in tragedy. No trite spiritual band-aids that can bind up the wounds inflicted in every tragic situation perpetrated by violent intentions.

But there is One who hears our prayers of anguish (Psalm 62:8; 1 Peter 5:7), who weeps with us over our losses (John 11:35), and whose desire is to some day dry all of our tears (Revelation 21:4). He longs to comfort us in our pain. Bringing our broken and wounded hearts to Jesus can be the start of a deeply healing process.

But . . . it takes time. And it still hurts.

Our heartfelt prayers are with those who have lost so much and who are deeply grieving in the aftermath of this tragedy.

If you or someone you love is struggling through the grief of a tragic loss, here are some resources that we want to offer to you so you don’t have to travel that  journey alone.

I saw God today

Tim Jackson —  January 29, 2010 — 3 Comments

Okay. I confess that I’m a fan of country music. I like a lot of different genres of music, but one of the things I like about country music are the stories told in the lyrics. There’s something powerful about a story.

So, why am I telling you this?

Well, George Strait sings one song, “I Saw God Today” that captures the idea that I wanted to write about. The lyrics of the chorus are:

I’ve been to church
I’ve read the book
I know He’s here, but I don’t look
near as often as I should
Yeah, I know I should
His fingerprints are everywhere
I’d just slow down to stop and stare
opened my eyes and man I swear
I saw God today

This song came to mind as I’ve seen and heard the media covering the horrors from the earthquake in Haiti. The images broadcast around the world are tragic and disturbing scenes that we’ve come to expect from catastrophic movies. But this time it’s real. The level of human suffering and devastation is beyond comprehension for any who are not there and overwhelming for those who are.

But darkness and devastation are not the only things we’ve witnessed.

These stories of human tragedy are co-mingled with the stories of the Herculean efforts of so many medical and emergency responders from all over the globe. They’ve dropped everything and flew in from all points of the globe to rescue a tiny island in desperate need. They are tirelessly pouring themselves into the task of saving lives shattered by this earthquake.

What is so amazing is that even the darkest hours of human trauma cannot eclipse the radiance of the outpouring of compassion of these everyday heroes for these precious souls whose lives have been so savagely disrupted by pain and grief. Loss is everywhere. Yet, it’s against this grotesque backdrop of human suffering that the brilliance of the tenderness of God’s image in human compassion is center stage for all the world to see.

It’s the image of God in both the sufferer and the rescuer that binds us together (Gen. 1:26-27). Otherwise, compassion would make no sense. Why are our hearts moved with compassion? It’s the image of God still deeply embedded within the veil of every human heart. That’s why we long to soothe the sufferings of others. Whether one believes in God or not, doesn’t matter. The reality of God  is evident in this outpouring of tenderness and compassion for others that feels natural and good. And that kind of goodness can only be explained in terms of God.

It’s the reflection of God in us that necessitates that we can’t stand by and just watch the suffering. And for those who are followers of Christ Jesus, it’s the “love of Christ” that compels us (2 Cor. 5:14) and calls us to participate in rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying “because  in this world we are like Him” (1 John 4:17).

So what are you doing to reflect God in a world that desperately needs to “see Him?” Maybe you can’t go, but maybe you can help. How? Pray. And then give to an organization with feet at ground zero in Haiti that can make a difference so that people who need a reason to hope will “see God today.”

One of those groups it Baptist Haiti Mission. They have a hospital on their mission compound just outside of Port au Prince that’s been running 24/7 since the earthquake. Check them out at and maybe others will “see God in you today.”