When tragedy strikes, such as Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in Houston, it may be cause for people to question God’s goodness, even his existence. Here are two good things that may come from such tragedy.
Tragedy teaches the world what is truly important.
Catastrophe is a powerful values clarification exercise.
I am too focused on mundane trivialities, convinced that my priorities are most important, consumed by consumerism, absorbed in my personal world and wearied by the exigencies of life. When tragedy strikes and I am forced to pay attention to more important matters. I empathize with the hurt and loss of others.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans rightly cancelled their preseason game in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, so that Texans players could be with their families. JJ Watt has raised in excess of four million dollars for victims. Football and the rivalries we make so much of become meaningless in the face of disaster.
Tragedy makes us realize what is truly important: loving other people and caring for their needs along with–and even above–our own. When a disaster like Katrina or Harvey strikes, many of us realize that this life is not all there is, and we choose to live by faith in the God who promises eternal life. “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but what is unseen is eternal… So we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:18 & 5:7).
When a mass shooting happens we realize that good and evil are not just a matter of what we do and don’t like. We realize that there is something dramatically wrong with the world. And we have the opportunity to cry out for help and wisdom to the almighty, good and loving God from whom the world has turned. Each of us may turn back to this God. A faith revival could begin. What is your response to tragedy? Do you despair? Do you turn away in apathy indifference in an effort to preserve your own emotions? Do you blame God, complain to God, or do you cry out in faith, and act out in love?
Both nations that sought to take over the world during WWII believed that they were racially superior. In the wake of WWII the American attitude toward race was ripe for change. Enter Martin Luther King Jr. and the willingness not only to speak out and push for immediate change, but to suffer to see it through. The horrendous way civil rights protesters were treated was a tragedy, and many people were moved by it. However, the root of racism—a belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group— was cut when Hitler was defeated, and severed entirely when the empire of the rising sun was stopped. Intransigent racism continues to exist even today, but it is difficult to maintain the superiority of one’s own group when you have the example of between 35 and 60 million people dead as the result of that belief, when you have 6 million Jews who were murdered because of that belief.
The reality of a universal good and evil is well accepted today, even among atheists. That may well be due to the intense examples of evil we have witnessed since 911. It is extremely difficult to maintain that good and evil are completely relative when faced with suicide bombers, mass shooters and the chronic daily examples of murder, rape and senseless violence.
Now, I am not trying to convince you that everyone learns the lessons that tragedy teaches, or that everybody comes to the same conclusion. 911 may have helped to forge a consensus regarding the objective and universal existence of good and evil. In fact, 911 and the subsequent horrors we’ve witnessed may have already brought about the demise of postmodern relativism. However, the same event motivated the rise of the so-called new atheists and their spate of books aimed at extinguishing faith in God, especially monotheistic faith as exemplified by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So, not everyone arrives at the same conclusions when facing terrorism and tragedy. Some draw closer to God, some curse him, and some disbelieve in his existence. However, it is difficult remain truly agnostic in the wake of a Hurricane Harvey or Katrina or the 250,000 who died in the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004.
Some will question the goodness of God for bringing or permitting a disaster like Harvey. I saw a Tweet from one such skeptic who asked, “There are a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this? The Tweet is wrong on multiple levels: is the guy blaming god, or seeking to disprove his existence, and why is he baiting Texas’ Christian population? Whatever his purpose, it is grossly insensitive to the suffering of many in South Texas. However, a reply from Trey Bedrick has a positive observation as a result of the compassionate responses of many people in our nation to this tragedy: “Yeah. I see my God bringing people together of every race to help one another in a time our country was on the verge of race wars.” How long this effect will last is unknown, but fighting over over hundred year old statues seems insignificant when people have lost everything.
Tragedy is an unavoidable values clarification exercise. I place this under the heading God Is Sovereign for good reason. God allows catastrophes to happen, or He may cause tragedy to discipline or punish. Unless you’re a genuine prophet, you cannot say why. You aren’t the judge. None of us—no human who has ever lived— would have the right to let evil take place just so people will realize what is important or affirm the reality of good and evil. God can. God has that right. Because he is God. I may question him, but it would be better to fear him, fall on my face before him and cry out for mercy, comfort and help in times of trouble.
Heroes are born from the womb of tragedy.
As we’ve seen, tragedy presents a test of what’s truly important,. Those who realize that what’s important is love, compassion, concern for other people, and who take the opportunity to do good and help those in an emergency, are heroes.
As I write this, heroes are everywhere in south Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the overwhelming deluge of rain that has flooded a large part of Houston. The so called Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers from Louisiana, brought their boats and have been rescuing people stranded by the flood. One man and his friends have focused on rescuing people’s pets. Pictures of heroes are posted on social media: a man, carrying children through waist deep water, another man carrying a woman and her baby, another with a rope and reaching out for others who are in danger of being swept along by flowing water. We have a friend, one of my former youth from FHBC days, named Charles Lauersdorf. He’s a marine who has been to Iraq five times. Charlie wanted to help, so he bought a boat and went down to Houston. One of his marine buddies volunteered to go and keep a watch for looters who were reported to be shooting at boats. These are two of many men went and are still down there.
Charlie posted the following on Fb while he was on his boat (Aug. 30, 2017): “Having listened to thousands of calls for Rescue over the radio, I have YET to hear skin color used as a reference…. “Family of 4”, “two elderly people”, “3 women and 2 kids and 4 dogs and a bird”…but no skin color. Why not? Because it doesn’t effing matter! Rant over.”
One of Charlies marine buddies posted in response: “Yeah, I liked it when we were all green.”
Tragedy reveals heroes, and heroes don’t rescue a skin color, they rescue a person (or in some cases an animal!). Can’t say the same for the race baiters and political opportunists who have shown their contempt for Texas in the wake of Harvey Trump pledged a million dollars, other unlikely celebs like Miley Cyrus have stepped up to give huge sums. Don’t look to the media to determine who the heroes are. The real heroes sure aren’t marching in the streets, waving Nazi flags, and shouting about the supremacy of the white race, nor are they wearing black, covering their faces like terrorists do, inciting and committing violence, rioting and chanting: “No Trump, no wall, no America at all!”