A Benevolent Response to Tragedy

On television the other night George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Florida shooter of Trayvon Martin, was being interviewed. He declared that his actions were self defensive but apologized to the family, nonetheless. He then turned his gaze directly into the camera. “I believe that the will of God has been done,” he said.

I was stunned! This was wrong on so many levels! The Martin family has lost their beautiful son forever and the shooter dismisses this with the “Will of God” defense!

Does God want to take credit for Zimmerman’s violence?

It got me thinking… why do we work so hard to give tragic, unexplainable circumstances the God stamp of approval? Is it comforting in some way? If so, to whom?

The problem is that the victims of such occurrences are left with a terrible taste in their mouths for a God who at best allows evil and at worst has a willful purpose in evil, when they need the loving presence of god the most.

Just a few nights ago Aurora, Colorado suffered a tragedy unthinkable for any parent who sends their kids off to the movie theater. Twelve deaths and fifty-eight wounded unjustly at the hand of a very, very broken man. How will people think about this and what will be said?

A few days ago I read something in the Celtic Daily Prayer (pg. 695-96) that made a lot of sense to me.

            “It will be all right in the end,” someone says. Will it? Maybe. But often that is not the case. “There is a purpose in all this,” says another.  This implies that God intended this awful situation, that He approves of suffering. (Especially if, as sometimes happens, we bring the trouble on ourselves, it would be insulting to God to suggest that the wreckage was His idea in the first place.)

            All that we deeply experience is significant (even if it was not what we or God intended to happen!)

            What we can say truthfully in a bad and trying situation is this: ‘This is not without significance.’

            But, especially in times of deep suffering, easy answers that come glibly off the tongue are insulting, hurtful and insensitive.

Some of the most painful times in my life have been worsened by those who tried to explain God’s reason for my tragedy. In my immaturity i have thoughtlessly done this to others myself. If one were to stop and think for a moment it wouldn’t have to be so. What would love dictate?

When comforting our suffering brothers and sisters can we ignore our own urges to make sense out of the situation long enough to  acknowledge the significance of the event without further comment? Can we be witnesses to their pain and leave off theologizing and judging?

Isn’t that what love would look like?

Just some food for thought…

13 Replies to “A Benevolent Response to Tragedy”

  1. Deborah,
    Thanks for some good reflective thoughts about putting people ahead of ideology. I sat down last night and wrote some pretty inflammatory thoughts about the champions of Christian machismo and violent self defense. When I finished I clicked save and decided that this is a discussion to be had at a better time. I think the discussion is important and I look forward to pushing some of my conservative friends buttons but it will have to wait for another day.

    1. Ed,
      Thanks for your reply. The church is really at a crossroads, isn’t it. Our cognitivedogmatic selves are beginning to be outrun by our compassionate selves. This is good! Grace and mercy belong to everyone.
      Hold those thoughts! They are important!

  2. Thanks Deb!

    We spent this morning talking about this tragedy, trying to stay in the space of mindfulness, or compassionate meditation. It was very hard. Our anger kept flaring up. One person demanded gun control, while another defended the right to bear arms. Bottom line? We don’t agree about how to live this life. I don’t think we ever will. But can we agree to hold each other in compassion – no matter what we have done? Can we be openly present, no matter how great the offense? What would happen if we did? The only way to end a discussion like that is in silence. Like Job, sometimes we need to close our mouths and repent in dust and ashes. OOOOOHHHH, for a people who could do that! Admit our own participation in evil, the dark side in ourselves, and not walk away. And wait with those in pain.

    In a world so broken and unfathomable, what else can we do?

    – Carley

    1. Carley,
      The differences in how we see solutions is sooo interesting! Silence can be a great unifying response.
      I like that… respect the dust and ashes!
      And yes, what else can we do as lovers of people?
      Yet many people do have other responses to tragedy. I am reminded of Pat Robertson’s response to Hurricane Katrina… “it was God’s displeasure with America’s abortion policy.” Yeah… so not helpful on any level.

  3. I had heard about Zimmerman’s statement, but didn’t know the details. That is beyond cruel to say something like that. And the tragedy in Colorado? So senseless.
    I agree with your insights Deborah. Let’s just sit with them in their pain. No need to try and explain it with pat, flippant religious comebacks. Often, love is just being there. And that can be enough.

    1. Val… And yet my own experience is that it is humanly impossible to just sit and feel pain with other human beings. However, this is a skill that is worth developing. Trauma bonds are stronger than any other bonds in my experience. What a great opportunity we have to live out love when we supernaturally step into the pain with the other.

  4. Well said! Thank you for your thoughtful response.

    I met a woman years ago whose baby had been accidentally shot and killed by a 5 year old kid. When she spoke of this tragedy, her manner was quiet, gentle, softened by years of grief. But when she spoke of the Christians who tried to comfort her by saying things like, “It was God’s will,” or “God needed another flower for his garden in heaven,” she became fierce. She said that it was only the comfort and grace of a loving God that had gotten her through this tragedy. She said, “Do not make my loving, gracious God into the murderer of my child.”

    1. Karlene,
      Thank you for your story! Oh my gosh, I am so glad that the woman in your story had enough inner strength and voice to speak her truth fiercely. What a learning moment! Why do we have such a difficult time handling the grief of others? It’s almost as if we spin God reasonses to keep the grief from our own doorsteps. And of course, it really doesn’t work.

  5. Deborah,
    Your DAD moments are shared with humble honesty, they are thought provoking and invite soul searching. I am enjoying them immensely. Thank you!

      1. Deborah,

        Interesting what Karlene said, it got me thinking. I lost my baby brother when he was 4 1/2. This was many, many years ago, I had just turned 15. I would though, like to ask my mom what her experience was like during that time as far as God was concerned. We had been a family of practicing Catholics (practice makes perfect! ..ha) up until that point. Pretty much from that year on I don’t believe we really ever went back. It just got me thinking is all. I suppose I could ask myself the same question.
        Sitting quiet in someone’s grief. Often I’m a ‘try to make it better’ ‘let me shoulder the burden’ kind of person. This would be something I’d like to try. To just sit quiet.


      2. Teresa,
        I am sorry for your painful loss even though it was many years ago. It would be interesting to see what a difference a benevolent response might have made for your family. Thank you for your response and for being vulnerable.

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