Dealing with tragedy not easy

June 1, 2013

When people are killed or tragically injured or get a life-threatening disease such as cancer, hard questions usually pop up.

Why would God allow a tornado to devastate Moore, Okla. and kill 24 people – including two infants and eight other children?

Similar questions can be asked about the six killed by the May 25 tornado here in Hood County, or the explosion in West that killed 14 people including 11 firefighters, or the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. that took the lives of 26 including 20 children.

All of these incidents were traumatic and sad. But sometimes we lose perspective and forget some of history’s worst tragedies. Bad things can and do happen to good people.

Among natural disasters, history’s top 10 – as compiled by the Science Channel on its website, was an almost forgotten fire in Wisconsin in 1871 that killed almost 1,200 people while scorching a town called Peshtigo along with more than one million acres of land. It’s No. 10 on the list. An earthquake in China in 1976 killed an estimated 69,000 people, many of them school children. That was rated as No. 6 on the list.

Also ranked were more recent disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed more than 1,800 people (No. 3), and the Indian Ocean tsunami (No. 2), in which nearly 230,000 people died in 2004.

Despite stating up front that it “may not actually have happened,” those who made the list included “The Great Flood” noted in the Bible as the No. 1 natural disaster ever. (Stay tuned for more on that Bible belief topic below).


And what about the Holocaust for sheer misery? We can only imagine the despair those poor, skeleton-thin people stuck in Nazi concentration camps endured. They had to be wondering why God had forsaken them.

A friend I had worked with for several years lost his 9-year-old son to cancer just a few months ago. I wonder how he and his wife sort out something like that. It’s just so unfair.

Then there are horrible ordeals that are ongoing, such as children starving every day in places where decent food is a luxury – or civilians stuck in the middle of a war.

Disasters and tragedies and misery have always been around. Some find ways to deal with their circumstances, while others either continue to struggle daily or – if possible – come to a point where they just move on without really resolving the anguish.

I’ve had some personal losses and trying times in my life, but I try to remember that many people are living tortured lives – in far worse situations.

In my early 20s I came to a crossroads, but it wasn’t triggered by a tragedy. I was asking God all of the usual “tough” questions people ask, but wasn’t getting any answers. I wanted God to know I wasn’t happy. My search for answers eventually became demands. The more I demanded answers, the more frustrated and angry I became. I let myself believe I was the center of the universe.

I finally got some great advice from one of my best friends who, fortunately, had a spiritual maturity and insight I lacked. After sorting out what he said, I came to an understanding that I felt comfortable with, but it hinged on letting go of the attitude behind my anger.

The key for me came when I accepted the fact that I didn’t have to know the answers to the questions that had been troubling me – at least not right now, and not even while I’m alive on this earth. I can wait, I decided.

In the military, I believe they call it “the need to know.”

I think it has to become a faith thing to accept that God is in charge and that there truly is a big picture we can’t see. It doesn’t mean I no longer have troubling questions that come up from time to time. But it does mean I feel more secure in knowing God can handle everything – no matter how tragic or depressing or gut-wrenching the next challenge may be.

No other way makes sense.

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