The tragic events of the past week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas have been nothing short of heartbreaking. From my perspective, the response to these events from a lot of Christians has been pretty disappointing as well. Too often, we are quick to speak and slow to listen instead of the other way around (see James 1.19), and when we react in that way, we can often add fuel to the fires of heartache, division, and confusion that are already waging.
The reality is that we live in a broken world marred by lots of problems. As Christians living in this context, how should we respond when tragedy occurs? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are three responses which I believe are helpful in the face of tragedy:
(1) In response to a broken world, Christians should lament. Perhaps our most basic response to suffering is that we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12.15). That seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but recently, instead of this, I have seen Christians telling those who weep that what they weep about doesn’t really exist and isn’t worth weeping about at all! When the world gives us evidence of its brokenness, we should acknowledge that brokenness, allow ourselves feel distress, and bring that distress before God. It has become popular, in some circles, to criticize prayer as a response to horrible tragedy, but as Christians, we should take no note of such dismissals. Christians believe that God is ultimately sovereign over the universe, and thus, He is the one who can do something about the brokenness in our world. It is absolutely appropriate that we bring out laments before our Father, as we yearn for a day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5.24).
(2) In response to a broken world, Christians should aid the suffering. I think part of the reason that a lot of people are critical of prayer is that they feel that this is all that Christians do. And perhaps that can be a fair criticism at times, because God certainly expects us to accompany our prayers with righteous actions. Philip Yancey says that the church forms the front line of God’s response to the suffering world, and I think he is right: Christians have a responsible to get into the mess of the world and try to do something to clean it up. That is probably accomplished less by posting political agendas on social media when tragedy happens, and more by being present with those who suffer, developing real relationships with people who are different than we are, and seeking to extend justice to those who don’t have it.
(3) In response to a broken world, Christians should proclaim Jesus. Too often, this part is neglected. In John 16.33, Jesus was speaking to His disciples on the night of His arrest and He said simply, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Though not spoken directly to us, those words certainly apply to us as well; as recent events remind us, we live in the same world, a world which was created good but has been tainted by sin and is now characterized by heartache. As Christians, we weep with those who weep, we do what we can to help those who are suffering, but we also remember the second half of John 16.33: “In this world you will have tribulation…but take courage, I have overcome the world!” As Christians we also proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that sin, suffering, strife, injustice, and death do not get the last word. As Christians, we long for the day when Jesus returns, when death dies, and when every tear is wiped away from our eyes.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I am certain that more could be said. At the same time, I am just as certain that if Christians everywhere would respond to suffering and tragedy in our world in these ways, the Christian witness would be strengthened, the suffering of people would be limited, and the borders of God’s Kingdom would be expanded.