How Faith Can Triumph Over Tragedy

Tragedy has a way of testing the heart.  It also has a way of revealing the truth.  Because it’s in the chaos of life’s tragedies, and how you react to them, that you learn the truth about yourself: what you believe about God, what you believe about yourself, what really matters…how you answer life’s deepest questions.  We must know where we stand, because eventually tragedy touches us all.

Greg Haroutunian, a graduate of Stanford University, serves as the pastor of the First Armenian Church in Belmont, Massachusetts.  Greg and I worked together in a coaching relationship with a group of pastors in early 2013, focused on the principles and exercises of my book The Seven Most Important Questions You’ll Ever Answer.  On Monday, April 15, 2013, tragedy visited Greg and his family, along with thousands of others.  And it was in those moments of unanticipated testing that Greg fully realized the value of knowing the answers to life’s deepest questions.

As Greg and his family stood along the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, cheering on a friend who was racing to raise money for cancer research, they were enjoying a spectacular “Boston” day.  His wife, Sossi, 11-year-old son, Mark, and 9-year-old daughter, Ani, stood just behind the aluminum barricade, leaning into the street, eagerly awaiting their friend’s approach.  Greg was close by with their youngest son, Alexan, standing just behind the crowd.

First, they heard what they thought was a cannon shot celebrating someone crossing the marathon finish line.  Actually, it was the first of two bombs.  Suddenly, seconds later, just 15 yards away directly across Boylston Street, a second bomb that had been placed in a pressure cooker exploded and sent the entire city, and country, into a panic.  The moment seemed unreal, beyond explanation.  In the first few minutes that followed, his entire family witnessed front-row carnage, including the tragic death of an 8-year-old boy.

Greg’s wife grew up in Lebanon and is no stranger to violence.  Yet both she and Greg describe the experience as one of unparalleled vulnerability and horror.  After the fire trucks and rescue teams arrived, blocking the street between their location and the crime scene, his family made their “getaway”. 

Walking to the Boston subway, they turned a corner.  Greg spied a trash can on the street and understandably thought that it, too, could contain a bomb.  Shielding his family as they passed by, he was suddenly overwhelmed with the assurance that their lives were in God’s hands.

The hours and days to follow were extremely tense for Greg and his family.  We spoke on the phone one afternoon while their neighborhood was on “lockdown.”  They were restricted to their home as police went door-to-door looking for the remaining suspect that had orchestrated the crime.  Greg and his family were right in the middle of it, his kids’ school just a block and a half from the center of the search.

Thankfully, in the months preceding this tragic experience, Greg had been part of the pastors’ group I was leading through a process of clarifying some of the core questions of the soul.  He had taken the time to write out his own personal theology statement.   Reviewing the Scriptures he had memorized from his days with The Navigators, and some of his favorite books on the character of God, Greg had written and memorized his answers to life’s greatest questions. 

And on the afternoon after the bombing, Greg recounted these declarations.  He leaned heavily on them.  He affirmed himself again and again with what he had written:

  • “God is unchanging, good, faithful, holy, sovereign, almighty, gracious, condescending, merciful, loving, righteous, kind, the Father, the Lord, communicative, and worthy.”
  • “Therefore…He will care for me, keep His promises, reveal Himself, accomplish His desires, guard me, allow difficulties & trials, never give me more than I can bear, mold me into Christ’s likeness.”
  • “So…I will rest, trust, sacrifice, live with abandon, full-tilt, be unashamed, confident, not self-conscious, cling to hope, embrace my humanity/weaknesses, care for others, never stop learning, growing, seeking to know more and express more of our awesome God to anyone who will listen.”

Today, Greg recounts: “Having these realities memorized made the truth accessible.  I was refreshed, rejuvenated, and lifted.  The world literally blew up right in front of my face.  But God did not blow up… This very concrete, practical engagement with God’s character through this process assured me that I was absolutely invincible until the Lord calls me home.”

With these encouraging words Greg adds, “Having done the work of focused meditation on the character of God, and how I can respond, made all the difference.  Not just when I was in this tragedy, but even more so afterwards as I tried to regroup.  It literally brought me to life with the assurance that I can live abandoned and fully for the Lord.”

Greg has also articulated a biblical identity statement along with his written life purpose statement.  He meditates on these truths each evening as he falls asleep and each morning as he awakens.  He reflects, “This process is very encouraging.  It anchors me as I fade into sleep.  These statements are rooted in the Scriptures and naturally keep my mind centered on the truth.  This whole process has been so empowering, and gives me deep enthusiasm to start the day.  I am able to find purpose in the midst of the chaos.”

“Had I not gone through this exercise, it would have all been too big for me in the moment…too hard to try and gather some truth to hold onto.  But it was immediately available, and that gave it power.  Because the moment is going to come.  For most people, it’s probably not a bomb.  But in some way, everyone’s moment will come.”

Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.