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When Tragedy Strikes

The news out of my home country this past weekend was heartbreaking. Fifteen young men, members of a hockey team, died when their bus collided with a truck. It’s hard to comprehend the impact this must be having on their families. In small towns across Canada, where hockey is such a large part of life, everyone feels the pain.

Seldom does a week go by when we don’t read about some such tragedy somewhere: a shooting at a school in the US, a driver running down pedestrians in Germany, a train accident in India or a ferry boat sinking off the coast of China. These events are often far away and yet we are made aware of the pain and suffering that families and communities are going through. People are forever altered through these tragic events.

At times, there are tragedies that hit closer to home. We often struggle to know how to respond when someone we love suffers. Perhaps a spouse or child has died. Maybe they have been in a serious accident. As believers, what do we have to say or offer to others on these occasions? Romans 12:15 offers some practical advice: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

When problems come, the first thing to do is cry with those who are crying. Being present and expressing sadness together is often the best medicine. We don’t need to offer an explanation or try to fix someone’s pain. We first need to realize that people have suffered, and they need to know that it makes us sad as well. Resist the temptation to fix things quickly with some careless remark or comment.

As time passes, we can offer words of Scripture that bring comfort and hope. We should offer specific prayer and let our friends know exactly how we are praying for them. “Thoughts and prayers” has become a generic term without much meaning. Give them examples of your prayers and tell them why you are still thinking about them.

It wasn’t God’s plan for humanity to live in this fallen world. He had something better in mind. The good news is he has acted to redeem this world, and every day we need to remember that. In the meantime, there will be moments when we are called on to offer comfort to others. The chaplain of the hockey team quoted Psalm 34:8: “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” Let’s remember to be there as well when people need us.

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