When a crazed gunman shoots children at an elementary school, protestors are rioting in the streets, a hurricane destroys a city, or terrorists detonate bombs and shoot innocent people, people are quick to take to social media. The things they post range from sympathetic to absurdly inappropriate. If you will allow me, I would like to suggest four things Christians should do when tragedies like these occur:
When horrible things happen we need to pray. Notice I didn’t say, “Post a status update that you’re praying.” It’s fine to let people know you’re praying and encourage others to do the same, but let’s make sure our motives are pure and that we actually are praying.
And perhaps we should consider the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-6) and how these words might apply to the way we rush to social media to say, “I’m praying for people!”
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.
Spend time sincerely, quietly, and fervently praying for the victims and their families. Really pray for them. Pray for their comfort, for their healing, for their spiritual lives, and for their futures. It’s not wrong to say that you’re praying, but make sure it’s true and rightly motivated.
If we spend more time checking how many times our status about praying was liked, commented on, or retweeted, than we actually do praying for people, our motives are probably not what they ought to be and we risk making a mockery out of the words, “Praying for the victims.”
2. Empathize Before You Politicize
We appear pretty heartless when we post political commentary immediately after some horrible tragedy occurs. Whether we mean it as such or not, it comes across like we just see the event as an opportunity to say, “This proves my point. If you people would just accept my political viewpoint, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen.”
When people have lost their lives or lost loved ones, when people are in critical condition in a hospital somewhere, it’s probably not the time to play the I-told-you-so-game. Tragedies are a time to consider the frailty of life, a time to ask how you would feel if you were in their shoes, a time to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Absolutely nothing is solved by over-simplifying complex political issues and de-humanizing the victims, just so we can make political points. Chances are, the causes of the tragedy – and the solutions – are multi-faceted. Not only is our timing often inappropriate, but our understanding of the situation is extremely limited.
You have every right to make a political point, but you’ve got to stop and ask yourself, “Is this the right time? How would I feel about someone making this point if it were my child or my spouse lying in a hospital bed – or a morgue – somewhere? Do I really understand the ins-and-outs of the situation as well as I think I do?”
3. Don’t Feed the Fear Machine
Politicians and news networks capitalize on fear. News networks know fear keeps people watching their network 24/7. Politicians know fear gives them the opportunity to look like a hero. Yes, even politicians in your political party capitalize on fear. It doesn’t mean they’re necessarily wrong; but it does mean the more people are afraid, the more they stand to gain by swooping in to “save the day.”
We need to learn to keep things in perspective. When a nation, a gunman, or a handful of terrorists make Christians quiver in fear, it’s obvious we don’t have a biblical perspective. All throughout history, God’s people have lived in the midst of “wars and rumors of wars.” It’s always been that way and it will always be that way. The key is knowing that our God makes our enemies look puny!
I have always found Isaiah 40 to be a chapter to help me put things in the proper perspective. Our God is so big that He can measure all the water of the earth in the hollow of His hand and measure the Universe with the width of His hand (Isaiah 40:12). All the nations of the earth are “like a drop from a bucket” to Him (Isaiah 40:15). And all the nations are “accounted by Him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17).
When tragedies occur, we must resist the urge to fan the flames of fear. We must remember – and help others remember – in comparison to God, evil men are laughably small and weak. This is the overwhelmingly consistent message of Scripture.
4. Keep the Faith
When tragedies occur, keep the faith. In other words, do the right thing. Be obedient. Stay the course.
For some reason, we sometimes think Jesus’ instructions on how to live our lives only apply to ordinary situations, but not to extraordinary situations. Extreme situations are not excuses to abandon our Christian principles, they are the true test of whether or not we actually live by Christian principles. Jesus is not concerned about us maintaining our comfortable way of life (or even maintaining our lives), but He is concerned about us keeping the faith when our lives or lifestyles are threatened.
Keeping the faith doesn’t just mean going to worship on Sundays; it means living out the teachings of Jesus (even in extraordinarily difficult circumstances). Keeping the faith means:
- Loving our neighbors…even when they are complete strangers, foreigners, or someone of another religion (Luke 10:25-37).
- Loving our enemies…even when they want to kill us (Romans 12:14-21).
- Honoring our nations’ leaders…even when they enact policies with which we disagree (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
- Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ…even when we disagree (Romans 14).
I’m not taking sides on the current debate. Trust me, these principles were laid out in Scripture long before the current debate and they will still be relevant after this situation has passed.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this, when tragedies occur, let us conduct ourselves as Christians. Let us remember that Jesus is Lord and that should not only give us great comfort, but also help us to remember we must be obedient and faithful, no matter what is happening in the world.
I love you and God loves you,