After the Hurricane – Responding to Tragedy

After a Tragedy

When cities, or even nations, experience tragedy, Christians must look to the Bible for strength and guidance and reach out with the love of Christ to people who are suffering.

A Time To Mourn

The Bible tells us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Eccl. 3:4) The time in the wake of a disaster is certainly a time to weep and mourn.

There are important parts in the Bible called laments where God’s faithful people grieve over what they are experiencing and ask God why He allowed such a thing to happen to them. Some of the laments are by individuals who have suffered. Others are by people who love their nation and mourn over its suffering. There is an entire book of the Bible, Lamentations, devoted to mourning for the sufferings of a nation.

Jeremiah cried, “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9:1). He wanted to weep because of the pain in his soul. Jeremiah’s words following that statement show that the weeping would help bring healing to his soul.

As we struggle with pain over our family, community, or nation, expressing our sorrow will help release the pressure and make us more useful to those around us.

This is what happened to Nehemiah. When he heard about the sorry state that Jerusalem was in, he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed for days until the king noticed that his face showed the signs of deep sorrow. But after the period of mourning was over, he got down to action and became a national hero whose brilliant leadership style is a great example and still used almost 2,500 years later.

A Time to Ask Why

Asking why a terrible thing happened is one aspect of a biblical lament. The Bible encourages us to grapple with this question by giving examples of great saints who did this, like Job, Jeremiah, and the psalmists. Job struggled a long time to make sense of what was happening around him. Usually, at the end of a time of grappling, God’s people affirm that because God is sovereign and knows what is happening, the wisest thing is to keep trusting Him. We see this often in the Psalms.

Believing in God’s sovereignty at a time of tragedy helps us to avoid hopelessness amid the struggle. We must rely on God’s promise that even out of terrible tragedy He will bring something good to those who love Him. (Rom. 8:28)

This perspective of God’s sovereignty may not come right away. Sometimes it’s necessary for us to wrestle with God over this. Prayer and meditation on His Word really help at such times. We may be busy recovering from the disaster or serving those who have been adversely affected by it. But we must find time to spend with God and His Word. This is why God’s people must always continue worshiping Him in the community, regardless of how serious the situation is. When we worship together, we can focus on those eternal realities that remind us of God’s sovereignty.

When we are exposed to these truths will help to drive away from the gloom that can engulf us and gives us the strength to trust God to look after us. Having been comforted by God and His Word, we then have the strength we need to launch into sacrificially serving others who are suffering.

Groaning With Creation

We need to remember that when Adam and Eve sinned against God, sin entered into our world and the universe lost its balance. The Bible pictures creation as being under a curse. Therefore, natural disasters will continue to happen until God brings into being a new heaven and a new earth. Paul said, “that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Rom 8:22). He then said that those who know Christ also join in this groaning. During the aftereffects of events like tsunamis and hurricanes, we can clearly see the groaning of creation and of God’s people.

Christians must learn how to groan. If we don’t, when problems do arise in the place where God has called us to serve, we may be tempted to just run away from God’s will and go to a much safer place. Groaning helps us to cope with difficult circumstances in life.

The groaning that is talked about in Romans 8 is described as the pains of childbirth. Women who experience excruciating labor pains are able to endure it because they are looking forward to the glorious moment when they give birth to a child.

Similarly, our groans remind us of the glorious end that is surely coming. This can help us not to run away and hide from the tough situations in which God puts us in. We can endure suffering because we know that permanent, eternal deliverance in heaven will surely come.

Groaning also takes away the bitterness we have over the pain we have experienced. We need to learn to groan in the presence of God and His people and not bottle it up inside. When we do that, we give expression to our pain and we release the pressure that has built up over our painful experience. Then it will be difficult for bitterness to grow.

Our groaning also allows God to comfort us, either personally or through our family and friends. When we are truly comforted we can’t be bitter, because we experience a love that drives away any anger that is at the heart of all bitterness.

So as a nation groans over a tragedy, we also groan individually. Part of our groaning would be asking God why such a thing happened, even though deep down we have the confidence that God is in control of His world.

A God Who Groans

One of the most incredible biblical teachings about God is that when we groan, He groans with us. God knows what we’re going through, and He feels our pain. The Bible says that when Israel was distressed, God was also distressed. In fact, He laments and mourns for people who do not even acknowledge Him. That’s so different from the common idea that God is distant and uninvolved.

God’s groaning should not really surprise us, for we find that when Jesus lived on earth, He also groaned over the pain of this world. He wept over Jerusalem because of their stubbornness and the punishment that was to come.

He also wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus as He joined with the others who were weeping there. We can, therefore, conclude that God is weeping with those who are weeping over the losses from tragedy.

God’s weeping gives us a strong reason not to be reluctant to weep. But more importantly, when we realize that God groans with us, it will be difficult to be angry with Him over what has happened to us. This also makes it easier for us to go to Him for comfort when we are perplexed over a situation in our lives.

Is This a Judgment?

A common question that’s often asked is whether tragedies such as devastating hurricanes are a judgment from God. Some people even assert that these are acts of God against sinful people. But serious doubt is placed on the reliability of such a claim when we realize that thousands of wonderful Christians are impacted along with everyone else in affected nations.

When Jesus came into the world, He experienced the same kind of suffering that everyone else did. That was a key aspect of His identification with humanity. In the same way, those of us who follow Jesus are also called to suffer along with people in distress. Recovering from a disaster gives all of us a chance to do just that. It’s our privilege as Christians to be among those who have suffered a devastating tragedy. We are to be united with them in their grief.

The comments Jesus made about two disasters that took place in His day are very helpful to think about. He had just been speaking about judgment and some people reminded Him of an incident in which some Galileans were killed by Pilate while they were in the act of making their sacrifice. Perhaps they were mentioning this tragedy as an example of God’s judgment. Jesus did not go along with their reasoning. Instead, He said to them, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Then Jesus went on to cite another tragedy in which a tower fell and 18 people were killed. Again He said that unless they repented they would “all likewise perish”. The repetition of the same warning in these verses adds to the urgency of His warning.

Jesus’ point was that tragedies should be warnings to us all that unless we repent we will face more serious consequences. In the same way, events like more recent hurricanes and storms should give us all an urgent warning. These things should sober us and remind us how vulnerable we all are. Are we ready for death and the judgment that follows? These events should lead us to bow in humble submission to the God who is over all, even over nature.

We need to keep in mind that most of the statements about judgment in the Bible are directed to the people of God. Only a few are to those outside of God’s covenant community. We know that people will be judged for their rebellion against God. And we need to do all that we can to show them how they can be saved from that judgment. But it would be dangerous for us to say that a particular event is a judgment of God.

Jeremiah prophesied that the Jews would be punished for their rebellion against God. And they persecuted him for that. But when they were punished, he did not gleefully say, “I told you so!” He mourned for his people instead. Actually, even before the judgment, he knew that he would be overwhelmed by sorrow if they did not repent. He said, ‘If you will not hear it, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.” (Jer. 13:17)

It’s important that we try to follow Jeremiah’s example by doing all that we can to prepare people to stand before their Maker at the coming judgment.

A Time to Work

For Christians, every disaster is a call to action. And because we are strengthened by God’s love and empowered by His Spirit, we are uniquely equipped to have a huge impact on suffering people.

When there is a calamity, Christians should immediately do something to get to work. When first-century Christians knew of needs within their community, they immediately got busy meeting those needs. When the young church in Antioch heard about a famine in Jerusalem, they immediately went about seeking some way to help. In keeping with this practice, Christians throughout history have been at the forefront of relief operations.

Paul wrote, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” He described Timothy’s service as suffering. This statement from Paul shouldn’t surprise us, because suffering for the gospel was a normal part of his everyday life. This is the call to all Christians who are living in the midst of suffering, a call to suffer by serving their nation.

Faithful Christians suffer in different ways as they seek to serve God and their nation. Sometimes the suffering is subtle. Sometimes it’s full-blown, but no matter how big the tragedy, there is suffering.

When we realize that our suffering is being done for God, it will help reduce the pain and take away the resentment.

Other ways of suffering are more overt like fatigue, lack of sleep, and facing criticism about our motives and about the way we do our service. We might have to give up what others view as normal needs in order to serve other people. Extreme situations often call for extreme solutions. Our families must be told that we all will have to pay a price if we are going to minister to our nation during a crisis.

Sure family life is important. Nurturing our families is something that can never be taken off the front burner. But the immediate crisis may cause us to change the way we do things.

According to Paul, another aspect of suffering is working hard as a farmer. Elsewhere he said, “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” (Col. 1:29)

Considering the urgency of our call to share Christ with a dying world, we always need to be working hard at serving God while we live on earth. One day we will have a grand rest when we get to heaven. But now is the time to work.

This is a time for us to suffer for people who are in desperate need, to work hard, and to give up some things we are used to having so that those who have nothing can be helped. Not to help would be a serious error. The prophet Amos pronounced woe to those who were living at ease and having fun while their nation was in a crisis. Because David stayed home at a time when kings usually went out to war, he fell into sin.

Paul told Timothy about the blessings that would come if he suffered in the service of God. “If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” But there’s also a warning:”If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”

These verses remind us that the coming judgment is an awesome reality. There is a reward for service but punishment for disobedience. That truth is part of the Christian approach to life that influences everything we do.

One day we will see that all the personal sacrifices we made were worthwhile. This is why we shouldn’t be upset when others get the credit for what we do. This is why we should be willing to do things that don’t seem to bring us any earthly reward. No work is too small for us, for God will give us the strength to be His servants. Disasters are opportunities to show Christian love.

A Time to Pray

The most powerful work a Christian can do is pray. According to Paul, effective intercessory prayer is hard work. In Old Testament times when the nation faced a crisis, godly leaders called the nation to prayer, often with fasting. Fasting took place in times of national tragedies.

However busy we are, individual and corporate prayer should be an important aspect of our relief operations. And the beauty of prayer is that this is something that every Christian can do, young and old, physically active and those confined to bed. When there are national or local crises, Christian leaders should call their people to special times of prayer and fasting.

Here are some things that we should be praying about:

  • For God’s grace to go to those who have suffered a loss of loved ones and property;
  • That those who are deeply traumatized would be ministered to, and that those who are displaced from their homes would find a solution to their housing problems;
  • That those who are in shelters would be adequately provided for, and that those  who are displaced from their homes would find a solution to their housing problems;
  • That those who are in shelters would be adequately provided for, and that those who are vulnerable to attacks, like women and children, would be protected;
  • That Christians would rise up and be sacrificially involved in effective service;
  • That the church would be revived to bring glory to God through our actions and our witness for Christ;
  • That God would guide each of us about how we can be involved in the process of healing;
  • For the process of relief and rehabilitation and for the groups involved in this process and for the government authorities who are responsible for allocating funds to the affected areas;
  • That corruption, waste, a lack of planning, and anything else that could hamper relief operations would be minimized;
  • For wisdom for our political leaders who make policies that affect the healing process;
  • That there would be adequate supplies and funding for the huge task of restoring the affected areas;
  • That through this tragedy, the world would see the love of Christ displayed through His followers to people in need;
  • That God’s glory would shine through to the nation as never before, resulting in people seeking God and finding His salvation.

A Time to Give

During times of tragedy, the people of God must give of their possessions to help those who have suffered. Paul said that we have a special responsibility toward those of “the household of faith,” toward the members of our spiritual family. So our first responsibility is to our brothers and sisters in Christ. But our giving must go beyond that to others who are needy. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, a command that appears seven times in the New Testament.

It’s important that we try and give what we can when it’s needed most.

A Time to Be Careful

Paul urged Timothy to suffer and work hard, he also urged him to be like an athlete who “competes according to the rules”. When you are running hard, it’s easy to stumble and fall. Sadly, many who work hard in the relief process break some basic rules that should never be broken. So, when doing relief work, we must be sure to follow the basic principles of Christianity and of Christian service.

For example, in the overwhelming situation we might find ourselves in after a tragedy, we may forget to take the time to be alone with God or to be with our spouse and children. But such omissions must not be allowed to go on for too long.

If we neglect our time with God, we will lose our spiritual health. If we neglect our time with our family for too long, we will end up with unhealthy families. If we keep on losing sleep and working without rest, our bodies and our emotions will be seriously affected, leaving us weak and erratic in our behavior. So, it’s important to take care of yourself as well as your family during times of tragedy.

It’s our place in society to reach out to those in need either through prayer or through helping physically or giving in other matters. Whatever way we choose to help and to serve God, no matter how big or small is all grand in God’s eyes.