Thursday, March 28, 2013

From the pastor: Responding to Tragedy in a Small Town

I pastor a church in a small rural community, and we have experienced our fair share of tragedies over the past few months. A drug-related murder, a teen who crashes while texting and driving, and three teens killed in a two-truck collision in which both blew through a stop sign. Most of the members of the church that I pastor know these folks, some are related to them. 

What do you say? 

In a certain respect, addressing the shootings at Sandy Hook from the pulpit was a much easier task because the evil was so obvious and the line so clear between those who suffered innocently and those who perpetrated the crimes. What do I say when tragedies occur, some of which were avoidable? Do we rant against the stupidity of teen drivers? Do we smooth everything over by writing things off as an accident and saying that "we all did stupid things when we were young"? 

May I suggest some basic reflections on dealing with losses in the community that may have been preventable?

            *Focus on the sovereignty of God. God does not arbitrarily destroy life for the fun of it. He does, however, maintain control and oversight over everything that occurs in this world. There is a purpose, there is a plan, but there's a catch- we don't know it. And we need to come to a place (like Job), of being good with that.

            *Remember our cursed world. Read Romans 1-2 a few times, and you are reminded that things are NOT the way they are supposed to be. God created man for relationship, which mandated a level of freedom of choice, and guess what? We rebelled. We blew it, turned our backs on God, and did our best to put ourselves in the place of the Almighty. And now we must live with the consequences of that- at least until Christ returns. Because of our sin, bad things happen- tornadoes hit, and murderers kill. We don't always understand why some die and some are spared, but that falls back under the first point above.

            *Every decision we make has results. We all do dumb things. It is unavoidable. We are sinners who sin. We are constantly reminded that we are not perfect, and we have a great way to go in the sanctification process. But we must also understand that just because we will sin, doesn't mean we are excused from the consequences. This goes for the lost and the redeemed. If I fail to disciple my children and they rebel, I can repent, but the damage is done. If someone in a fit of anger strikes their spouse, they can ask forgiveness and be forgiven, but trust is broken (and the law). We must teach our people (especially our young people) this principle. Learn self-control. Learn self-discipline. Through the power of the Holy Spirit identify weaknesses in your armor and work to correct them. Don't live in fear that you will do something that has disastrous consequences, but use common sense. 

            In sum, in a cursed world bad things happen. We need to develop a reliance on Christ that allows us to minister to those who experience the devastating consequences of this world. We also must take seriously our own sanctification and the discipleship of others. Think before acting, walk with Christ, allow your thoughts to be His. Allow your actions to be Spirit-guided. Love the Lord passionately and serve Him faithfully. This will allow us to respond to these seasons of life in a way that shows the world a little glimpse of how things should be.

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