Wednesday Devotional: Jesus Sits with Us in Tragedy
Tornado in Mississippi, 2015, by Bryan C.W., licensed through Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International
John 11: 35
As a tornado carving its way across Mississippi bore down on Amory on Friday evening, Tupelo meteorologist Matt Laubhan warned people of the impending storm on WTVA-TV. Overcome by the realization that people would be hurt, an emotional Laubhan bowed his head briefly and prayed, on air, "Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen."
Indeed the tornado killed at least 26 people that evening, leveling homes and property. You would think such a prayer on TV might be controversial, but observers mostly appreciated Laubhan's impromptu moment. As one Twitter user wrote, "I'm not religious, but this is basic humanity this man is displaying."
Journalists and meteorologists, as well as first responders, medical personnel, and many others, can get caught up in the events they're covering. In my late 20's and early 30's, I was a radio journalist in Greenville, Texas. Occasionally I would have to cover a dire accident or even a death scene. One that stuck with me was an Interstate 30 pedestrian accident on a rainy, windy night. A teenaged runaway from Minnesota tried to run across the freeway with a friend but was struck by a car. As I arrived on the scene, the police had covered her body with a sheet, leaving the teen where she landed on the road. I couldn't help but look, again and again, at the sheet flapping in the wind. I thought about and prayed for a family in Minnesota who had no idea where their daughter was and the horrific scene that was taking place. Shortly they would receive the news that their worst fears were realized, that their daughter was dead.
Sometimes we are not the ones directly affected by a tragedy. We may be witnesses. We may hear about it from others. We may even be asked by someone to pray for the situation; it's not unusual for someone to ask me to pray, as words fail them as they face a crisis. We may become prayer advocates or even chaplains in the midst of crisis.
We know that God is good and that God hears us. We also know that we live in a physical world with natural consequences, where a car striking a pedestrian at 70 miles per hour can only have one outcome, or a roaring tornado is going to do what it will. Still, God is good all the time. We can only pray for what we desire, leaving the rest in God's care.
Jesus knew this kind of tragedy. When his friend Lazarus died, and Jesus arrived too late to save him (but knowing that he would resuscitate Lazarus), Jesus still stopped and cried at the grief of the mourners (the Bible says simply in John 11:35, its shortest verse, "Jesus wept.") I've thought many times about that moment. Jesus didn't reassure everyone, "It's all going to be all right." Instead, He sat in the moment of grief and mourning, feeling the pain of Lazarus' loved ones. I believe this same Jesus still mourns and cries with us when life's natural consequences take place.
So, yes, let us pray, "Dear Jesus, help them." Let us sit with the mourners as Christ did and does. Let us know that God still has the whole world in His hands, regardless of every circumstance of life.
For more on this topic of dealing with crisis and tragedy, please lean into my book and video study, "The Next Thing: A Christian Model for Dealing with Crisis in Personal Life." I'm pleased to share that this book is used by multiple therapists and multiple chaplains in their practices. It's an easy read combining serious thoughts, useful scripture, and practical steps to take when faced with crisis - and we all will face crisis soon, if we're not in a crisis already. For more info, including the first free video lesson, please visit https://www.ceciltaylorministries.com/the-next-thing.