5 Ways to Respond When Tragedy Strikes

All of us are appalled at the events that took place in Las Vegas last night, where over 50 people were killed and over 500 people injured by a lone gunman. While we still don’t know a whole lot about his motives, the one thing we can say unequivocally is that the gunman was driven by pure evil. This morning, I’ve been reading some of the responses to this event from both Christians and non-Christians and it got me to thinking about what we can learn from the Bible about how to respond in these situations. While these ideas were developed in response to yesterday’s events, I think they are relevant any time where this kind of evil results in such tragedy.

1. Be an agent of hope, not hate

No doubt, there is a sense in which we are to hate evil. But if that’s all we do when tragedy strikes, I’m not sure we really do much practical good. But there are also those whose hate goes even further to the point where it actually becomes harmful. Today I’ve seen some people claim that these people had it coming because they were in a city where sin is not only tolerated, but encouraged. That’s not a whole lot different than the Florida night club shooting last year where some Christians claimed the victims deserved to be killed because they were in a gay bar. There is just no place for that kind of hate from any Christian.

These kinds of events reinforce the fears that we already have and what people need most is to know that in the midst of these events, there is still a reason for hope. They need us to remind them of the words of Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

(1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

In that passage Peter goes on to explain that even though we face trials and difficulties in this world, the gospel of Jesus makes it possible to have hope – both for now and for eternity. That is the message we need to be sharing right now.
 
2. Invest in people, not politics

 

The fact is that while for most of us, it doesn’t approach the level of the gunman who shot these innocent victims in cold blood, all of us have hearts that are evil:

The heart is deceitful above all things,

      and desperately sick;

      who can understand it?

(Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

And our politics are never going to change that fact because no law can change a man’s heart. Only God can do that through the gospel. Although He was specifically addressing the nation of Israel with these words, God reveals what He desires to do through the gospel:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

(Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)

Jesus lived in a world where His people, the Jews, were under terrible persecution from the Romans, but for the most part, He completely ignored politics other than telling people they should pay their taxes. Instead, He spent His time ministering to people and telling them how God would change their hearts if they would trust in Him. We should learn from His example.

No doubt there is a time and place for Christians to appropriately engage in politics, but this is certainly not it. And even when the time is appropriate, we need to make sure that our politics don’t become more important than our love for people.
 
3. Pray more, think less
 

Quite predictably, we have all heard the unending stream of those who spout the same clichéd words that we hear during every tragic event – “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” I don’t doubt that the people who say this mean well and are sincere, but every time I hear that, my immediate response is to wonder how anybody’s “good thoughts” are going to make any difference whatsoever.

On the other hand, I do know, both from what I see in the Bible and from my own personal experiences, is that, in a way that I don’t claim to understand, when I pray, God gives me the privilege of actually participating in the work He is doing in the lives of suffering people. So when I pray for people to draw near to God so that He will draw near to them, or pray for God’s peace that surpasses all understanding, or even pray for practical needs like making sure the blood supplies are adequate or that God would give strength to the medical personnel who are working long hours, I can actually make the kind of difference that no “thoughts” could ever make.

There is another kind of prayer that is also appropriate…

4. Confess instead of criticize
 

This morning in our Monday Bible study, we examined Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:1-19. What really struck us about that prayer is that even though Daniel was probably the most righteous man in the Bible, he didn’t resort to criticizing other Jews for their rebellion against God. Instead He confesses to God the sins of his people and by using the words “we” and “us” rather than “they” and “them”, he humbly acknowledges that he is part of the problem and so he needs God’s grace and mercy just as much as everyone else.

It is so easy to look around at our culture and blame everyone else for the violence and hate that seems to be engulfing us at an increasing rate. But, as I pointed out earlier, we are all part of the problem and we all need to be on our knees and confessing our sins as a nation and begging God for His mercy.

 
5. Above all, love

 

Far too often Christians are known for what we’re against and not what we’re for. I’m not suggesting in any way that we give up our Biblical beliefs and convictions or “water down” the gospel. But it has always been a lot more effective to love people into the kingdom of God that to argue them in. And I think that is even more true during times like these. There is a reason that right before He went to the cross, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples:

 

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

(John 13:35 ESV)

 

It’s always important for us to be known for the fact that we are “for love”. And these times of tragedy give us a great opportunity to make sure that we are loving other people, not just with our words, but with our actions. For those of us who are hundreds, or even thousands of miles from Las Vegas, our opportunities to do that for the people there are probably somewhat limited. But let’s use this event as a reminder to love those who God puts in our path each day.


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