For nearly a week now, multitudes of us have been praying for the innocent victims of the hellish attack that took place in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Compassion makes us wonder what it would have been like if we had been one of those involved, either as a direct victim or as one being forced to watch helplessly as a friend, loved one, or one of our own children, was being mangled right in front of us. There are no words to adequately express the impact of an event like that, and we search for some way to deal with it. People sometimes suggest that we ought to “expect the unexpected”, but no one ever wants to expect anything like that.
A Welcome Message ~
Recurrent periods of rebellion frequently made suffering all too familiar to God’s people. Their present misery and warnings about ‘more to come’ made Isaiah’s message of hope particularly welcome. He prophesied that God would ultimately come to redeem His people and bring about a radical transformation. Hundreds of years later, Jesus proclaimed that He had come to make God’s promise of deliverance and freedom from suffering available to all of us. When tragedies strike, we try to imagine what it would be like to experience the reality of Isaiah’s words, words which declare that God can give …
… beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:3b NKJV)
In the midst of our suffering, we often long for God to invade this world and transform everything, just as Isaiah’s prophesied. We wonder what it would feel like if all the sources of our pain and grief were finally removed. We try to imagine fear and anxiety melting away and being replaced by the peace and love we want more than anything. But until that ultimate fulfillment comes, this sin-cursed earth often finds us struggling with the kind of transformation that happened in Waukesha, a transformation that works in the opposite direction.
Changed in a Moment ~
Isaiah described beauty spontaneously emerging from the ashes of our suffering, but in one dreadful moment last Sunday, the opposite happened. Everything beautiful was consumed and reduced to ashes by a blast furnace of evil ignited by one man’s incomprehensible disregard for life. Music faded as all evidence of joy was replaced by screams of astonished disbelief and mournful wails. Voices of praise were suddenly silenced, choked out and smothered beneath the ponderous weight of inexpressible horror.
Eloquent promises of future blessings can seem distant and powerless when human depravity seems to be erupting all around us and spewing a cloud of evil that overshadows everything, So what do we do when some awful event leaves us speechless in stunned disbelief and fuels a growing sense of outrage that seems irrepressible? We cry out for justice to be restored – but not the undefined, manipulative buzzword shouted by Marxist rioters as validation for looting stores and destroying property. The justice our hearts long for is the kind where laws are equally applied and violators are held accountable regardless of their class, race, political affiliation, or economic status. But even as we pray for justice to prevail, we’re aware that something more is needed.
Justice Isn’t Enough ~
Justice alone can’t restore life. Righteous responses can’t replace body parts that are permanently damaged or ripped away. Justice can’t offer peace to hearts wracked with uncontrollable grief. Heart-rending bad news isn’t magically transformed into good news because perpetrators were held accountable. It isn’t the application of justice that brings beauty out of ashes. When the soul struggles to bear an unbearable loss, the mournful ache inside isn’t transformed into joy because some violator goes to prison. Retribution alone doesn’t remove the immobilizing weight our spirit feels when irreplaceable things are suddenly snatched away. Justice is a good thing, but we aren’t set free from our burden of grief and cloaked with a garment of praise because somebody else is punished. If good news is to be found at times like that, it takes something more. Inescapable tragedies can’t be reframed to look like something good, but they can lead us to the One who can heal every hurt we feel and restore all we’ve lost.
The ashes of our lives will always be cold, empty ashes. Nothing can change that, but there’s One who can grow beauty out of them. Mourning will always follow when death steals those we love, but the One who robbed death itself can turn mourning into endless joy. The burdens heaped upon us by a deceitful and seductive world system might weigh us down, but there’s One who can lift it off our shoulders. The weight of every sin ever committed was heaped on Jesus until it finally crushed His tortured body and took His last breath of life. But three days later He rolled it all away forever along with the stone that had sealed His tomb.
It Could Be ‘Us’ ~
We weren’t in that parade last Sunday, but the day may come when we’re the ones standing among the ashes left in the wake of some tragic event. We might be the ones mourning the loss of our dreams and feeling powerless to carry the load of it all. No psychological tricks or twisting of language can turn evil into good, but the promise of Jesus Christ is that when we turn to Him, He can turn the heaviness we cannot endure into praise we cannot contain. There is no loss His grace can’t eventually restore. There is no grief His love can’t reconcile, and there is no death that isn’t rendered powerless by the life He offers.
Expecting the unexpected is a futile directive. The very fact that a thing is “un”expected makes it impossible to anticipate and prepare for it. The statement only serves to remind us that things we never thought would happen may be waiting for us at any given point. Life is “un”certain, “un”predictable, and “un”fair. That makes many tragedies that come our way “un”avoidable, but that doesn’t mean that we have to face them “un”prepared.
Jesus made it clear that bad things are going to happen to us, and one of them may usher us out of this world. He didn’t offer a way to avoid them, but He offered something far better. When that event happens, if we have trusted Jesus as Savior, we have “more” than just an expectation. We have something that no thief can steal and no tragedy can erase. What He said to His followers just before they faced the trauma of His crucifixion is meant for us as well:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1–3 NKJV)
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Inescapable tragedies can’t be reframed to look like something good, but they can lead us to the One who can heal every hurt we feel and restore all we’ve lost … the One who can grow beauty out of the ashes of our lives.”@GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Mourning will always follow when death steals those we love, but the One who robbed death itself can turn mourning into endless joy.”@GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The weight of every sin ever committed was heaped on Jesus until it finally crushed His tortured body and took His last breath of life. But three days later, He rolled it all away forever, along with the stone that had sealed His tomb.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “There is no loss the grace of Jesus Christ can’t eventually restore, no grief His love can’t reconcile, no death that isn’t rendered powerless by the life He offers.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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