“How should we respond when terrible things happen?”
It’s a question that I’m asked all too frequently these days. Our world is filled with senseless violence, abuse, coverups, disagreement, and brokenness. And while none of these tragic things are new, the media and technology of our present moment enable us to see and experience these terrible realities up close and in real time.
What can we do? How can we response to the evils that surround us? What’s the appropriate reaction from someone following Jesus? Let me offer seven suggestions.
Weep. In Romans 12.15, Paul tells us to weep with those who weep. This should be our first response to evil. We must weep with those who are weeping. We must grieve with them. We must focus first on those who have been deeply wounded by evil and stand beside them as they mourn. And here, we must resist the urge to swoop in and explain the tragedy away or offer our solutions. First, we must stop and weep.
Slow down. In our culture of hurry, every tragedy evokes a flurry of responses, oftentimes with pundits weighing in even before pertinent details are known. We must resist this impulse. It’s okay to take time and process something. It’s okay to take time to reflect. It’s okay to not have an answer an hour, a day, or even a week after something terrible happens. It’s okay to slow down.
Seek justice. Those following God are commanded to seek justice and correct oppression (Is 1.17). When evil occurs, we must do that which is within our power to right the wrong that has been done. People and systems must be held accountable. And this is not the place for empty rhetoric, blame games, and politicization, where people act like there are easy answers to complex problems. Christians must pursue holistic justice, as challenging and difficult as it may be.
Pray. Our postmodern world pokes fun at those who offer “thoughts and prayers.” And if those words are only a social media token of concern, then those criticisms are well-founded. But followers of Jesus are called to bring everything to God in prayer, including the burdens and wounds of others (Gal 6.2, Phil 4.6, Ps 55.22). Prayer is a right and ready response in the face of evil, not something to be glibly tossed around, but an avenue for providing peace, presence, and perspective when tragedy strikes. And when all other words fail, we can simply pray, “Lord, have mercy.”
Get tangible. If something breaks your heart, do something about it. Don’t just post about it on social media or talk about it with your friends. Get tangible, put your money where your mouth is, do something about it. Passive concern is no substitute for action. Do your research and connect with an organization or person who is doing something to make a difference.
Remember. Christians are called to be people with long memories, and so we must remember the plight of the downtrodden and destitute even after the news cycle has moved on. The crisis that dominated the news and effected people five years ago is almost certainly still a problem for people, even if we don’t think about them in the day-to-day. And so we must remember what has happened and continue to stand beside those who are hurting.
Hope. Those living in a dark and broken world will often experience evil and suffering; but those who follow the Risen King need not despair, for we can have hope. Hope that, one day, evil will be destroyed. Hope that, someday, there will be no more tragedy. Hope that, one day, everything broken will be made new. Even as we weep, slow, pray, get tangible, and remember, we can hope that evil is not the end of the story. And so we hope and we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”