I still remember where I was and what I was doing on that morning 16 years ago today. As my co-workers and I gathered around a television to see what was going on, we watched with a mix of confusion and horror as the second tower of the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground. The moments after that were a fog of bewilderment as we tried to make sense of what we were seeing. May we not forget that there are many today still trying to make sense of the events surrounding 9/11.
No matter the tragedy, trying to make sense of tragedy is elusive. Even though difficult, we are called to love God and love neighbor everyday, even on tragic days.
Here are a four thoughts on dealing with tragedy from a missiological perspective:
We live in a broken world ruled by the enemy. It is easy to forget this fact, but our hope is not in this world, but in one to come. One day there will be no more tears, natural disasters, wars, or loss. King Jesus is coming again to restore the heavens and the earth. Until that day, we need to be aware and live accordingly. We have a responsibility and opportunity to minister compassionately to those around us as they deal with the implications and impact from tragedy in our broken world. Let us #neverforget tragedies like 9/11, but let us also #neverforget that the way we respond in the face of tragedy tells us where our hope lies.
While the people involved in perpetrating evils like 9/11 deserve to be brought to justice, they also deserve our prayers and compassion. Justice and prayer can and should go together. One of the most difficult things to do is to forgive someone who has wronged you. Now, multiply that a hundredfold in times of national tragedy. However, as Jesus followers, we are called to seek justice and love mercy. When faced with tragedy, we have an opportunity to face it with a global mindset and pray for those who wrong you, your neighbors, or your nation.
People perpetuate evil, not entire peoples or cultures. It is hard to call tragedy a mix of good and evil. Psychologists term this an underdeveloped “good-bad” split. In other words, when something bad happens, the tendency is to deny any good. And, when something good happens, the tendency is to deny any bad. Oftentimes, the response to an underdeveloped good-bad split is to attack and judge the other person or thing. The world might seem simpler if everything is either all good or bad, but it’s a bland and cynical world.
In 9/11 we saw a face of terror and Islam that was repulsive and evil. We shouldn’t be surprised by lost people doing evil things because the Bible describes lost people as blinded (2 Cor 4:4), enslaved (Titus 3:3), and dead (Eph 2:1). However, this does not mean that all Muslims or Middle Eastern peoples are terrorists and evil. They, like all peoples and cultures, are a mix of good and bad.
Let’s not take today for granted or assume tomorrow. James 4 reminds us that our lives are but vapors. Not an encouraging thought, but a true statement. Therefore, we need to live our lives with the mindset of Martin Luther, “There are two days in my calendar, this day and that Day.” Live today in light of eternity. Love your family well, take opportunities to share the gospel, and remember that life is more than tragedy because tragedy does not have the final word.