Where to Turn When Tragedy Strikes

As I theologically processed how God gave me hope in my worst nightmare, I found myself repeatedly coming back to the same place.

Martin Luther famously wrote crux sola est nostra theologica. Very often, we think of Luther’s theology of the cross primarily in terms of soteriology. However, a grieving person will struggle to find a more useful, simple, and redemptive theological foundation than the cross alone in times of suffering. The cross clearly answers the three pivotal, existential questions of the sufferer.

 

When tragedy strikes, one’s spiritual life often descends into disorientation and confusion. Questions dominate conversation with God in those sorrowful first months. Three questions, in particular, seem to undergird the spiritual agony, and a sufferer will struggle to move forward and to connect with God until these questions are resolved.

After the death of my son Cam in 2013, writing became a critical part of my coping, a grief process which ultimately resulted in the publication of Therefore, I Have Hope: 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy. As I theologically processed how God gave me hope in my worst nightmare, I found myself repeatedly coming back to the same place.

Martin Luther famously wrote crux sola est nostra theologica. Very often, we think of Luther’s theology of the cross primarily in terms of soteriology. However, a grieving person will struggle to find a more useful, simple, and redemptive theological foundation than the cross alone in times of suffering. The cross clearly answers the three pivotal, existential questions of the sufferer.

Is God Really Good in My Suffering?

The top objection that non-religious people cite in resisting religious affiliation involves the problem of God’s goodness in a world filled with evil and suffering. It’s a valid philosophical question: if God is good and omnipotent, how can he allow tragedies and atrocities to occur?

While this problem creates intellectual challenges for us in comfortable times, the difficulty amplifies when the matter no longer dwells in the theoretical realm. The question is no longer born from a conversation in a coffee shop but instead arises from your child’s death, or your wife’s cancer diagnosis, or a car wreck.

The crucifixion of Jesus serves as a satisfying demonstration of God’s answer to this question. On the cross, God exhibits his justice and holiness as he punishes sin. God’s perfect moral integrity demands the rectifying of all wrongs. How does the Lord uphold his righteousness? Through an act of human suffering in the death of his Son, Jesus. God’s goodness coexists with horrific tragedy in the wrongful execution and excruciating pain of Jesus’ death.

When tragedies enter our own lives, we feel as if God’s character has turned. Maybe God was good before, but as I deal with my loss, has that changed? The cross communicates that God’s holiness remains static. While Jesus was being tortured, God was revealing his goodness in a salient fashion. The cross reminds us of God’s holiness when we experience heartbreaking pain.

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