Our church family has experienced great tragedy, an undeniable reminder of the fallen world in which we live. We have lost our brother-in-Christ, Steve Jordan. A wife has lost a husband. Three boys have lost their dad. How can we, in light of the truth of the Gospel, respond in the midst of this tragedy?
We pray – Situations like this make us vividly aware of a fact that we should live with at all times; we are utterly dependent on God. Our wisdom, strength and words are so very weak. We need to acknowledge that God is the only source upon whom we can call that will be sufficient for us and, therefore, call upon Him.
We grieve with the family – This is a family loss and we grieve as a family. The Scripture calls us, as the Body of Christ, to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). As we grieve, however, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). The pain and sorrow of separation and loss are real. We acknowledge that. It is part of living in a fallen world. At the same time, because Christ is alive and returning, we grieve with hope and with the understanding that our loved one – because he had repented of his sin and placed his faith in Christ alone – is at home with the Lord, face to face with Jesus Christ.
We provide practical ministry – This can be a delicate balance. We want to show our love and concern by our presence, visiting with and caring for the family. We must make sure, however, that we also provide the needed space for the family to grieve and to visit with family and out-of-town friends who will come for the funeral. Cards, phone calls, emails and other brief forms of contact show love without being overwhelming. Delivering meals is another great way to provide practical ministry. Keep in mind that there is often a flurry of activity within the first few days after the tragedy has struck. In many cases, ministry then disappears. Many should wait a week or more before bringing meals so there is continuity of ministry, rather than an initial surge and then nothing. Another helpful option is to prepare meals that can be frozen in a “ready-to-cook” state, allowing the family to take it out when it is best for them, rather than having more food that they can use and being forced to throw much of it away.
We speak biblically and directly to the family – Many are often concerned, wanting to speak to the family while not knowing what to say. Keep in mind that Job’s friends ministered to him best through silence for a week, simply allowing their presence to speak. So, an overabundance of words is not necessary. Express your love and care for them. There is no need for endless theological speculation about why the tragedy occurred, etc. We cannot know the answers to those questions. Therefore, we simply remind each other of what we do know, based on the sure foundation of God’s Word. In the midst of these times we remind each other that we can: rest in God’s comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), depend on God’s wisdom (James 1:5), and thank God that His grace really is sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:9).
We allow God to use this tragedy as a teachable moment in our own lives – Tragedies such as this remind us of the brevity of life. As James says, our lives are like a vapor that quickly vanishes (James 4:14). For the person who does not know Christ, this should serve as a clear reminder of the need to repent and trust Christ (Luke 13:3). There is no promise of tomorrow. One is foolish to think he can wait until “later in life” to deal with the eternal destiny of his soul. Well does the Scripture say, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). For the follower of Christ, this is also a reminder of the necessity of walking faithfully with Christ each day. If you have been harboring a grudge, withholding forgiveness, excusing spiritual laziness, etc., repent and obey today.
We allow our lives to demonstrate to others the greatness of our God – We must never lose sight of the fact that we are a people on mission – the mission of glorifying God by making disciples of all nations. Experiencing tragedy is common to all people. What is not common to all people is the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. We must, therefore, live our lives in a way that shows that hope both in how we respond to tragic situations and how we faithfully proclaim God’s glory in the midst of them. It is precisely during these times that we can most clearly put on display this hope that the world does not know. So, in the midst of our suffering and pain, we must be sure not to lose sight of our mission, making known God’s glory. And, when others see the difference in our lives and comment about it, we must be ready to “give an answer” by telling them “the reason for the hope that [we] have,” doing so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
How do we respond to tragedy in light of the Gospel? In a word, TOGETHER. We are the Body of Christ, not just a collection of people who meet at the same place on Sunday. Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose again on the third day, giving life abundant and eternal to all who repent of their sin and place their faith in Christ as the only Lord and Savior. He unites our lives together as one body, by the power of His Spirit. As a result, we minister together, both TO each other and WITH each other, with hope until He returns. May our love for one another, and our solid hope in Christ, be evident to all and bring glory to our great God.
(Photo courtesy of Justin Marty on Flickr)