(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Trusting and Thanking God Through Tragedies
By Jehn Kubiak
Concertgoers originally thought they heard fireworks, but a fun festival quickly turned into a brutal nightmare at 10:05 p.m. on Oct. 2. Bleeding people fell to the ground as bullets rained down on the arena for 10 agonizing minutes. Tragedy struck the moment a gunman brought at least 10 suitcases, 23 firearms, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition into his hotel suite on floor 32 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. About 59––or more––innocent people perished in the tragic Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
It’s easy to blame God and lose faith due to evil things that happen, attack gun ownership rights in the United States, or brainstorm every possible motive the gunman held. However, we may never fully understand the problem of evil in this world because we’re not God. We’re finite beings with limited understanding.
Perhaps this is why Proverbs 3:5 cautions us to “Trust in the Lord and do not lean on your own understanding.” Lack of trust in the Lord and reliance on rational only leads to insanity. Trust in the Lord provides sanity.
Although we seek closure, it’s likely we’ll never fully find it. And that’s where God can help us––we have to trust that he’s in control and that his light will ultimately overcome Satan’s darkness.
We can let anxiety and fear about terrorism, violence, and other evils enslave us, or we can find refuge in God’s peace. Psalm 91 has guided me throughout the past year and says, “He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” He’s a loving father that’s by our side during these tough times.
Those who lost loved ones during recent tragedies may find it impossible to give God thanks––and it’s understandable. However, God doesn’t want us to become bitter because of these hardships. He knows it’s hard for us too.
I’ve faced a fair share of personal tragedies, such as natural disasters. The 2007 Witch Creek Fire and 2003 Cedar Fire devastated San Diego County. Cal Fire ranks the Cedar Fire first and Witch Creek sixth on its list of the largest California Wildfires. On its list of most destructive fires, Cedar ranks third with 273,246 acres burned and Witch ranks fifth with 197,990 acres burned. The Witch fire didn’t make the list of deadliest fires, but Cedar occupies the fourth spot with 273,246 deaths.
The first fire was bad enough, but living through a second conflagration made everyone ask, “Why God? Didn’t San Diego suffer enough the first time?” I know friends who lost their homes or suffered losses during these times. In addition, some Christians may have grown in their faith because God saved them from destruction, others wavered because they felt like God took something important from them. Although my house didn’t burn down and I personally didn’t lose anyone, I grieved alongside my friends and consoled them during these tough times. I watched people mourn and lived through the aftermath of scorched mountainsides, helicopters dropping clay-colored retardant everywhere, ashen skies, fire trucks constantly whizzing by, and several new obituaries in the county newspaper.
The way people came together and helped the community strengthened my faith and helped me remember that God watches over his children. The Red Cross and several disaster relief organizations popped up all around the county and the majority of churches opened their doors to evacuees. Furthermore, people with homes still intact sheltered those who lost their abode or needed extra resources. This partnership reminded me that, although we suffer, he blesses us with people that help carry us through these tragedies.
The second major tragedy I experienced was the death of my high school friend’s brother, Chris. Anyone who knew Chris well would tell you he was the last person they’d expect to take his own life. However, he went home from school one day and shot himself. My friend, Michael, stayed strong through it all and his face hardly betrayed his usual, joyful countenance. He was a member of our marching band and, as a band family, we all supported him. Everyone in the band was hurting at this time and shed several tears.
I didn’t know what to feel and asked myself, “Why can’t I cry? Does that make me a horrible person?” Even though I didn’t physically show emotion, seeing my fellow friends and peers sobbing after he unexpectedly departed from this world tore me apart emotionally. My heart hurt and I felt a sense of sorrow no high schooler should experience.
As if his death wasn’t enough, another boy named Taylor died only a few months later after a softball hit him in the chest during PE class. I personally didn’t know this boy, but this second death hit me a bit harder than the first. I became a bit bitter towards God and said, “Okay, God. That’s the second innocent boy. Why? Why would you take them home this early?”
What truly struck me was how, like during the wildfires, everyone came together and supported each other. Nobody criticized anyone for showing emotion. Instead, they hugged each other, held candlelight vigils, made memorials, and said, “It’s okay, Just cry.”
Living through these deaths helped me understand that grief is perfectly acceptable. However, I also learned that there’s a time to move on. Chris’ parents struggled with his death for a long time, but they eventually came to terms with the fact that, even though they’d reunite with Chris in heaven, their boy would never come back to life in the physical realm. In addition, I found out that we can blame God for bad things, but the reality is we live in a fallen world because God gave us free choice. That free choice sometimes results in evil and devastating consequences.
Despite difficult circumstances like these, we can thank God that we’re still alive, that we live in houses while other people brave bitter nights on the streets, that we can enjoy the little things in life like eating Turkey around a table filled with friends, and that we have great friends who can support us during crises.
A thankful heart liberates even the most cynical people and transforms them into hopeful people, even if that hope is a little flickering flame. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 states, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Read those words again. Give thanks in everything. Give thanks when cancer kills your father. Give thanks when several innocent people die. Give thanks when soldiers perish overseas. Give thanks when a child dies in a car accident. Give thanks when you don’t even have the strength to live.
God is good and his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:4). We should constantly thank him for the grace he’s shown us and the privilege of free will he’s bestowed upon humanity, even if that means people make poor choices as a result of that freedom.
Don’t discount your feelings. Even Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death (John 11:35). It’s okay to become frustrated with God. Job was the most righteous man on earth, yet he mourned his losses (Job 1:20, 30:31). However, Job’s story is also remarkable because he recognized God’s sovereignty: “I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on earth” (Job 19:25). He lived through some of the worst woes, yet he also held firm in his faith.
As Ecclesiastes 3 says, there is “a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Now is the time for mourning. Grief is not an easy process, so take as much time as necessary to heal from hurt. However, we can’t permanently suffocate in a sea of sadness––we must move on eventually. Thanksgiving is a day where we can put affliction aside and dance with God.