Making Sense of Senseless Tragedies

by Dr. Carla Cornelius , Christian Examiner Contributor |

(Photo: Facebook)This picture was taken inside St. Sebastian's Church moments after the blast.

The suicide bombings of churches and hotels in three cities of Sri Lanka occurred on Easter Sunday (21 April), and has once more put the world on alert to the randomness and sheer horror of terrorist attacks. They are also a sobering reminder of the fragility of human life. Ironically, this was the day when most Christians around the world were celebrating the resurrection from the dead of their Savior, Jesus Christ – a supernatural act which sealed God's covenant promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him. On a day which celebrated the victory of life over death, so many were to fall victim to a random act of hatred. Whilst so many celebrated, others mourned the barbaric loss of loved ones. On a day when we remembered God's greatest act of love to extend grace to undeserving, sin-ridden human beings, we witnessed just how far the sinful nature can fall and the devastating fallout. Suicide bombers sacrificed their lives which resulted in human carnage; whereas Jesus gave up his life to bring human redemption and eternal life.

Popular films help to re-inforce the myth that there are always survivors. For example, in "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) based on the adventure novel of the same name by Paul Gallico, the hero Reverend Scott leads a small group of a capsized ship to rescue, and is just about to be rescued himself when he willingly sacrifices his life for the others. The "Titanic" (1997) is a fictionalized portrayal of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912. The cruise liner was dubbed as "unsinkable" and inspired a character based on one of the ship's few passengers who survived – "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." In "Unbreakable" (2000), a security guard has the enviable habit of emerging unscathed from disasters and physical challenges which either killed or would have killed the average person. An interested party forms the notion that this is no coincidence, and that he may have a specific genotype which enables this superhuman strength and recovery.

What these films show is that survival is neither assured nor easy. It can mean pressing on against tremendous odds, having to weather the psychological devastation of survivor guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The following reminders are a cold comfort to the grief-stricken who have lost loved ones in such tragedies, but it's worth swallowing these "bitter pills" nonetheless in the hope that they will do some good down the track:

  • God's gift of free will is often used for evil. God does not always intervene to stop tragedies from occurring. He made us like Himself to be "masters over all life" (Genesis 1:26, NLT), but we lack the basic goodness of God to always act in our own best interest and the best interests of others.
  • The end of mortal life is not the end. This person lives on in the afterlife. Ecclesiastes 12:7 states that "the spirit will return to God who gave it." As much as we love people, it is helpful to remember that they don't really belong to us but are simply on loan for a time. Sometimes the time is abruptly cut short, leaving the survivors with a lifetime of regret and resentment over what could have been. God did not create us such that other created beings have the power to control our long-term fate. He is the only one who decides our ultimate fate, and as such He exhorts us – "Don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28, NLT). When faced with the three choices of either three years of famine throughout the land, three months of being chased by his enemies or three days of a deadly plague throughout the land, King David reasoned in this way – "...let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands..." (2 Samuel 24:14 - 16, NLT). David was guided to the correct choice of number three, for God was indeed merciful!
  •  Life is short so we must make the best of time and relationships. The knee-jerk tendency after experiencing or reading about a tragedy, is to recoil in horror and become distrustful of life; but rather this is the time to take stock of your life, and determine what's really important, then pursue those priorities for all they're worth. The Prophet Isaiah draws a reference point from a common feature of our natural habitat – "...people are like the grass that dies away. Their beauty fades as quickly as the beauty of flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people." (Isaiah 40:6-7)
  • There is a Judgment Day which awaits us all. Many criminals may appear to get away with their crimes on earth, but in heavenly court, judgment will be unavoidable and justice will prevail. The stark warning is clear – "Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done." (Hebrews 4:13, NLT)

Indeed, the aphorism that "justice delayed is not justice denied" rings true for all time. In this dispensation of time, we will witness many terrible tragedies, and we will wrestle time and time again to make sense of them. Like King David, we can choose to make our appeal to His trustworthy and merciful character, and trust that justice will ultimately prevail.

– Carla Cornelius, ph.D. gained her doctorate from Trinity School of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana. Her dissertation proposed a biblical model of counseling the suicidal based on the book of Ecclesiastes. Because the causes of suicide are multifactorial, she endeavors to bring a psycho-spiritual perspective to this complex and ever-pressing issue. She is the author of five books including Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking, Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains and No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide. She is a director and editor-in-chief at Jesus Joy Publishing in the North-West Midlands of the United Kingdom – www.jesusjoypublishing.co.uk.