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Mourning When Disaster Strikes

Disaster and death have filled the last six weeks. There have been natural disasters like hurricanes in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and a major earthquake in Mexico. In recent days we’ve watched in horror as California burns. Besides the terrible toll of homes and businesses destroyed, 34 people have died in the flames. Beyond these natural disasters, there was the horrific human evil of the shooting in Las Vegas, with over 500 wounded and 59 murdered, the largest mass shooting in US history.

Of course, when disasters strike, I’m often asked a variety of questions, like, why did God allow that? Or what should we do for the surviving victims? A question that is not so common is, how should those of us who are observing these events express our sorrow. That’s what I want to focus on today—what does Scripture teach about how to mourn for these tragic events?

We should begin by identifying with those who suffer. Romans 12:15 says we should “weep with those who weep.” We need to feel the pain and suffering of each sufferer. We ought to stand with the people of Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Mexico and California in their times of pain. We need to identify with the anguish of Las Vegas. We who love the Lord must take the time to stand in sympathy with those who suffered these awful losses and pain.

Second, we should cry out to the Lord. This is not only a time of sorrow, but a time of  prayer. So many verses tell us to cry out to the Lord in our pain: Psalm 18:6 says “I called to the LORD in my distress, and I cried to my God for help.” Psalm 50:15 says “Call on Me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me.” Psalm 86:7 declares “I call on You in the day of my distress, for You will answer me.” Also Psalm 120:1 similarly says, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me.” If there is one lesson to be learned from the Psalms it’s this: When we see or experience the horrors and pain of this evil world, we shouldn’t run further from God but turn closer to Him in prayer. Sometimes it’s these kinds of evil events that turns our hearts to God more than any other kind of experience. We need to be praying for those who have suffered and asking God to send deliverance.

Besides identifying and praying, a third suggestion is to spend time reading God’s Word.  This is what Psalm 119:50 says: “This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me.” In my life, whenever I’ve had to deal with life threatening fears, with heartbreaking loss, with the tragic death of loved ones, I have found turning to God’s Word, the Bible, especially the Psalms, has been my true source of comfort.

And finally, after identifying with those who suffer, crying out to God, and drawing comfort from His Word, we need to trust that God will bring comfort. One of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 34, says in verse 18 “The LORD is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.” Here’s what we believe—that God is present with those who suffer, that He is near us when we humbly cry out to Him, and that He will answer us with His supernatural comfort.

Dorothy Sayers once said, “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine . . . . He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death.” Whatever else we can say, we know this: that Jesus, the man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief, truly understands our heartbreak right now.

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