“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
— Psalm 90:12 —
A new mother holds her still-born child and weeps uncontrollably. A best friend, 27-years-old, dies in agony, after a year-long bout with cancer. A young wife and mother survives a horrific collision – only to awaken to a life without her husband and son. A father, in a hurry to get to work, fails to notice the young daughter playing with her dolls, just behind his car…
These are just a few snapshots of the tragic experiences that can devastate our lives. We have all been touched so deeply by tragedy – and so many times we are broad-sided by the fact that there just doesn’t seem to be any good reason for any of them. Not that we haven’t searched for answers. And not that we haven’t racked our brains, seeking for some kind of meaning in it all. We just want to know the why behind the terrible things that happen all around us. We eagerly seek to make some kind of sense out of the senseless. It gnaws at us from deep within – haunting us with the stark reminder of the brevity of life – the shortness of our days – the seeming inevitability of tragedy in life.
But in these dark times, all the answers we encounter just seem so deficient. They do not really help us at all. People around us, well-meaning, don’t seem to offer anything but hollow cliches, or shallow platitudes. They tell us things like: “They are in a better place;” or “It was just their time to go;” or “God is in control.” Somehow, these words (though they may have a semblance of truth) just don’t satisfy the real questions in our hearts. But maybe that is just the point. The real questions of our lives – the most important questions – really don’t have any easy answers. The real issues are so often unexplainable. The one thing we know for certain is that no one escapes the grasp of tragic occurrences – and we are all deeply impacted by troubling circumstances. It is just a part of life…
No lesser authority than Jesus made this point. He told us: “In this world you will have trouble (i.e. affliction, tribulation, distress, anguish).” Life happens – and sometimes life overwhelms us with things that we just can’t get our minds around.
This would all seem hopeless accept for the fact that Jesus also offers us an immense hope. After telling us that we will all face troubling times, He also offers a bedrock of promise. “…But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And “In Me you may have peace.” (John 16:33) We can never underestimate the value of experiencing a true and lasting peace!
What Jesus is telling us is really all-important. It is not so much that we need answers to all the troubling issues we face – we just need a way to overcome them in the midst of their devastating effects. We need a way to cope with the tragic things that come our way. In the storms of life, we need Someone Who stands with us, and is able to calm every storm.
I have found this one thing to be true… Tragic times cause us to run to God… or to run away from Him. We either turn to Him for help, comfort, and peace… or we turn our anger upon Him and seek out other ways of coping with our hurt.
Somehow, so many people have embraced the notion that God exists to be some kind of cosmic body-guard – to protect us all from tragedy, pain, or injury (and especially death). It’s as if the Creator of all things is there only to serve the creatures He created. When tragedy engulfs us, we so often seek for someone to blame – and God becomes the One that we most often want to hold responsible. This is such a strange conclusion. Especially when Jesus tells us that the very One Who has promised to help us, in the midst of our pain, and walk with us in the midst of our hurt, is the One we so angrily reject and push away.
Sometimes we forget the inescapable truth: No one is promised tomorrow. We have today. As the psalmist has said, we need to be mindful to “number our days.” This phrase simply means that the best course for our lives is to intentionally make each of our days the best they can be. We need to cherish the ones we love. Invest our lives in the people around us. Give of ourselves whenever we can. Live each moment as if tomorrow will never come. And center our lives in the love our Creator has for us. As we focus upon the purpose He seeks to unfold, through the course of our lives, we will find that we “gain a heart of wisdom.”
Tragic events blatantly remind us that death is a part of living. They also remind us that this was not the way things were designed to be. Something so deep within, informs us that God made this world to be a place of peace, harmony, and life. Human beings messed it up. In our selfishness, we were the ones who opened the door to death, suffering, and tragedy. Tragic events and death have become the heritage of the human condition.
But we are not without hope. Jesus came to restore our hearts back to God – to make His Presence real to us again. He came to this earth to rise above this human condition – and, by His Own suffering and death, He allowed us to share in His victory! Jesus came to Personally enable us to face our darkest hours in the light of His abiding Presence.
Though it is difficult for us to see, there are some positives that can arise from tragic, and seemingly senseless, circumstances. Our pain and our hurt can bond us together. The events following the tragedy of 9/11 showed us that. In truth, the connections that are formed in the midst of our shared pain, can be some of the most powerful bonds ever formed. They can create a depth of relationship that is virtually unattainable in any other way.
And if we will allow it, our painful times can become the means of experiencing the unmistakable Presence of God – in real and unexpected ways. Scripture reminds us that our God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation…” (from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God has not promised to keep us from harm – but He has promised that He will never “leave us nor forsake us” – no matter what circumstances we may face. When we are truly aware of His Presence, we can truly face almost anything. Even the depths of our pain and uncertainty. Our God IS a God of infinite love and compassion – and His love and compassion can be most prevalent whenever we must “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23:4)
Yes. There ARE answers to our questions about the tragedies of this life – but, when we are in the midst of the deluge of our emotions, those answers do not really satisfy us. What we really need in facing the storms of this life are not answers, but rather, a sense that we are never alone in the midst of our storms.
The truth is: We cannot always know the WHY behind the tragedies that touch us – but we can always know the WHO that seeks to wrap His infinite arms of love around us and BE our strength and our help in our times of need. This one fact alone, gives us a constant focus and strength in whatever life brings our way.
In tragic times, there is one immutable promise we can experience, without fail: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) When we KNOW the Almighty is with us, there is nothing we cannot face.