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How to Respond to Tragedy

When tragedy strikes, it can leave us numb and heartbroken. How are we to respond to personal tragedy or to a tragedy that happens to others? Are there things we should avoid doing? How can we respond as people of faith when tragedy strikes? Here are some helpful ideas:

Personal tragedy

When we personally experience tragedy, it can rock our faith to the foundations. We question God and wonder if He has forgotten us. We can become angry that He did not somehow spare us of this experience, and for some, it can be the trigger that causes them to abandon their faith.

We should not think it strange that we experience tragedy. We are not promised that we will somehow be spared troubles in this life, but God has promised to walk through our hardships with us and not leave us to face them alone. Instead of becoming angry at God we need to choose to draw nearer to Him in our time of distress.

If we look to the Bible, to the story of Job we see that in one day, Job lost his crops, his herds, his servants, all his wealth and his children. Quickly after that, he became ill and was covered all over with boils. How did he respond to this terrible calamity?

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:9-10).

When we face terrible calamity, we must realize that we are not being punished by God, and He has not abandoned us or forgotten us. We should instead cry out to Him and bring our heartbreak to Him and let Him comfort us in our sorrow. God loves us deeply and grieves with us when we are heartbroken.

When others experience tragedy

When tragedy strikes a friend or family member we are often confused and unsure what we should do. Because we don’t want to say or do the wrong thing, we often won’t do anything. This causes us to inadvertently increase the pain that the victim is already feeling.

One thing that those who have gone through tragedy would like us to know is that they don’t like it when people say, “I know how you feel.” This makes sense, because each person experiences tragedy differently, so even if you have experienced the same sort of trauma or loss as they have, it does not mean that you can know what they are feeling. Grief has many stages and emotions and a person in pain cycles through them again and again.

What is helpful to those who are in the throes of anguish is to tell them, “When you are ready to talk about it, I will be happy to listen.” When they do talk about it, make sure you listen and sympathize without trying to provide solutions or tell them that they will eventually feel better, because what they need is just to talk about it and feel the emotions. You invalidate their pain when you do not listen.

When Job experienced his terrible loss his friends came to “comfort” him. Sadly, they were quick to blame Job for the disaster that had afflicted him, and they grew impatient listening to his grief. Job, greatly distressed by the words of his friends said, “I have heard many such things; Miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2).

Providing practical help is also a great way to support those who have experienced tragedy. When someone is planning a funeral or a family is spending much time visiting a critically ill child in the hospital, or someone has lost their job after years of service, they often forget to cook or eat meals, need help keeping up with lawn care, or they may fall behind paying their bills.

Bringing casseroles, mowing a lawn, or giving financially are very practical ways to show that you care about what they are going through.

When you are kind to others in this way, the Lord sees it as though you were doing it for Him. Jesus said that on judgement day, he will say to the righteous:

“I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me… inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

Although we will all face tragedy at some point in our lives, God promises to never leave us or forsake us. We can be sure we won’t walk through trials alone when we call on Him and pray for His comfort.

When others around us are in pain we can listen to them patiently, and provide for their practical needs as well. When we do this we can be certain that we have responded correctly to tragedy and God will be well pleased.

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