When a tragedy strikes a community, and the deep emotions begin to break out after the initial shock, we all try to find a place to put them – a scapegoat to blame, an explanation to fall back on, a way to come to terms with all that has happened. We gain some comfort from doing this, but deep down we know that the truth is not so simple. If only it was possible to join all the dots of life and be able to answer all the 'why' questions. In reality, we are left with a lot of unanswered questions and loose ends that leave us dangling and confused. Sometimes our attempt to connect the dots becomes a form of self-torture that only adds to our trauma.
Someone once suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wing on one side of the world can start a chain reaction of events (connecting dots) that becomes a hurricane on the other side of the world. It may seem nonsensical, and yet, it illustrates a truth that can often scare us. We know life has consequences, that events don’t just appear out of nowhere, and that one choice can generate an infinite number of others – good and bad. Every tragedy reminds us that we are never fully in control, and that life is far more complex than we’d like to think.
Tragedy inevitably leads to some form inquiry into what happened, how the system coped, was there anyone to blame, and is there anything we can do to prepare in case there is a next time. But, we don’t always give enough attention to the ripple effects that can lead to more tragedy, including suicide, family breakdown and depression. Who is to blame for the marriages that fell apart, the suicides that followed, the friendships that were lost, the acts of cowardice that happened, the looting and system rorts that upsets us, and other unfortunate outcomes? And what about the person who becomes so angry and frustrated by all that has happened, that they become toxic to the very people they care most about?
About 20 years ago, Prince William Sound was an idyllic fishing village of about 2000 people, with a strong community that knew how to work together. Then, the EXXON-Valdez ran aground, and one of the biggest oil spills in history was unleashed on their doorstep. Fishing businesses were devastated and the community was rocked to its core. BUT, it wasn’t the oil that did the most damage to the community, it was the anger and the resentment and the frustration and the protracted court case that caused the community to begin to self-destruct. Suicides, broken marriages, division, depression and anger fed on the injustices that were real, stopping the community from taking more responsibility for its own future - and it nearly destroyed them. Many put all their hopes on financial compensation, only to have them dashed by a process that took far too long (18 years), and ended up being far too little, too late. As Proverbs says, "HOPE deferred, makes the heart sick." Thankfully, the future seems rosier as more are able to move on.
Most counselors will tell you that the real progress of healing begins when a person stops the blame-game, chooses to take more responsibility for their own lives, and lets go of the bitterness and unforgiveness that is consuming them.
Living in a country occupied by a brutal regime called the Roman Empire, Jesus was no stranger to suffering and tragedy. When He was asked about two terrible disasters that resulted in many lost lives – a building collapse and a massacre – He gave an unexpected response. He said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, just because they suffered this fate? I tell you, unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” SO, what was He getting at?
Firstly, Jesus ‘knocked on the head’ the whole idea that there is always a perfect correlation between bad behavior and suffering. Clearly, the victim is not always the wrong doer in many situations, and people don’t always get what they deserve, but speculating about it doesn’t help to ease peoples suffering.
Secondly, Jesus reminds us that we all die sooner or later, and the time to start taking responsibility for our own life is now. God’s not interested in our excuses or our theories about what’s wrong in other peoples lives – making peace with Him ( and with everyone else) begins with being honest about ourselves.
Finally, Jesus knew that there were some people listening who believed people only got what they deserved and spent most of their time pointing the finger at others. They were the ones who felt threatened by the things Jesus said, and finally succeeded in having Him falsely accused and condemned to death. Later, they were also the ones who mocked Him as He died on a cross. They inadvertently gave Jesus the perfect opportunity to actually practiced what He preached. Jesus could have called down 10,000 angels to destroy His enemies but He chose a different path – the way of love. As He hung in agony, He cried out, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Believing in Jesus begins with admitting our own sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. Following Jesus means making forgiveness our lifestyle. Since Jesus came to save rather than condemn, following Him means doing the same.
Forgiveness is certainly not an easy option, but it is the only way to find peace with God and healing for our relationships.