Posts tagged ‘Tragedy’

Tragedy in California

They are the worst wildfires in the history of the state of California.

Nearly 250,000 acres have burned.  79 people have been killed.  Sadly, that number will likely climb as first responders continue their search through the rubble these fires have left behind.  The town of Paradise, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been especially hard hit, with nearly the whole town being destroyed.

California has had a rough go of it lately.  Just two weeks ago, the state endured another tragedy as a gunman opened fire at a country bar filled with college students in Thousand Oaks, killing twelve.  The shooter was a Marine Corps veteran who appears to have had all sorts of mental health issues and was, at one time, on the cusp of being committed.

The sheer number of tragedies that roll in through each news cycle can begin to feel overwhelming.  For each town that is charred and person that is shot, we ask, “How can we stop this from happening?”  Answers to this perennial and pressing question seem to elude us.  When tragedies do strike, we are thankful for firefighters who risk their lives on the frontlines of massive and unpredictable blazes and officers who run into hails of bullets rather than away from them.  Proactively, we are instructed to keep dry brush away from homes in fire zones and guns out of the hands of mentally disturbed people.  But despite our best efforts, the tragedies keep coming.  Tragedies, even if they can be somewhat mitigated and managed by us, cannot be successfully stayed by us.

On the surface, the California fires and the California shooting seem to be two different types of tragedies.  One is a natural disaster.  The other is man-caused carnage.  Below the surface, however, these two tragedies share a common core:  sin.  The fires remind us that the sin that came into the world with Adam and Eve has disordered and distorted the world in profound and frightening ways.  The mass shooting reminds us that sin is not just in the world.  It is in us.  It’s not just that we cannot eradicate the sin that distorts creation; it’s that we cannot even kill the sin in ourselves.

The message of Christianity reminds us that, even as societies scramble to address sin, we need a victory over sin that we cannot gain for ourselves.  Sin needs not only our noble actions and timely reactions, but a perfect transaction that exchanges our sad sin for a better righteousness.  This is the transaction Christ makes for us on the cross.

Tragedies are sure to continue.  And we should be thankful for those fighting on the front lines of those tragedies.  But we can also be hopeful that tragedy’s time is short, for sin’s defeat is certain.

November 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Week of Tragedy: Baton Rouge, Saint Paul, and Dallas

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 10.00.08 AM

This has been a terribly tragic week.  Today, three cities are in mourning:  Baton Rouge, Saint Paul, and now, overnight, Dallas.

In Baton Rouge, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot to death while being pinned to the ground by law enforcement officials.  In Saint Paul, Philando Castile was shot and killed by an officer after being pulled over for a broken taillight.  In both of these cases, there are questions over whether or not police officers used excessive force.  Then, last night in Dallas, when protesters gathered to decry what happened in Baton Rouge and Saint Paul, five officers were shot and killed, with an additional seven officers shot and wounded, by a sniper who was enraged by the shootings in Baton Rouge and Saint Paul.  It is the largest single loss of first responder lives since September 11, 2001.

As events continue to unfold, here are some things to keep in mind.

Grieve with those who grieve.

To all of the families who have lost loved ones this week in these tragedies, we should offer our condolences.  We should hold them up in prayer.  Losing loved ones are occasions for tears.  Empathy should be the hallmark of every Christian because it so closely reflects the incarnation.  In Christ, God came into our pain.  He experienced our pain.  He walked through our pain.  This is why the preacher of Hebrews can say that, in Christ, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize” (Hebrews 4:15).  For us to withhold empathy denies us the opportunity to show the world who we are by our love.  “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

Receive Christ’s peace.

When a week spirals into tragedy like this one has, we can be tempted to respond either with fear or with anger, or with both.  I’ll have more on these responses Monday on my blog.  For right now, suffice it to say that these responses are not helpful.  When the world is troubling, rather than responding with fear and anger, it is better to receive the peace that only Christ can give.

The night before Jesus goes to His death on a cross, He knows His disciples will respond both with anger (cf. John 18:10) and with fear (cf. John 18:15-18, 25-26).  But Jesus wants His disciples to receive His peace.  So He says to them, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  God’s peace is stronger than human tragedy.

Trust that tragedy does not have the last word.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, echoing the words of the nineteenth century abolitionist Theodore Parker, who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  How a moral arc can bend toward things like justice and righteousness and goodness can be tough to see after a week like this.  Yet, what is good has not been lost.

Jesus tells the story of a widow who comes to a judge, begging him to grant her justice against someone who has wronged her.  The judge, who apparently is not at all concerned with justice, continually diminishes and dismisses her concerns until he finally decides to grant her what she wants, simply because she won’t leave him alone.  This widow’s quest for what is good overcomes this judge’s careless embrace of what is wrong.  Jesus concludes His story by pointing to God: “Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7-8).

Jesus promises that in a world where plenty is wrong, God is a just judge who will eventually make things right.  God will not put us off in our tears, in our hurt, and in our devastation.  And although God’s conception of a justice that comes “quickly” may not fit our conception of a justice that comes “quickly,” we can rest assured that God’s final defeat of all that is wrong will have its say on the Last Day.  Not only that, God’s defeat of all that is wrong has already had its say in Christ, who triumphed over sin and death by the cross (cf. Colossians 2:15).  In a week that has been full of tragedy, this is something in which we can take deep comfort and by which we can hold out great hope.

Terrible tragedy will not have the final say.  Jesus will.

July 8, 2016 at 10:07 am 3 comments

Processing Another Malaysia Airlines Tragedy

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

“Following are images from the scene – warning: GRAPHIC.”[1]

This is the caption that greeted me as I was reading through headlines about the crash of Malaysia Airlines passenger flight MH17, shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over Ukraine.  The crash scene is gut-wrenchingly sad – dozens of pictures of smoldering wreckage, many of these with portions blurred out to cover up the gruesome sights of human remains.  It’s no surprise, then, that before I scrolled through images from the scene posted by Business Insider, they included the above warning.

Regardless of whether this missile strike was an accidental shooting down of an airliner that was thought to be a military transport jet or an intentional targeting of civilians, the precipitating cause in this crisis, according to experts, is Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.  The New York Times editorial board posted an excellent opinion piece, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to put a stop to not only tragedies like these, but to end a war of his own making against Ukraine:

Growing casualties on the ground, a major escalation of American sanctions against Russia, a military plane shot down and now the appalling destruction of a Malaysian jetliner with 298 people on board, shot by a surface-to-air missile. The Ukrainian conflict has gone on far too long, and it has become far too dangerous.

There is one man who can stop it – President Vladimir Putin of Russia, by telling the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to end their insurgency and by stopping the flow of money and heavy weaponry to those groups. But for all his mollifying words and gestures, Mr. Putin has only continued to stoke the flames by failing to shut down those pipelines, failing to support a cease-fire and avoiding serious, internationally mediated negotiations.[2]

Mr. Putin is so obsessed with getting to Ukraine, it seems, that even the tragic loss of a civilian airliner is not too large a price to pay to pacify his Macbethian-style political and empire-building ambitions.  But the pictures from this airliner crash are rallying the world into sharp disagreement with the Russian president.  This must stop.

Of all the grueling pictures I have seen from this story, the one I posted at the beginning of this blog has perhaps touched my heart most deeply.  There was no warning caption of graphic content posted above this image, but there should have been.  For far more tragic than smoldering wreckage are the shattered lives of those who have lost loved ones.  A girl’s grief is far more explicit than a flaming fuselage.

My parents used to warn me, “Power corrupts.”  After following this story, I wish that was all power could do.  For whether from the halls of the Kremlin or from an open plane dotted by missiles, in this instance, power didn’t just corrupt.  It killed.  Is it any wonder that, as Christians, we rejoice in the promise that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18)?   After all, He seems to be the only one who knows how to use it – at least perfectly.  For He uses His power not to kill, but to make alive (cf. John 10:10).

May Jesus’ perfect use of power be a comfort and consolation to those who have lost loved ones in this depraved display of aggression.

________________________

[1] Michael B. Kelley, “More Than 300 People Killed As Passenger Plane Shot Down In East Ukraine,” Business Insider (7.17.2014).

[2] The Editorial Board, “Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” The New York Times (7.17.2014).

July 21, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When Darkness Closes In: Processing a Tragedy

title_slide2The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has touched – and shattered – many lives. Last weekend in worship and ABC, the pastors of Concordia offered some thoughts on this tragedy in light of God’s Word and promises. You can check out Pastor Tucker’s message and my Adult Bible Class below.

We pray that God would comfort and keep all those devastated by this terrible travesty. And may the families find their solace and hope in God’s promise of the resurrection of the dead to eternal life!

December 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment


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