Tragedy and Suffering Part 1 – Introduction
Lamentations 3:21-26 “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”
We live in a world where tragedy and suffering are a present reality. Our awareness of these painful circumstances shift from vague realities that exist in our world to a fire that consumes when tragedy and suffering strike the things we love. They leave questions and hurt that cannot be ignored by the one who has experienced such difficulty. This article series is not an attempt to answer all the questions related to suffering but rather to highlight some biblical truths to hold onto in the midst of life’s storms. Jeremiah models this in the verses above from Lamentations. We have hope because of God’s faithfulness.
We will not always feel hopeful nor will we always feel that God is merciful, but may we know these things to be true in the midst of circumstances that lead us to the darkest of nights.
If you take a moment to read the verses in Lamentations 3 prior to the ones above, you will see it was not Jeremiah’s feelings or circumstances that led him to record verses 21-26. It is important to acknowledge that when questions arise from tragedy, no answer will remove all the pain one experiences when difficulties occur. Tragedy and suffering hurt. They hurt because they always involve loss.
This article will focus on viewing the pain we experience through a biblical lens. While true, the biblical insights that will be reviewed do not remove the pain that accompanies tragedy. Instead, the truths covered here can help to put suffering into a larger context. We must be careful when personally experiencing or observing other’s suffering not to turn truth into a heavy burden that bludgeons the sufferer. Those who have experienced tragedy know all too well the hurt that can come from well-meaning comments which were full of truth but lacked wisdom or discretion about appropriate timing. As Proverbs 25:20 says, “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.” It is difficult not to fall into the trap of saying something that is true but lacking wisdom. If you are in the midst of tragedy, be patient with yourself and know these truths are to be read from a tone of compassion, love, and patience. Applying these truths without the grace and patience our Lord graciously bestows upon us would be approaching tragedy and suffering outside of a biblical context. This article is not meant to be exhaustive but to touch on some of the essential truths that can help the believer who is experiencing suffering or for someone who wants to better understand suffering from a biblical viewpoint. Without a doubt, questions will remain. May we, by the grace of God, attempt to focus on the answers we are given in Scripture rather than the questions that have not yet been answered.
TIMING IS ESSENTIAL – “IS THIS ARTICLE FOR ME? SHOULD I KEEP READING?”
This article is meant to outline helpful truths for those who: 1) have experienced tragedy or 2) wrestle with all the tragedy they see in the world.
This article is not meant for someone who is in the “crisis stage” right after experiencing a tragedy. Consider waiting at least two months after the tragedy before reading further. The reason for this is that during the initial stages after a tragedy the most beneficial helps are: 1) support from others, 2) coping with the immense pain, and 3) slowly reengaging in daily tasks. Healing after experiencing tragedy is a process and takes time. Initially, our mind and body go into “self-protection mode” which limits our ability to think, feel, and engage in life. During this time, it is important to lean on the supports you have around you. This might be your family, church family, or friends. These do not need to be individuals who have experienced exactly what you have experienced; rather, they should be individuals who can be present with you in the midst of your hurt.
After the “crisis stage” comes a time of processing through emotions, questions, and moving forward. A significant part of this time is acceptance of the loss while working through the difficult emotions and questions that arise from tragedy. This will take time and steady plowing. The truths outlined here can be helpful by providing information to common questions that arise from tragedy and suffering. If you are in the midst of great suffering, please be patient with yourself. Take the thoughts below that are helpful, and counsel with those close to you about when and how to approach the following truths. Hold on to what is helpful and move through the pieces that are not helpful.
TRAGEDY AND SUFFERING ARE PAINFUL – “SHOULD THE BELIEVER HURT?”
The believer has many wonderful and encouraging promises to dwell upon. In dwelling on these promises, it is important neither to minimize the surety of them nor to extend God’s promises beyond what they are. For example, we are promised sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9), but we are not promised to feel as though God’s grace is sufficient. Though we, as believers, would like a life without difficulty we are not promised such a life. In fact Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that we will experience tribulation.
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
The believer will experience suffering; and, with suffering comes pain. God does not ask nor expect His people to be free from hurt.
In fact, God has created human beings with a unique ability to connect. This ability is one of the great pleasures in life but also brings the possibility of deep pain. Job 3:1-3 shows how intense the pain can be from experiencing tragedy.
Job 3:1-3 “After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day. And Job spake, and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said,There is a man child conceived.”
Those who are experiencing suffering must be allowed to hurt. God understands this and knows you feel pain when tragedy occurs. He does not enjoy or take pleasure in your pain, but He knows you will experience it when experiencing tragedy. We must also acknowledge that where there is hurt there are often difficult questions and intense emotions. These questions and emotions are not to be avoided or silenced. In the midst of pain, whether our own or others, we must try not to deny or avoid them. Too often, Satan tries to get the believer to buy into the lie that “if I had enough faith” then I would not experience pain or question God. Pain and the questions that arise from it are not necessarily a product of lacking faith. Instead, they are often a product of difficult situations. We will and should desire to shift out of the pain and questioning over time. To stay stuck in our pain and questioning for too long is not helpful, just as denying pain or the questions we have is not helpful. Instead, we need to acknowledge the pain and questions so we can move through them to a place where we more clearly see God and our need for His ongoing refining work in us.
1 Peter 1:3-9 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”