My article for the August Crossways newsletter for St Paul’s Church Spennymoor and Whitworth Church.
How do we cope when tragedy strikes?
On more than one occasion, I have heard someone facing tragic circumstances say this: ‘I know that everything happens for a reason’.
Sometimes people say that life is like a tapestry: it looks terrible on the back, but it all makes sense when you look at the front. Every thread on the back of a tapestry is there for a reason. It only looks messy and random from our perspective. One day we will see the whole picture, and then it will all make sense.
Does that help us to make sense of tragedy?
It’s important to look at the Bible when we have questions like this.
There’s no verse in the Bible that says that everything happens for a reason. That’s worth noticing.
The next thing to notice is that the Bible talks about evil. The world is not as it should be. Things have gone wrong. Bad things happen.
This shows us a problem with thinking about life as a tapestry. When we look at the reverse of a tapestry, everything is exactly as it should be. Not a thread is out of place. But if life is like a tapestry, then what we think of as evil is actually good. It’s just a matter of perspective.
Life is not like a tapestry. Bad things do happen. But why?
Bad things happen not because God has lost control, but because God permits them to happen. Humanity has turned away from God. We’ve told God that we don’t want him to rule over us. As a consequence, God has given us exactly what we want. God has taken away some of his goodness from the world, and allowed evil to take its place.
But God is still working out his purposes. Sometimes he even makes use of bad things to bring about something good.
Think about what happened to Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, and he ended up in a prison in Egypt. Through a remarkable sequence of events, he ended up as Prime Minister of Egypt, was reconciled to his brothers, and was able to save them from starvation. God brought something good out of something bad. At the end, Joseph said this to his brothers: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’ (Genesis 50:20, NIV).
The clearest example of this is the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Those who crucified Jesus were doing a wicked thing. But God used that evil act to defeat evil itself.
When we are faced with tragedy, we need to do two things.
First, we need to recognise that something bad has happened. There’s no reason why it had to happen. It shouldn’t have happened. There’s nothing good about it.
But, second, we need to cling to the fact that God can bring good things out of evil. Evil does not have the final word.
So we can say with confidence: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).