There are many occasions that could qualify for the title, “personal tragedy”:
- The Doctor says, “It’s Cancer”
- A loved one suffers from the effects of MS
- Alzheimers is beginning to rob one you love of their mind
- A Stroke takes away your freedom
- Parkinson’s disease causes you to lose control of your body
- A Child is born dead or dies way too soon
- An Accident leaves you disabled
- A hurricane, flood, tornado, or fire wipes out your home
At these times one of the first questions we ask is this one: “Why me?” “What have I done to bring this into my life?”
The question is so common that the Bible addresses it with the entire book of Job. It is also addressed in other places but perhaps never more clearly than in these two texts:
In Luke 13 the question is simple: Did the Galileans who were killed in a horrendous manner deserve this because they were worse sinners than others? And what about the 12 people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Did this happen to them because they were worse than all the other people. Jesus’ answer: No!
In John 9 the issue is a man born blind. Is this man blind because of something he or his parents did? Jesus answers “No!”
Today we ask: “Were those killed in the Oklahoma bombing worse than others? What about those killed in a plane or car crash? What about those who did in a hurricane? And those afflicted with disease? The questions Jesus answers are as relevant as the morning paper. Let’s draw some vital truth for tragic times.
There is often no direct link between personal sin and personal tragedy.
In our texts Jesus says personal sin was not the reason for any of the mentioned tragic circumstances. But before we go further we must acknowledge some qualifying statements:
- Sin is the cause of heartache. Every ache, frustration and evil is a result of sin. Sin has messed up God’s perfect creation.
- We do fight a fierce enemy who has made it his goal to “kill and destroy”. Satan is a formidable foe . . . but He cannot function without God’s permission.
- Sometimes a personal tragedy is the result of a personal sin. Out of wedlock pregnancy, drug addiction, an accident resulting from drinking and driving and many other examples show that there are times when we do reap what we sow.
However, MOST of the time. There is no one to one relationship.
Some tragic circumstances are allowed by God to reveal the work of God.
Jesus states that this man was blind so “the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Wow! Is Jesus saying what it seems? It seems the Savior is telling us that this man’s blindness was allowed because on this day Jesus was going to heal him.
I wonder how many times this young man cried himself to sleep because of his handicap. I wonder how man times he raised his fist in anger at this affliction. For all these years this man wondered why. It was all leading up to this encounter with the Savior.
It reminds us of another similar person: Joseph. Here was a man beaten up by his brothers and sold into slavery. He makes the best of a bad situation and then is convicted of a rape he never committed. Don’t you wonder how many times Joseph was close to despair because of the seemingly senseless tragedies in his life?
Finally, of course, Joseph is placed in the number 2 position of all of Egypt. Because of his position he saves his family (and the nation of Israel), is reconciled to his father and brothers and all seems right with the world. Finally dad dies and the brothers are scared. They are concerned that Joseph has the perfect opportunity to get even. In the course of the discussion Joseph says these incredible words: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for goo to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50: 20)
Joseph understood what we must never forget: God is in control! There is nothing God cannot make happen. Nothing he cannot keep from happening. So, why do painful times come? The answer is found in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God is working for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
In the times of tragedy God is at work . . . for good . . . even though we may not be able to see it.
It is certainly true
- Some of the greatest lessons are learned in the furnace. Consider Jim Bakker. In a recent 20/20 interview he tells Barbara Walters that his Health and Wealth theology was a mistake. He also says the lessons he learned in prison are so valuable he would not trade them for anything.
- Some of the most powerful testimonies come out of tragic times. Consider Joni Eareckson quadriplegic), Polycarp (faced with the lion den), Dave Roever (face blown away by a phospherous grenade). These people all came out of the trials with a vibrant testimony on their lips.
- Some of the greatest demonstrations of God’s character are revealed through difficult times. Consider the crossing of the red sea, the 10 plagues . . . the cross.
Henry writes: The intention of Providence often does not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of Providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you understand the meaning.”
Cautions to those who do not suffer
Resist explanations. It is common for us to tell people that they suffer because they have done something wrong or they need to pray more, give more, attend more meetings, read the Bible more etc. We are prone to tell people that the way to overcome difficult times is to “be like me”. We must resist these statement because it is sinful. Because,
- It increases the burden of the sufferer. We push these folks away from the very one who can help them
- It is an act of arrogance. To tell people that they suffer because of their sin is to imply that we don’t suffer because of our lack of sin!
- It is an excuse for indifference. Why do we find our hears unaffected by those with AIDS? It is because we feel they deserve it! Why are we unmoved by those who suffer from personal problems? Because we feel they deserve it! If God NEEDS to punish these folks then we should stay out of the way.
Each of these attitudes is sinful and must stop.
When tragedy comes to your door
1. Be Active. Confess known sin. Ask others to pray for your healing. Look for lessons you should be learning.
2. Be Faithful. Keep doing what is right. Look for opportunities to use your heartache for His honor.
3. Be Patient. We see through a glass darkly now but it won’t always be that way. I don’t pretend to understand why things happen the way they do. I do not want to come across giving trite answers to difficult issues. I would affirm that there are no easy answers. I would also affirm that there are no accidents either. I am convinced that there is coming a day when the veil will be pulled back and we will see clearly . . . . and worship.
Until then, we must continue to trust and to help each other.