Yesterday, tragedy struck in the state of Oregon. A gunman killed at least ten people at a community college. Reports say the gunman intentionally targeted Christians, lining victims up, asking their religion, and shooting them in the head if they said “Christian.”
Our hearts break at such evil, and our prayers rise for the families connected to this tragedy. Their pain is too real and too raw for us to quickly offer words of meaningful comfort. We do not want to trivialize their pain by trying to reason away their deaths, as if their families aren’t forever changed.
Yet for those like me — those disconnected enough to observe only through articles and news coverage — I do want to ponder this tragedy. I don’t want this tragedy to be lost on me.
As terrible as it is to note, school shootings now seem so common we rarely stop and move beyond a surface reaction. “We’ve become numb to this,” said President Obama as he addressed the shooting yesterday. My desire is to stop, ask, open our eyes to hope, and see a bigger picture of God in the midst of such madness.
Righteous Reaction to Tragedy
I can’t think of many in the Bible who experienced more pain than Job. Truly, Job’s pain was the result of a kind of persecution: direct Satanic attack. Job understood being singled out as one who was faithful to the one true God.
In the middle of the book of Job, while his tragedy is unfolding, Job hasn’t been silenced yet or vindicated by God; he’s simply arguing his case to his three friends. He talks about his tragedy from God and describes the reaction of onlookers.
“The upright are appalled at this, and the innocent stirs himself up against the godless.” (Job 17:8)
Job describes the innocent, the onlookers, who “stir themselves up against the godless.” When they looked at Job, they were appalled at the tragedy that he had experienced, and everyone had an opinion or call to action.
Today, we respond in similar ways. Already, activists across the nation have risen up to argue their case for gun control or increased school security.
But hold on. Before your blood boils, or you spring onto your soapbox (for either side of an argument), read the next verse.
“Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger.” (Job 17:9)
When tragedy strikes, the righteous grows stronger because God never intended for tragedy to become about our agendas. He always intended for tragedy to point to the reality of our hope in him, and him alone.
Satan Meant Evil, God Means Good
Christians will face tragedy or unspeakable persecution in a world like ours. But what sets Christians apart from the rest of the world is our unshakable hope in a sovereign God who means all things for good — especially life’s most painful things.
Many of us know the power of Romans 8:28, but less of us are familiar with Genesis 50:20. In Romans, we read, that for those who love God, and are called according to his purposes, “all things work together for good.” But in Genesis, it gets even more pointed. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
It doesn’t say, “God used it for good.” It says, “God meant it for good.”
There’s a purposefulness behind everything that happens because it happens by God’s hand. God isn’t a master strategist, who knows how to quickly react and respond to human actions that catch him by surprise. He is God. “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he” (John 13:19).
A sovereign God is the only God that gives us unshakable hope.
We Are Powerless, God Is Not
Reporting on the President’s comments last night on the shooting, the New York Times reports, “With each massacre, his sense of powerless anger and frustration has built.” Left to our own devices, we will only end up distraught at our powerlessness. We were never meant to orchestrate history.
Job realized the sovereignty of God for himself when God began to question Job concerning the universe he was in. Every argument and logical explanation for Job’s suffering soon was eclipsed by the majesty of a God who knows the end from the beginning.
The sovereignty of God doesn’t make tragedy less tragic, but it does give beautiful hope to every trial we face. Even as his trial still was unfolding, Job believed in a God who would make all things right — and he placed his hope in the day he would see that God face to face.
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25–27)