A few months ago, in Nova Scotia, 22 people were shot and killed in the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.1 It started in a tiny community near my home town of Truro, Nova Scotia, right between two communities where I remember playing fastball as a kid.
What do you say to those who lost their child or parent or best friend in such a violent manner? A spouse who lost half of themselves? There seem to be no right answers to that question, but a whole lot of wrong ones.
As we discussed in Part 1, especially at the time, it may be best to say nothing at all. Just be there for them and let them know you will hold them up in their grief. Let them decide what they want to talk about or whether or not they want to talk at all. As the grieving continues, however, difficult questions inevitably arise.
You don’t have to be directly affected by such events to ask why a loving God who had the power to stop it would allow these kinds of things to happen. It remains one of the toughest questions Christians are asked about our God. There are no easy answers as we see and experience the very real pain and suffering that occurs in our world.
During my wife’s struggle with cancer and after her death, my kids and I wrestled with this question. Watching Kimberly’s slow deterioration was just as heartbreaking as losing her… but her life did not end violently and we had 19 months to prepare. The families of the people who were brutally murdered in Nova Scotia did not.
As Christians we make all kinds of claims about truth and reality, but we don’t claim to know all there is to know about the mind of God. We cannot claim to know exactly why He would allow something like this to happen. That doesn’t mean we haven’t any general insights into why evil exists. We do. I’ll discuss some of these in Part 3. But philosophical answers are often unhelpful when people are devastated and hurting.
I don’t know what to do or say to comfort those who lost loved ones to this kind of violence. But I do know from experience that even when we don’t understand specific reasons why God allows tragedies in our lives, He is there with us. He doesn’t promise we won’t experience pain and suffering, but He does promise He will help us through it. If we trust Him, He will give us peace and strength and courage and hope in our grief. He did me. He did Kimberly too as she came to terms with the idea that death would take her from her family and would never see her children grow up. And the kids as they said their last goodbyes to their mother.
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. – John 16:33
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27
After hearing His friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus, who had been healing people all over Galilee and Judea, took His time to go to him. He arrived at His house only after Lazarus had died. You may know the story. He already knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead but when He saw the sorrow of his friends, Mary and Martha at the death of their brother, He wept with them. God wept over the Israelites (Jeremiah 9:10, 17-18, 13:17, 14:17), He wept over His people in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), He wept with His friends (John 11:35) and He weeps with us.
Jesus Wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” – John 11: 35-36
Whatever the reasons He has to allow pain and suffering, He loves us. He weeps with us. He is an all-powerful God who did not have to let Himself suffer, but He was willing to take on a human nature and a human body… for us. He was tired, hungry, betrayed, humiliated, tortured and killed… for us. He didn’t need to subject himself to these things, but He did because He loves us. He suffered with us and for us. Whether or not we understand all of the reasons for the things He allows to happen, we can understand that He loves us.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
During her battle with cancer, Kimberly and I often discussed the hope that we have in Christ. A hope for an eternal future together. This is not just a comforting fantasy for us, but a real hope for a real future, reunited as a family with cancer-free bodies and no more pain and suffering. The Bible says that those who trust in Jesus go to be with Him when they die. That eventually there will be a new/renewed Heaven and a new/renewed Earth where God will dwell in communion with all of those who want to be with Him.
Kimberly miscarried twice. I’m not sure how it all works when one goes to be with Jesus. The Bible doesn’t speak as much to that as it does the new/renewed heaven and earth. But the kids and I have often imagined Kimberly, happy, whole and free of pain, getting to know the sons or daughters she never got a chance to meet in this life. We can’t wait to meet them too, and to be with Kimberly again.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. – Revelation 21:3-4
We can’t know all of the reasons why God allows these things to happen, but we can, and should, grieve and lament and feel sorrow. God Himself feels these things. Kimberly’s death was three years ago and we continue to grieve her loss. I know we always will. But God has been with us and has offered peace and comfort and hope to help us through. He offers the same for all who are weary and heavy with grief and sorrow and pain.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11:28-29
My words do not have any power to comfort the hurting, but God does have that power and He will use it if we trust Him. He won’t remove all of our pain. I wouldn’t want Him to remove all of mine. My grief reminds me of the preciousness of what I have lost and it allows me to cherish my memories even more. It makes me look more forward to the hope we have in Him for a reunion and eternal future. The hope that gives us strength to go on living the new reality here and now that God has for us to live.
I pray for all who have been affected by the recent tragedy in Nova Scotia, and for all who are suffering throughout our broken world. I pray that they experience God’s tangible presence alongside them, giving them the peace and strength and hope in their suffering that He offers to all who seek after Him.
In Part 3 we’ll discuss some of the reasons why God might allow evil to exist in our world. “Reasons” are often not what hurting people want or need to hear, but studying some of these things long before our own tragedy occurred was a huge help for Kimberly and me as we navigated through her illness and death together.
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