Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Theology of Tragedy

All of the memorials to 9/11 remind us that, for those of us who live in America, a new era dawned on our nation's history five years ago. Our children are growing up in a world where terror alerts are as normal as storm warnings. It is incumbent on those who shepherd God's flock to think carefully and biblically about tragedy and to teach others to do so, as well.

Following is an article I wrote 3 years ago to encourage this kind of pastoral thinking.

A Pastoral Theology of Tragedy
September 11, 2001 has in many ways defined our modern era. So much of our thinking is now in reference to the acts of terror perpetrated against the United States on that day. In the immediate aftermath, multitudes gathered to pray in churches across the land. People who had neglected spiritual concerns suddenly became spiritually sensitized. Everyone began to have opinions about God and concerns about God and wanting to hear from Him. There was no shortage of those who began to speak for God.

Tragedy presents unusual opportunities--for both good and ill. The potential for good arises from the fact that people are awakened to realities that they would otherwise ignore. C. S. Lewis famously made this point in his observation that "God whispers to us in pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." [1] This is profoundly true. Once the world is awakened by tragedy and attention is drawn away from those trivialities that blind people to God a pivotal opportunity emerges. But there is no guarantee that it will automatically be redeemed. Someone must rise to speak God's truth into the pain and suffering.

Those of us who are called to the work of pastoral ministry in the church bear the greatest responsibility for doing so. Shepherds of God's flock must be willing to seize such opportunities and do our very best to point people in paths of truth and righteousness in the wake of tragedy. We must help people understand what God is saying in the midst of sorrow and suffering. There is great opportunity for tremendous good to be done for the kingdom of God when tragedy strikes.

But there is also tremendous opportunity for spiritual damage to be done--damage that arises out of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of God. This can happen even when intentions are good and motivations are proper. Unhelpful commentaries were abundant in the wake of September 11.

One well-known Baptist pastor wrote an editorial that was picked up by several media outlets. In it he stated, "You may hear misguided minds say 'this must have been God's will.' Nonsense. In a world of free choices, God's will is rarely done! Doing our own will is much more common. Don't blame God for this tragedy. Blame people who ignored what God has told us to do: love your neighbor as yourself."
Read the rest of the article. [link repaired]


M. Jay Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
M. Jay Bennett said...

Hey Tom,

I don't think the link to the rest of this article is working. I got an error message. I know God decreed that that should happen. I'm hoping he also decreed someone would fix it.

scripturesearcher said...

Glad are we that you are "back in the saddle again." I thought a Texan and an Aggie would understand
that language.

Your children may be the happiest of all. Mom's back - and who can
cook better than a Mom?

It is almost October.

GUNNY said...

What's up with m. jay Bennett and that whole "decreed" thing? You some kinda Calvinist or sumthin?!


Gig 'em, Whoop! and Howdy. Like scripturesearcher, I'll assume you can interpret those. ; ) Say nighty night to the decimated short-horns.

I had posted (Strong men also cry) about some of things I remembered with regard to 9/11, but I had completely forgotten about all the bad theology that was espoused shortly there after, much trying to get God off the hook.

I remember hearing stuff ranging from God was just as shocked as we were to God did this because He hates gays.

Thanks for contributing to a right theology of tragedy.

Randy said...

After 9/11 2001, I was watching a news anchor interviewing a priest of some sort. He was asked the question how do you minister to someone in this sort of tragedy? (or something similar to that). His response was one I will never forget. He began by stating that he starts with the truth (which I was excited to hear). However, his truth was that of an open theist. He next said that God had no idea this was going to take place. He was caught off guard just like the rest of us. Obviously this diminishes our faith in God. I appreciate the encouragement to herald the truth of God's word and particularly His sovereignty.

Larry Brown said...

Thanks, Tom for doing such a good job of putting tragedy in the proper perspective. Over the past five years, I think I have perhaps said everything you wrote - just not so well or all in one place. Good job.

I am not sure if it was intended or not, but one thing your article did was raise this question in me, "Just how has God changed my understanding of Him during the past 5 years?" It caused me to go back and read some things that I had written over this period. This afternoon, I posted one my post 911 articles, entitled "God Bless America," written October 2001 to my own blog at http://rightuuprightnow.blogspot.com. I have noted in the post some changes I would make if I were writing it today.

The main thing that I discovered is that I am not now nearly as anxious to state His exact porpose in the things that happen around me. I just know that He is in it. Romans 8:28 makes a lot more sense now. "We know that God enters into all things to work His good on behalf of those who are chosen according to His purpose."

During this time, God has changed much about my understanding of Him. To me, "all things God" can be expounded beginning with these words: "Not for our sake, GOD, no, not for our sake, but for your name's sake, show your glory. Do it on account of your merciful love, do it on account of your faithful ways. Do it so none of the nations can say, "Where now, oh where is their God?" Our God is in heaven doing whatever he wants to do." (Psa 115:1-3 The Message)

Larry Brown said...

The URL to my blog was incorrect in the previous post. It should read http://rightuprightnow.blogspot.com. Sorry.

george d. said...

I'll complete the Providence Church Tri-fecta with M.Jay Bennett and Gunny93 by adding that we all love the Founders Blog...I mean this thing is good..we want to be friends with it.

"Do not let anyone ever convince you that theology does not matter or that courses in systematic theology are unimportant."

Great point Tom. How often do we hear in Christian circles that our main goal should be to just Love Jesus? Of course, that statement necessitates having a proper view of humanity and Jesus, anthropology and Christology.

"They lead us to develop greater desires for heaven. When we suffer losses we are forced to remember that the things which are seen are temporary and fading away."

As Dr. John Hannah says (paraphrased), "Every bad thing that happens to the believer is just a glimpse of the hell we don't have to experience. Every good thing is a shadow of the glory we will experience when we finally come into the presence of God."

Good things Tom! We're glad you're back to posting.

GUNNY said...

I don't know how to put this, but Tom's blog is kind of a big deal. People know it. It's very important.

Tom has many leather-bound books and his office smells of rich mahogany.

Yes, good to have Tom back in the blogging "saddle again," as scripturesearcher so aptly put it.

P.S. Hey, Jay, looks like the decree to fix the article has been decreed and come to fruition.

Tom said...

Jay, Charles, Gunny, Larry, Randy and Deines:

Thanks for your encouraging comments and letting me know about the failed link. I am glad to be back blogging a little, but part of the reason for my absence has been because I have been "back in the saddle!"

Gunny, I am not sure how important this blog is but I can assure you that, though I do have a few leather-bound books, my study reeks of anything but mahogany! Until recently, it smelled like mildew and wet carpet! The air filtering machine and dehumidifier that now share my office have helped somewhat. :-)

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. A,

Thank you for this very helpful article. We've missed you around here for the past several days!

Love in Christ,