What Do We Do When Tragedy Strikes?

by Nichole Deakins

Tragedy.  An event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress. (google dictionary)

The emotional suffering of loss and grief. The physical destruction of hurricanes and wildfires. The distress of chronic pain and life-threatening illness.  The horror of inhumane events like shootings. Each situation leaves us confused, angry, and at a loss. Tragedy happens in our fallen world.

This summer, I received the shocking news that my good friend’s husband had passed away from a sudden heart attack. Physically fit and healthy-looking on the outside did not reveal any health concerns nor any imaginable heart problems.  A young wife suddenly a widow and two beautiful girls fatherless.  What do you do?

Two weeks later, word of another friend was delivered.  She had finally found the cause of her cough: a cancerous tumor attached to her lungs. My husband and I have sat beside her at many lacrosse games and enjoyed discussing the topics of the game. But we’ve never sat beside her to talk about the more serious issues of death and eternal things.  What do we do?

Then came Fall, introducing itself with the opening ceremony of a solar eclipse, bringing people from afar to catch a glimpse.  With our heads raised upwards in anticipation to watch the outer world align, we easily grasped our own smallness; mere spectators of something greater out there.  

However, the awe-inspiring works of creation took a turn. Nature revealed its destructive power as hurricanes pummeled our U.S. coastlines, leaving piles of homes and trees as evidence of our smallness once again. We are not as in control as we think we are or hope to be.  What do we do?

Tragedy strikes again with the devastating event in Las Vegas. No words can describe such horror, but our souls feel it deep down inside.  No words can explain the why; tragedy is complicated.   We try, but the answer to why questions are not easy nor simple. So what do we do?   

It doesn’t stop there within these past five months.  Uncontrollable fires raged across California, leaving hundreds of people homeless and more lives lost. But after every tragedy, whether seen only through a television screen or experienced personally in our own lives, there is a choice to make and a question to answer:  What will we do?  How do we respond?

The beloved disciple pens Jesus’ words in the gospel of John,

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (16:33 NIV) 

Jesus did not sugar coat the future for his disciples. He didn’t paint a pretty picture of what was to come. Instead, he disclosed the honest truth that trouble would come. But take heart! Jesus doesn’t leave his followers without another promise and truth for them to hold onto through the trouble: “I have overcome the world.”

The events of these past five months sent me seeking for some understanding of how to process these tragedies in my own mind as well as encourage those who are personally experiencing the suffering. A message from Passion City Church’s pastor, Louie Giglio, caught my attention: “Hope When Life Hurts Most.”  He states that when life’s tragedies come, all we can do is look to the cross. 


He goes on to say, “There is an anchor for the soul at the cross of Christ.” When we look at the cross we see Jesus, who took on all sin and darkness, who endured the indescribable simply because He loved us.  We would also recognize that Jesus had every power at his disposal to prevent this from happening. However, His love for us drove him toward the unspeakable and gave him the strength to take on evil in a way that would have looked like defeat to us. Jesus’ followers that day must have thought the worst had come. They could only see one moment within the larger story. If we examined only the cross that day, we could only see the most inhumane injustice.  But when we put the crucifixion in context along with hindsight, the cross becomes the most beautiful gift of all. A gift that overcomes death and all the pain and suffering in this world.  

Louie shares with his audience, “The cross is saying I understand. When we look at the cross we can say:  Jesus, this happened to you!  You suffered death. Pain. Loss. Rejection. You’ve been there. Which allows us to run to the cross. Sure, God can change the circumstances, but the cross proves He doesn’t always change the circumstances.  But it proves He always has a purpose in every circumstance and will be our Anchor.”

“We have this hope as an anchor for our soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.”
Hebrews 6:19-20a (NIV)

What do we do when trouble and tragedy strikes in our world or in our own personal lives? We focus on the cross.

How do we respond when friends lose their husbands or are battling a rare form of cancer and cliche words only hurt not heal?  We point them to the cross.

When why questions cannot be answered and unthinkable events take place, what can we do? We make the cross of Christ our soul’s anchor to steady us through the world’s tragedies. We take refuge in the cross because He knows our pain. And we take heart because we know ultimately He has overcome it all.

Overcome. To defeat; triumph or prevail over. (google dictionary)