Tragedies: we’ve all had them and despite how much they universally suck, we will all have more of them. It’s an unfortunate part of life that strangely reveals– almost defines– God’s goodness. After all, how would we know to call smooth sailing “smooth” without the occasional rough waters?
During a tragedy, it’s not uncommon for even the skeptic or agnostic to have a moment of there’s-something-bigger-than-me clarity. They might even mention the idea of trusting God. It’s an intimate moment, really–to witness someone who normally doesn’t give our Creator a second thought actually stopping and recognizing that the answer they need rests in Someone other than themselves. In that moment, when our assumptions and truths seem to be falling apart, the idea that God created us and loves us is sometimes all we have to hang onto.
But most of us aren’t going through tragedies at the moment. We’re in between those proverbial storms.
I’m a firm believer in “normal” being a total illusion. The world defines it very casually, however, as when we seemingly have a good handle on our own lives. “Normal” is another way of proclaiming self-sufficiency. That’s the illusion, by the way. Our lives are never the product of our own efforts. A positive, fun personality doesn’t do a better job directing a heart to beat, or making white blood cells. Every moment is a miracle of grace with an indescribable God sustaining us both mentally and physically. We take that for granted when we approach life and time with the perspective that it’s nothing special.
In times of non-tragedy, once we’re out of the foxhole, our sinful nature takes the steering wheel and ever-so-subtly brings us back to where we feel perfectly capable of managing our workload, family, finances or personal life. With no bullets zinging past our ears, continuously reminding us of our need for God, we start shifting life over to our own terms. Despite our previous moment of clarity, God is nowhere to be found in the way we make decisions… again. The foxhole becomes a distant memory, and the reality we experienced with our faces in the dirt is replaced by the imaginative man-centered fairy tale of culture.
After a little while, we’re facing another tragedy. Somehow, it surprises and even offends us. And all over again, those definitions and life purposes we’ve bought into from culture are getting blasted out of the water by the reality we’re experiencing. It’s another painful, scary pendulum swing back to God’s way– He is our only comfort each time the self-centered reality we’ve continually chosen over Him gets exposed as a false hope.
But if we’re honest, our re-rediscovered faithfulness will only last until the smoke clears. When the dust settles–when the divorce is finalized and we meet someone new or when we aren’t wondering where dinner will come from–our faithfulness will be tossed back to the world and ourselves.
In varying degrees, we all go through this cycle of building our own truths and then eventually watching them collapse when something hard happens. Tragedy shatters the plans we have and we suddenly become aware that there is actually something out there more real and powerful than our ideas and feelings.
In tragedies, our ideas of fairness and goodness get shot to pieces. We realize that what we treated like a rock-solid foundation is just a pretty picture of what we wanted to be strong. In the midst of tragedies, that picture of our own reality seems more like a silly cartoon. Nothing about it seems rock-solid anymore. If it were, it would have a perfectly good explanation for the unavoidable hard things that happen in life– in reality. It’s only God’s way that has the explanation and the comfort we’re looking for. It’s God’s way that has never had to adjust to life’s heartbreaks and difficulties. That’s how we can tell it’s true.
Somehow it rarely dawns on us to trust and accept God’s way when our self-defined worldview isn’t being blasted with disappointment. Israel had the same condition. It wasn’t the tragedies that damaged Israel’s relationship with God– those were actually how it was restored. It was the drifting effect that occurred in between those tragedies that did the real damage.
When we believe we have a good handle on our lives, when we feel like we don’t necessarily need anything, we do all kinds of things that have nothing to do with God and everything to do with ourselves. We may get humbled by one storm, but it’s hardly long before we start drawing a new picture of the reality we want to live in, believing selfish things because of their pleasure or convenience. We love the idea of being the most valuable thing in the room. In fact, many people even build their relationship with God on this self-centered desire. But despite God being “involved,” those people will be no less disappointed by tragedy. Because tragedy is our continual reminder that it’s not about us.
What would happen if, even in the “normal” calm waters, we looked to God for our understanding of reality? If even when things aren’t falling apart, we start trusting what He has to say about how to navigate through life. We stop calling ourselves the experts of our emotions, and start believing what He says about us.
If this world was created and not some fluke from nothingness, then a Creator-inspired description of how life was designed to be lived seems like a source of wisdom we can trust. As much as you want to discount the inspiration of the Bible, it’s proven to be the most reliable history book in all of human history despite also being the most scrutinized. Based on that alone, the Bible sounds like something we can reliably build our understanding of truth around. And not just when we decide we need a little help. It’s meant for all of life–every season, come sun or rain. That’s why it’s important to read and apply it more than just when you feel like you need something out of it. If it is what it claims to be, it warrants itself to be the focus of our lifelong study. Once you begin, you will quickly learn what God’s perspective is, where we actually fit into that, and just how radically opposite His ways are from what the world has decided is right or trustworthy. It’s inconvenient, but it stands the test of reality much better than anything else we’ve tried.
What God reveals in the Bible rarely agrees with what comes naturally to us, especially when everything seems to be “normal.” He says we shouldn’t trust our own hearts. He says we really aren’t the good, deserving people we love to think we are. And if we’re honest, we know it’s true. Our desires are tainted with selfishness. But God says our lives can’t be about ourselves if we want to actually live.
God’s truth has never adjusted or changed. Ours changes all the time, and yet we want to believe each new adjustment is finally the best truth. It seems like every week, we have a new idea about what’s worthy of our time, what’s the best way to find happiness, and what’s the one thing we need to do more of in order for everything else to fall into place.
God says that “one thing” is Him– living for Him and trusting in Him through all of it. More than just during the confusing and painful times. And when we do, the calm waters of this world will not just be calm, but full of eternal purpose and appreciation. Even the tragedies, once so earth-shattering and destructive, will seem a lot less threatening and reveal surprising hints of joy and hope.