In the Face of Tragedy

It was the day after Christmas. I was a sophomore in high school. I woke up that morning and went downstairs to the living room to play the piano my parents had given me the day before. My dad was standing in front of the TV holding his cup of coffee. Images of what looked like a massive flood were flashing across the screen and I heard the voice of Matt Lauer say, “expected casualties are well over 200,000.” I plopped down on the couch, glued to the coverage for the rest of the day, the piano left untouched behind me by the lit up tree.

December 26, 2004 was the day of the infamous Indian Ocean 9.1 magnitude earthquake that caused a tsunami killing over 230,000 people. For days, I watched the news, learning more and more about this horrific natural disaster that wiped out an entire population of people. As each day passed and the death toll climbed, I became more and more confused, upset, and eventually angry.

It was that natural disaster, this senseless tragedy, that forced me to question my faith and belief in God.

At 15 years old, there was no way I could reconcile this inexplicable evil with the existence of an all-Good God. If He was so good, how could He let something this bad happen? Eventually, my mind turned to the idea that it wasn’t necessarily that God let something like this happen, but perhaps had caused it Himself. How dare He? You can’t claim to be all-powerful if You let this happen. You can’t claim to be all good and deserving of all my love if You cause something like this to happen…

Why did all those innocent people have to die on a normal day like any other? They woke up and went to work, ate meals with their families, enjoyed their new Christmas gifts, and then they died…To think that these normal people on a normal day died so quickly and tragically, without any warning…

Those same angry, confused, hurt thoughts crossed my mind for a brief moment when I woke up last week and saw the news report of the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub. 49 people dead with a death count expected to climb from the 53 wounded. Families shattered. Lives lost.

Pain and hurt reigned supreme that day.

When the victims woke up that morning, they had no idea it would be their last morning in this life. They had no idea that those texts would be the last they sent, that cup of coffee the last they drank, that meal be the last food they consumed…that this day would be their last day. And how could that be fair? How could this senseless tragedy be possible? How could God let something like this, or any bad thing, ever happen? Either God sees the evil of this world and can’t stop it, or He sees the evil and doesn’t care about its effect on us, or He is the one causing it…Either way, who the hell does God think He is?

When faced with the horror of a senseless tragedy like a natural disaster, unexpected health crises, a horrible accident, or a mass shooting terrorist attack, we can so easily fall into the trap of blaming God for the evils of this world. And it is in those moments of confusion, hurt, pain, and anger that we should not simply cast blame upon the Lord, but cling to Him instead.

In these days of pain and tears, we may think the Lord is distant. But He is weeping with us just as He wept with the crowds mourning the dead Lazarus. He not only sees our hurt, but He feels it. He doesn’t just acknowledge our broken hearts – He binds up our wounds. He doesn’t just see the storm crashing around us – He stands up and calms those crashing waves. He doesn’t laugh at the man in pain – He heals him. He doesn’t turn a cold shoulder to the lonely, isolated sinner – He forgives and comforts her.

What Jesus did 2,000 years ago He does today, in this country confused and hurt in the storm of this terrorist attack. In these days of suffering, we’re tempted to ask, “Where is Jesus?” And the answer given is simple: He is hanging on the Cross, suffering with us.

In the weeks and months following this tragedy, there is no place for political platitudes or declarations of war. Now is not a time to push forth agendas or promote candidates. Now is the time to cling to the Cross and rely upon the love of the Lord – the God who experienced a savage, painful, crushing death Himself. And our hope rests in the fact that His death was not a defeat, and neither is ours.

Tragic events occur. This is the reality of a world in which sin exists as the result of free will.

We cannot necessarily escape or ignore those moments, but we can embrace the One who walks with us through the tragedy. We can acknowledge the reality that on a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, tragedy and pain was transformed forever into sanctifying victory, which makes any pain and hurt we experience in this life a chance to become like Christ.

As the new stories play, the commentators chatter, the families mourn, and the questions fly, we must lean on the Lord who does not ignore our hurt, but experiences it with us. We can depend on His greater plan and believe in His providence, though we may not understand it now. Let us pray for the victims and families of this, and all recent, tragedies. Let us cling to the Cross, trust in the Lord, and beg for understanding and peace.

Why did all those innocent people have to die?  How does our faith help us deal with that?

Katie Prejean McGrady

Katie Prejean is a teacher, youth minister, author, and speaker. Since 2007, Katie has been traveling across the country using her "theological comedy" with audiences. Her original blend of humor and storytelling along with her teaching of hard-hitting theological truth is dynamic, engaging, and challenging. Katie has her B.A. in Theology from the University of Dallas and is currently earning her Masters. She has spoken at the National Catholic Youth Conference, LA Religious Ed. Congress, in dioceses from New York to Sacramento, and has appeared on EWTN, Catholic TV, and the Busted Halo show. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist. Katie lives and works in Louisiana as a theology teacher & writer. She is engaged and will marry Tommy McGrady this June.
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