Give Thought to your Words

December 21st, 2012 § 0 comments

When public speaking, I was always told, “Know your audience! You have to know who you are talking to before opening your mouth.” So it is when it comes to tragedy. A few years ago, a couple that I would call friends lost their baby of just a few days old. Being younger and not as wise, I spoke.

Big mistake.

When tragedy strikes like this, time stops.  People experiencing the shock of what has happened to them do not find comfort in words of encouragement.  So to the parents of these precious 20 children, I say nothing. Oh how I wish I were able to mourn with them in their grief as I have in my own home, car, and office. My heart aches for them in their loss, but for now I remain silent. I will instead think of them often, cry at times, and pray to the God of all comfort.

And I will.

To this day, I pray for the victims’ families of 9/11 every time I look at the clock and it is 9:11. I am sure I will do something similar for the families that remain in the wake of this tragedy.

steps in park

To the rest of us, beware of using scripture to offer words of encouragement too early. Many times have I heard or read of well-meaning Christians who offered a Bible verse intending to do good. But instead, they caused more pain than they could have ever imagined. To a parent who lost a child, they would say, “Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle. You will get through this.” And the parents sit and wonder, “If I had only been weaker, then God would never have made me go through this.” And in that moment we would have inaccurately applied 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

As I sit in my office contemplating a response, I would encourage us all to give pause before answering anyone’s questions about where God was when all this happened and about why bad things happen to good people.

Pause, but don’t stop.

Raising the risk is not about being the first one to speak out or up or the first to act. People deserve an answer to this question, but each one asks from a unique standpoint. In light of this, I will offer guidance, but not a concrete approach to how I would handle this if asked:

  1. Get more information. People ask questions for various reasons. Find out the motive for the person’s question. Are they truly searching for an answer? Are they trying to make you look foolish for belief in God? Are they closely related to the tragedy? Have they lost someone in the past and are still struggling with why God would allow this? Answers to these questions give you a better idea on how to respond.
  2. Pray. As you get more information, pray for the person according to how they answer before responding. As it becomes clear the motive of their questioning, pray in that direction that God would use you to bring them closer to Him and pray for boldness and wisdom as the Holy Spirit guides you.
  3. Understanding is not the goal. Make it clear that there is no way to understand how a person could commit such an atrocity. We will never understand to our satisfaction why a young man decided to target children making them victims of one of the most heinous crimes committed in our nation’s history. (Philippians 4:7)
  4. Lead with the Gospel. Tragedy provides a unique opportunity to address the very real issue of hope in a situation that seems hopeless. Jesus Christ is the only one who can provide true and lasting hope in this world. God the Father can completely identify with those parents who are grieving the loss of their child. And the Holy Spirit is ready to use you to bring hope to others through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  5. End with prayer. Pray according to the Spirit. If they are truly seeking, offer to pray with them that God would reveal Himself to them and the fullness of the Gospel. If they are trying to trap you, offer to pray for them in the event that they are wrong about God. If they have lost someone, pray for them concerning their loss. Click here for prayer promptings for the victims’ families.

For a more concrete response to the tragedy, watch Mike Huckabee’s response by clicking here.


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