Dealing with Tragedy

Today’s question comes from Yvette.  She writes: “Craig, I know that I have asked the question in the past about fate or planned out destiny — I am struggling right now with a tragedy of a couple young folks– of course many of the young that have to live tragic lives– I have a problem with that– why does God let some live long lives — maybe not even appreciated good lives– and let others be taken so quickly– and do you believe God knows who is passing before they pass? Or is he just there and surprised as many of us? Thank you for your perspective on the matter.”

Let me begin by saying I’m truly sorry for your loss.  The loss of anyone is difficult to process.  The unexpected loss of youth is even more difficult to process.  Truly my thoughts and prayers are with you and your loved ones at this time.

Now, let me start wading in to the questions you raised.

While we have talked about some of the issues in the past (primarily, the question of theodicy – or why bad things happen to good people), today I heard another issue raised below the surface of your questions.  Of course it’s entirely possible that I’m projecting my own stuff onto your questions – so Yvette, if that is the case, please follow up and let me know if I didn’t get at the heart of what you were asking about.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many human beings are driven by the need to feel control over their world.  People respond to this need for control in different ways.

Some people express their need for control through religious means.  They construct a theological approach toward the world predicated on the belief that God is in control of everything.  If they are in relationship with God, then one of two things will happen.  First, they will either achieve a spiritually enlightened view of the world that helps them understand why things played out the way they did.  That sense of understanding gives them the ability to “know” why things happened.  Second, their faith will tell them that God’s “reason” is bigger than humanity’s reason.  Therefore, if something occurs that is beyond human reason, they will draw comfort from believing that God is still “in control”.

Other people will go in the opposite direction with their need for control.  They will turn to human reason or science to carefully construct a world in which they feel control.  They believe, for example, that if science tells them about the effect of human behavior has on the environment, then all they need to do is to change human behavior and we human beings can prevent global warming.  Or, they will approach the problems of the world (poverty, gun violence, discrimination) as if the problems were solely a matter of education.  “If we can just elect the right candidates, or craft the right arguments,” they tell themselves, “then all our problems will go away.”

Sadly, things like the accident you referred to above happen and each camp gets thrown.  No matter how hard they try to rationalize the situation, their hearts and heads hurt and they are unable to “understand” why things turned out the way they did.

So what are alternatives to these two approaches?  Is it possible to rise above that need to feel control?


How do I know?

My friends in the Twelve Step movement have taught me an important principle that can transform any life.

When participants in Twelve Step programs face their addiction, they believe the single most important moment comes when an individual accepts Step One: “We admitted we were powerless over [and you can fill in the blank here with whatever ‘addiction’ is plaguing you – including the addiction to believe you are in control] – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Once you let go of the illusion that you (and your reason) are in control, wonderful and amazing things can happen.  You can begin the process of recovery and discover new dimensions of life and a greater understanding of peace than you ever knew possible!  At least that has been my experience.

Having said all of this, let me return specifically to the context of the questions you raised.  Do I believe that God caused the accident that claimed the lives of the two teens in Spokane?  No, I do not.  That’s why I call what occurred an accident – on the deepest levels.  It was an unfortunate turn of events that followed a series of decisions made by human beings.  The human beings did not deserve to lose their lives because they made “bad” decisions.  The loss of life was one of the possibilities that resulted from their series of decisions.

If God was not directly responsible for the accident, was God surprised?

This is where things get harder.

I believe the Creator of Life is larger than the human categories we create.  As such, it is often hard to fit God in the boxes that correspond with our limited human perspectives.  I think, for instance, that the lines we human beings draw between things like “life” and “death” are relatively arbitrary from God’s perspective.  I believe that God lives in connection and relationship with all of us – whether we are “living” or “dead” – at all times.  God is intimately present at each step of our journeys.  Therefore, I – for instance – have a hard time believing God didn’t “know” – just because I believe God didn’t cause the events that God was “surprised”.

As I close today, let me just say this.  I know there are some readers who might struggle with my perspectives.  They have only been presented with theological models where God is directly in control of every event.  They might even wonder, “Why believe in God if God is not in control of everything?”

My response to this question would be, “I believe in God because my faith gives me a powerful sense of Presence in my daily life.  My faith also gives me the ability to let go of my need for control/understanding so that I can appreciate the mysteries and wonders of a world that is too big to fit into the tiny boxes of which I can conceive: including the box marked “reason”.  Finally, my faith gives me a powerful sense of gratitude for what I have been given: namely, the gift of life.  It allows me NEVER to take that gift for granted.  When physical deaths on this earthly plane occur that my human mind tells me are premature, instead of raging for the life that was denied to the individual – it EVENTUALLY helps me give thanks for the life they had, and the ways their lives touched others.”

So what about you?  What does Yvette’s questions raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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4 Responses to Dealing with Tragedy

  1. sandi says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I also think about the “God in control” issue of creation from the Dao perspective (it helps me to frame) – ‘birds don’t fly; they are carried by the wind and time.’ “Carriied” is the operative word for me about God’s role. Enjoy your Spokane time. Hope you and Tupper are happy and well, Craig!

  2. sandi says:

    I see that there is an extra ‘i’ in the word carried in my above reply. Not intentional, but may be a good slip of the tongue! If we put ourselves (the extra ‘i’) in a statement about God, maybe the statement is no longer about God, but about me! Also part of the Dao says ‘fish don’t swim; they are carried by the water’s flow’

  3. Sharon says:

    If all human beings would allow God to be in control of their life, as an individual, we wouldn’t have domestic violence, murder, wars, etc. Since this is not the case, we have stories like the man who drank too much, drove too fast, killed a young man and put his friend in the hospital in a coma. God did not cause that accident, the man who broke the law did. God is, however, in control. He controls the air we breathe, gravity, weather, etc. God is good, he loves us and wants us to love Him.

  4. Stevie says:

    Craig, that is a beautiful explanation. I wish I had written it. 💛

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