Why do bad things happen? What can we say in the light of the almost weekly news of shootings on a large scale?
The problem isn’t new to the 21st century. In the 13th century BC, Egypt’s Pharaoh wasn’t happy that the Hebrews were growing in numbers. He made them slaves, gave them the hardest possible work, and when that didn’t slow the birth rate, he commanded the midwives to kill all Hebrew boy babies.
The midwives refused, and then Pharaoh took a radical course. I read Exodus 1:22 in The Message with new eyes: “Every boy that is born, throw in the Nile.” I read it in all forty translations included in the Bible Gateway website. A small majority, 5/8ths, specify “Hebrew boys.”
The remaining 3/8ths, almost half? They simply say that Pharaoh ordered every boy to be thrown into the Nile. In that case, Pharaoh was so obsessed with getting rid of the Hebrews that he was willing to kill his own people to achieve his aims.
I bet there were a lot of Egyptian parents wondering why, questioning their own gods—their king. Why does a Supreme Being allow this to happen? Why does evil happen to good people? Why does evil so often target the most innocent and most vulnerable, our children?
I lived in Denver at the time of the Columbine shootings, and now I live near Oklahoma City, the site of the bombing of the Murrah building. No one can visit the National Memorial in the heart of the country without being shaken by the nineteen child-sized chairs, representing the day care children who died.
There are no easy answers—the possibility of evil is implicit in our freedom to choose. But know this: “God listened to their groanings. God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw what was going on with Israel. God understood.” (Exodus 2:24-25, The Message)
God understood. In words from a long-defunct comedy, “God’s heart was the first to break.” When the Israelites cried out, God understood and He sent Moses.
Today God acts the same way today: He shows Himself through His people.
Although the Bible tells us God sees and understands, Bible verses and doctrinal truths do little to relieve the weight of suffering. For the Israelites in bondage, Moses became God’s face to the people. Pastors, and the churches in their care have the same opportunity for those afflicted by violent tragedy.
The ones who will understand the most are those who have been touched by a similar tragedy. Cast the net wide. Are there people in your congregation who have experienced personal violence—robbery, murder, assault? On a wider level, those who’ve lived through a loved one’s suicide or soldiers or volunteers in time of war may have some understanding of the emotions. A church can prepare response teams—train counselors. A church in an area that has experienced devastation—such as the churches of the Columbine martyrs—sometimes send teams to help in other tragedies.
Professional counselors and groups may be needed on an ongoing basis. Plug into local resources.
Other ways people without experience or training can help in time of tragedy are widespread:
Take care of immediate physical needs: food, laundry, errands.
Provide childcare where it is needed.
For those dealing with funerals, lead them through the complicated legalities. I didn’t have a clue when my daughter died.
Sit, simply sit—the Jewish concept of sitting Shiva—without the need to talk, with those who are hurting.
Let them have solitude when they are too tired to bear company.
The time will come when they are ready to laugh again. Stay close as they rediscover joy.
God understands. He sees. He cares. He will act. Through you.
Best-selling author Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She is an active member of Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Christian Authors Network. She has written over fifty books and more than 250 devotionals. For more on Darlene, visit her Amazon author page.
This article is based on a devotional in Beginnings: 30 Days through Genesis-Exodus, due to be released in January 2016. It’s part of the same series as An Advent Journey through Matthew.
Amazon author page