When Tragedy Strikes
How can one adequately comprehend the images of devastation in Houston and Florida? Other tragedies, while not dominating the news, are just as confounding. Fires rage up and down the West Coast and earthquakes bring destruction in Mexico, leaving broken lives and shattered dreams behind. To make sense of it all, from our limited perspective, is not an easy task.
Job experienced similar bewilderment. His story is famous, relevant, and comforting in times of tragedy and loss. Ruthless invaders murdered his livestock and servants, in multiple waves of evil. Destructive winds collapsed a building, killing all his children. Job’s body writhed in pain from head to toe. His wife prodded him to curse God and die while self-righteous friends taunted him from every angle.
With the fatal storm fresh on Job’s mind, his friend Elihu rightly spoke of the thunder, lightning, scattering winds, and ice-cold storms as expressions of God’s power (Job 37:1-10). He noted further that God “loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen” (37:11-13).
On the other hand, we know that Jesus had the power to calm the storms. “The wind and the sea obey him” (Matthew 8:23-27). We must acknowledge that the One who calms the wind and the sea first created them. The One who stills the waters is also the One who stirs them. We may not like it, but we cannot avoid this truth. We may not comprehend it all, but we must make some choices in the midst of it all.
The One who stills the waters is also the One who stirs them.
Painful, Purposeful Sovereignty
The lessons from the story of Job are many; but none is more profound than the grace Job experienced to choose his response in the midst of vexing tragedy. Bible students remember his instinctive and intentional resolve: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
We start naked and end naked. Even though we seek to bolster our sense of worth in this journey with accomplishment, accumulation, and activity, life is not defined by these things. The start and finish of the earthly journey are simple and stripped down.
A recent devotional reading reminded me that mankind’s intrinsic worth is that of “dust and ashes” (see Genesis 18:27). From dust we were made and to dust we will return. “This means that whatever worth you have, you have it because God imputed it to you . . . Your worth is solely the product of God’s loving you so much that He died in order for you to spend an eternity with Him.” [i]
While Job lived thousands of years before the cross, his focus was aligned with the reality of the gospel. Life was not defined by what happened to Job but by his worship and love for the One who was unquestionably worthy and good in the midst of all that happened to him.
Life was not defined by what happened to Job but by his worship and love for the One who was unquestionably worthy and good in the midst of all that happened to him.
Acknowledging Perplexing Pain
One thing is for sure: The pain of loss and perplexity is very real. Job was not shy about expressing his pain, even to the degree of wishing he had never been born and longing that he would simply die. He wisely verbalized his anguish before the Lord, stopping short of blaming God or questioning His providence.
Our Savior is no stranger to pain, injustice, loss, and sorrow. God loves us and is intimate in our anguish, even bottling our tears (Psalm 56:8). The Psalms are packed with pain-infused prayers to a praiseworthy God. We must cry but never accuse. We surely languish but do not lash out with indictments against the Holy One.
We must cry but never accuse. We surely languish but do not lash out with indictments against the Holy One.
Most of the story of Job offers an account of the horizontal interference from others in close proximity but with confused perspectives. In the context of our personal tragedies we are deluged with opinions from shallow media, godless pundits, and friends who fall short of biblical wisdom. We must keep our internal antennae locked on the truth of a great, holy, and sovereign God who does all things well, even when we don’t get it.
The God Who Redeems
Midcourse in his painful and perplexing journey Job declared, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26). In our tragedies, we must cling to the One who redeems.
Redemption speaks of the power of one to help another overcome something detrimental. The Old Testament pictures redemption as deliverance from bondage based on the payment of a price by a redeemer. In Scripture we find that God has taken the initiative to act compassionately on behalf of those who are powerless to help themselves. The New Testament explains that divine redemption was fulfilled when God identified with humanity in our plight, and secured our freedom through the obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Job points us in the direction of our sure promise: Our Redeemer lives! He lives to help us in our plight. He delivers. He redeems our misfortunes and losses, sometimes in this world — and always in the next. He causes all things to ultimately work together for the good (Romans 8:28) for the called ones who fix their love on Him through the truth and power of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. We may not comprehend our pain but can surely make this choice; a choice to trust and obey.
The Eternal Outcome
For those who’ve read the final chapters of Job, they frame the outcome of our own journey of perplexity. In Job 42:1-6 he prayed, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted . . . I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” When the storms have passed, the pain has subsided, and our thoughts have cleared, our goal is to know and trust the eternal one — beyond what we have previously experienced. This is what matters in life and in eternity.
This past weekend, in a meeting of our ministry Board of Directors, we prayed from Psalm 33. One section captured my heart in light of the weather-related tragedies of the moment: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” (Psalm 33:6-8).
No doubt, these heartrending weather events leave us worried and wondering why. Yet, by all means, let us worship — and know that our Redeemer lives. Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him! When we all return to dust, only this will matter.
No doubt, these heartrending weather events leave us worried and wondering why. Yet, by all means, let us worship — and know that our Redeemer lives.
Copyright ©2017 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Walter Henrichsen, Warnings for a People Not Listening to God (El Cajon, CA: Leadership Foundation, 2012) Day 248