WHAT TO DO WHEN TRAGEDY OVERWHELMS YOU

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Several weeks ago, the news and social media broke out with articles about a catastrophic situation in Aleppo, Syria. Everyone was talking about the tragedies and the brutality.  At the risk of exposing my own ignorance, I will admit that I turned my eyes from the horrors in the news.

I didn't read a single article about what was going on in Aleppo. Just knowing it was a tragic and hopeless situation (that seemed to primarily involve children) was enough to overwhelm me. Instead, I retreated from being intellectually or emotionally involved.    

As time went on, the guilt of my disengagement ate away at me. I set out to discover why I shut down so easily instead of investing in the details of the news. Upon some prayer and reflection, I came to the conclusion that ultimately, I shut down because I couldn’t find a way to reconcile the brokenness of the world in my heart. My soul couldn’t sort it all out or make any sense of it. 

It was at this point I had to ask myself, “So, what do I do?” 

There are two main things we constantly hear we should do when tragedy strikes: pray and donate. Both of these are good and necessary, and they are what actually helps change a situation for the better. But I felt the Lord nudge me about a third important and necessary thing we as Christians should do as we try to cope with pain, especially when all seems hopeless and lost.

I think God wants us to wrestle with Him. 

I think He is asking us to struggle with Him when we’re overcome; to probe Him, to ask Him: “Why?” Wrestle with Him about why this is happening. Ask Him why there’s nothing we can do about it. Struggle with Him about why we get to live our lives here while others suffer incalculably there.

And here’s the thing—I don’t expect to come out of my wrestling match with an answer. I don’t even expect to feel any better about the reality of the situation.

But I believe that as we struggle, we will make space in our hearts for God amidst the chaos and confusion. As we wrestle with these questions, we are allowing Him to sit with us in the darkness instead of pushing Him out, covering our ears, shutting our eyes and screaming out loud for not giving us answers or making it better. As we ask all of the “why?” questions, we have to also ask ourselves: “Can I walk away from my desire to reconcile long enough to take a deep breath, and solemnly declare in my heart: God is still real, and He is still good?” 

I think God wants us to deal with these challenging thoughts in a way that ultimately points to Him as the author and finisher of our faith. He wants us to lean on Him as the weight of the chaos in the world bears down on our souls. Let the troubles trouble you; they should. Let the pain hurt you; it should. But at the end of the day, He wants us to come to him, weary and burdened, and find our rest in him (Matthew 11:28). 

I don’t mean to say that we wrestle with God as a means to challenge His sovereignty or omnipotence. It is not to kick up dirt in the face of the Almighty, like a child throwing a temper tantrum and hitting his mother out of anger. We struggle with God with a deep reverence, knowing that He welcomes our pain and brokenness, and embraces us lovingly even as we sob heavy tears. 

I know that wrestling with God doesn’t change the circumstances; it doesn’t heal the broken and it doesn’t rescue the captured. Prayer does, which is why prayer is so urgently necessary all the time (1 Thes. 5:16-18). But wrestling with God is necessary for us to do, so that we don’t lose hope. Jesus said in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

It does me no good to shut God out when tragedy strikes, or give up on Him entirely. This is how I reconcile overwhelming circumstances and pain: it is knowing that with God, there is peace even in times of war. With God there is love even in brokenness. It is knowing that with God there is hope, even when all seems lost.