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A view into the north campus library, part of which was lost in the explosion. Photo by Reid Westrem.

Why do tragedies happen?

Minnehaha’s sacred studies department explores why bad things happen

Minnehaha Academy has had a hard three months. The disaster that occurred on August second has shaken our community and will affect the school for years to come. It is difficult to recover from something like this. For Christians, however, the Bible and words of God can be a powerful source of solace in times like this. Through experts on Christianity and God and through the Bible itself, Christians can learn what God has to say about tragedy and how he can help us to grieve and move on.

Experts on Christianity tell us God has worked to help humans deal with suffering many times in the past. The big picture of the Bible, the story of Job, and the story of Jesus can all help with questions about why bad things happen, what to do when they inevitably do, and how God can help in these types of situations.

When looking for religious advice, the first place many people turn to is the Bible. Fortunately, the Bible is an excellent source of advice about tragedy.

“This really is what the Bible is about,” said Jeffrey Crafton, a Minnehaha sacred studies teacher. “The meta-narrative, the big picture of the Bible, is that God created everything good and gave us freedom. We messed it up. And so, how is God helping us to make it right again?”

Crafton later went on to talk about the book of Revelation. “The final picture of the Bible, the final story of the Bible is how God will eventually restore things to the good that they’re supposed to be.”

While God has a lot to say about tragedy, it’s also important that he does things.

“The stories of the Bible and of Christian tradition tell us that it’s not only what God says but what God does about tragedy,” said Cara Anthony, a theology professor at the University of Saint Thomas. “The words of God are always: “I am with you, I will not leave you, and I love you.” Those are the words that God says, and what God does, in response to tragedy, is he continues to love people, to be with people, and to make it possible for people to heal and recover.”

It’s not only in the abstract sense that the Bible tackles the issue of suffering, however. The book of Psalms specifically takes it on many times.

“We can be angry with God, we can be hurt,” said said Kelly Wilson, an Old Testament theologian at Saint Thomas. “We can feel all these feelings, and God says, “bring them to me.” The [kind of] psalm that appears most frequently in the book of Psalms is individual lament, people crying out to God. That’s a kind of permission. God’s saying, ‘bring your sorrows, bring your pain, bring your frustration, even bring your anger. If you’re angry at me, bring it to me, and I’m here to listen.’”

Apart from helping to discern what God says about disaster, the Bible explores why it happens. The book of Job is entirely about why bad things happen to good people.

“You know the story of Job,” said Anthony. “Job’s children die, and his property is destroyed, and Job suffers personal injury as well. And then, Job’s friends come along and say ‘this must be happening for a good reason.’ They say, ‘you must have done something wrong, to deserve this.’  and Job insists, ‘No, I didn’t do anything to deserve this.’

Job and his friends continue to talk, but Job insists on talking with God. God does come, eventually, and Job asks him why this is happening to him.

“God actually doesn’t give a complete answer,” Anthony went on. “God just says, “Were you here when I built the universe?’ Basically, God just puts what’s going on into a much bigger view.”

Anthony later explained what that bigger view was.

“Maybe we don’t know everything,” Anthony said. “Maybe we can’t see the whole picture. Maybe we are on one page of the big book of the universe. And if we read that one page it’s not going to make sense. But God is the only one who know the whole story.”

The book of Job may be helpful for the question of why bad things happen, but there are some people who think that the question of “why” shouldn’t be asked at all.

“I don’t think that we can ever address the question, ‘why bad things happen,’” said Wilson. “I am a firm believer that we don’t have that answer. I think biblical authors don’t know the answer either. The question we should be asking instead is, ‘what do we do when we are suffering?’”

It’s sometimes hard to believe a loving God would put people through such difficulties. However, God doesn’t just put people through suffering. He joined them in it.

“God is with us when we suffer,” said Greg Ellis, a Minnehaha sacred studies teacher. “One of the things that we know about God is that in order to win back the human race, in order to redeem us, to set us free, God suffered with his son being crucified. God is acquainted with suffering. In the story of Jesus we have the victory of Christ on the cross coming at huge personal cost, and it looks like he loses. There’s suffering, and there’s even death, in that story. And God did not spare himself from that.”

“For Christians the best way to see what God does [about tragedy] is through Jesus,” said Anthony. “Jesus doesn’t hold back from being where tragedy. He actually lets tragedy touch his own life. He doesn’t fix everything, he doesn’t take away suffering, but Jesus goes through everything that people go through. And he even felt abandoned himself. Jesus on the cross says,‘my God my God why have you abandoned me.’ Jesus himself felt those feelings of abandonment. And what does he do when other people have felt those feelings of abandonment? He goes and stays with them. He goes and walks with them. He stands by people.”

On August second, two lives were ended and all of ours were drastically changed. This is a powerful moment in Minnehaha’s history, and a painful reality for many of us, but the grief caused by it does not have to define us. Through God’s love and our faith, we can first mourn, and then move on.

 

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About Patrick Cullinan

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