Tragedy - It is defined in Webster's Dictionary as a "dreadful event".
We live the majority of our lives trying our best not think about tragedy and so when it strikes someone else we shake our heads, pass along our condolences and do our best to move on with life. We simply hope that these "dreadful events" won't come our way. But then the unthinkable happens - tragedy strikes me - what then?
The fact is that tragedy and its close companion pain are part of the human experience that is common to us all – no matter where on earth one lives, how much or little one has, how strong or weak one is, pain and the grief of loss touches each one in some way at some time. We have only to visit the post-office and see the cards of bereavement taped to the door to be reminded that death is not a stranger in our town. And it is not reserved only for the old, but can also visit those whose lives have only just begun.
By now it is public knowledge and anyone who cares to know has heard about the tragic - dreadful event - that occurred this past August when a young mother and her two young children were killed instantly in a head on collision with a semi-truck near Manitou.
I was on the way home from holidays together with my wife and our 16 month old son, when I received the news. I was sitting in the parking lot of Wholesale Sports in Regina, my son was in his car seat babbling happily and my wife had just gone into Old Navy to do some shopping. Into this peaceful setting these words just didn't fit: "All three were all killed in a car accident this morning."
The shock and disbelief at hearing those words left me initially incapable of grief. I looked in the rear view mirror at my son and he instantly smiled happily back at me and laughed, the sun was shining on a beautiful summer day ... it was surreal. Everything seemed just as it should be, but something was wrong, terribly wrong. Instantly the name of the husband and father left behind hit me with a flood of realization - he would never again be able to look in the rear view mirror and see his 15 month old daughter smile happily back at him. Instantly the tears began to flow as the reality sunk in.
Tragedy had struck - was I prepared?
My initial reply is "No, I was not prepared." Because after all, who could be for something like that?
My next thought was a prayer: “Oh God, why? Why have you allowed this to happen?”
I am certainly not the first, nor will I be the last to ask this question. Even Jesus was faced with a different form of this question by His good friend Martha. She, together with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus were close friends of Jesus and He would often stay for extended visits at their home. However, when news came that Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus did not rush to his aid but instead stayed where He was. So when Jesus finally arrived four days after Martha’s brother Lazarus had died she greeted him with the words: “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” This statement was not unfounded; she had undoubtedly been present to witness times where Jesus had healed others, so why not her brother? Why had he delayed in coming and so allowed this to happen?
Jesus reply to her was simple: “Your brother will rise again.”
Within this statement resides the heart and intent of God towards all people – He desires for us to live – really and fully live. He demonstrated that a short time later with the famous miracle of calling Lazarus from the tomb and physically restoring him to life. But living happy, healthy, and long lives on this earth is only part of the equation, because though Lazarus lived more years he still died again. As the Bible reveals to us, God’s plan for the human race was never for a temporary life, but one without end. God’s plan was not to simply set us in motion like a top and then watch us spin down and topple over. His intent has, and always will be, for us to choose to live in a close never-ending relationship with Him. And the never-ending, eternal aspect of this relationship is only possible if the final words Jesus spoke to Martha are true: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
As with all matters of faith, the choice is left to each one of us: “Do you believe this?”
Sitting in my car in “Wholesale Sports” my head still spinning from the news of tragedy, I was confronted with the reality of this question: “Do I believe this?” As I pondered this, somewhere from deep within me came the words of the Psalmist, “Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints” and with those words came the unshakable conviction that they had been received into the never-ending embrace of their maker – “Yes, I believe.”
So how does this belief help us in times of tragedy? Quite simply – It gives us hope. No, it doesn’t give us all the answers and Jesus didn’t give Martha any explanation of why he had stayed away either, but he gave her something greater – hope for beyond the grave. He didn’t owe her an answer nor does he owe us an answer to explain exactly why certain tragedies are allowed to happen, he simply asked for faith. So what was Martha's reply in the face of tragedy? “Yes Lord,” she told him, “I believe.”
And out of her faith Jesus performed not only the outer work of physical healing, but the inner work of spiritual healing that only He can provide. But He would not force it upon Martha nor will He force it upon you – He simply asks the personal question: “Do you believe this?”
Belief produces faith and faith produces hope and hope produces perseverance to go on living.
So when tragedy strikes, are you prepared? What will your response be?
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