We Take the Next Step

How Grace Arrives in Unexpected Tragedy

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Guest Contributor

I remember the morning that my three-year-old son unexpectedly died. I recall words and phrases coming out of my mouth that I never thought would apply to me. I recall making a series of decisions for which I never could have been prepared.

When will his funeral be?
What funeral home will we use?
Where will he be buried?

What? Are we really talking about my child? My life? Are these words really coming out of my mouth?

Nothing in the World Prepares You

We live in a culture of competence. We take classes, get degrees, do training, and earn certificates. We make wills and buy insurance. We pride ourselves in our preparation. We pay heed to the mantra, “If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”

However, anyone who has experienced unexpected death or tragedy will tell you that nothing in the world can prepare you for the moments (or seasons) that follow. As a result, helplessness and disorientation fill your consciousness.

For this reason, most of us live in dread of our worst nightmare blindsiding us. What if my child [fill in the blank]? What about my husband? Or my mom? What if my job vanishes? Or what if our government collapses?

In reality, it’s not the lack of competency or skill that creates a feeling of “anticipatory doom.” The dread and anxiety circle the belief that our hearts cannot handle the pain. Before my son died, I believed that tragedy would wreck my heart, torpedo my faith, and ruin my life. Surely I would be sentenced to a lifetime of misery.

Grace for the Next Step

Let me tell you from firsthand experience: God’s grace is greater. God’s grace is greater than any pain or sorrow, any tragedy or death that the fallen world can throw at you.

The Bible does not lack examples of people finding themselves in unexpected difficulties. Were the Israelites ready to leave Egypt? Were there months of planning? Was there a Plan B when they reached the sea and felt Pharaoh’s army closing in behind them? Were there fields of ripe crops and streams of fresh water flowing in the desert?

God gave the Israelites the very thing they most needed: the next step. But often only the next step.

Expectations in Ruins

Did the disciples foresee Christ’s gruesome death and the scattering of his followers? Did they anticipate their own failures and cowardice when the tables turned on Jesus? Peter certainly didn’t. Did they imagine the persecution, resistance, and violence they would receive when they witnessed to the risen Christ and established his church?

We know from the Gospels that the disciples were naïve to the pain that awaited them. They anticipated liberation from the Romans. They expected to be high-ranking cabinet members in a restored Israelite kingdom. Comfort and prosperity filled their expectations, not suffering and difficulty.

However, we see from the apostolic writings that God filled their hearts with hope, peace, and joy. They were not ruined; they were filled with life.

Peter writes of “a living hope” in Christ (1 Peter 1:3). James counted his trials a “joy” (James 1:2). Paul experienced a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). John proclaimed the “eternal life” that believers have, even in their trials and confusion (1 John 5:11–12). These were people who encountered tragedies that most modern, Western Christians will never know, and God sustained and even prospered their lives and souls.

God gave them the next step.

The Grace We Most Need

In that next step, he gave them the most critical grace any person needs in unexpected pain and suffering: God gave them himself.

God presented the risen Christ in the body to his disciples in order to restore their faith and their souls. The appearing of the resurrected Lord was the turning point that transformed their sorrow into joy.

Then God poured down his Holy Spirit on their hearts. The very presence of his person sustained, comforted, and redeemed the disciples and apostles in their worst. God himself was the provision that enabled them to heal and thrive after unexpected pain and tragedy.

The same remains true for all believers. If you find yourself living in dread of the “what ifs,” know that God in the person of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit will be with you in the darkness. You will not be ruined.

And if you are presently in the darkness, God has manna for you. This manna transcends all circumstances. It has the power to heal and restore your heart, even while it’s still breaking. Jesus himself, through the Holy Spirit, is the grace for which your pain hungers. God will abundantly supply himself to you.