Tragedy and the voice of God

tsslogo.jpgOn the evening of Wednesday, December 8th, 1742, John Lyman’s Northampton home burned to the ground. Tragically, his two young daughters perished in the fire.

So far as I can tell, John Lyman was a normal citizen of the town and his story would have long been forgotten except for a man silhouetted in background of the smoldering remains. Looking intently into the scene was a local pastor, Jonathan Edwards.

And he was not alone.

Edwards had walked to the consumed home after gathering his children and a number of local children. His purpose was pastoral, to bring these young souls close to the voice of God.

That same day (Thursday) Edwards preached on Micah 6:9. His sermon had two main points: “I. God’s voice sometimes cries to a city or town in the awful rebukes of his providence. II. The men of wisdom shall see God’s name.” In the rising embers of tragedy, Edwards was encouraging his children to listen for God’s voice. The wise will see, the wise will hear.

Surveying the 35W bridge collapsed here in Minnesota was a similar experience. All the victims have been removed from the scene. The cars are gone and work is well under way to remove the concrete and steel. The once carefully-guarded scene is now open for the public, and Saturday I took my wife and kids downtown to walk over a parallel bridge and look 60-feet down into the valley of destruction.

Personally, it was an opportunity for my son (Jonathan Edwards) to see the extent of the damage and be freshly reminded of frailty. Thirteen people died here including a pregnant mother, her unborn child, and two-year-old daughter. No one, not even the youngest, are exempt from the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23).

Some will see the tragedy and close their ears. Some will flatly deny God is here. But He is here, He has acted, His is working and continues speaking. My prayer is that God was actively speaking to my son and into the lives of the children overlooking the scene.

Edwards reminds us to use tragedy to love young souls. God is speaking and the wise shall hear His voice.

Does He speak to you?








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Related: Minneapolis Bridge Collapse: The Morning After

3 thoughts on “Tragedy and the voice of God

  1. Thanks for sharing your reflections Tony. Much has been said over the blogosphere about this tragic loss of life in Minneapolis. It provided questions for those trying to understand. It drove folks like myself to scripture in order to learn more about Him so we can share with those who doubt the goodness, and sovereignty of God in times like these.

  2. Would you mind sharing what the Lord has shown you in regards to this and other tragedies that have struck our country? It would be a fitting subject considering we are mourning the 6th anniversary of 9/11.


    PS. Still looking forward to “Prioritizing God’s Word (Part 3).

  3. Hello Matthew! This is such a sobering topic and I am inadequate to give a full theological paper on it. So from a limited and personal perspective I will mention a few thoughts that come to mind. Please take them for what they are.

    1. Sovereignty of God. When tragedy arises, as it does in Minnesota or New York or the Middle East, whether it’s hotels, bridges or skyscrapers falling down because of evil intent or just due to age or engineering flaws I am very quickly reminded of God’s sovereignty. These are not occurrences that just “happen.” The book of Job makes this clear. God is there, and He has acted, is acting and using all events to point towards Himself somehow.

    2. Judgment of God. In light of this sovereign God, we view tragedy theologically and gain a visual reminder of eternal truth. In every destructive tragedy we are being reminded sinners separated from Christ are awaiting an eternal destruction of far greater magnitude. The physical destruction paints for the eye the eternal horrors awaiting those who refuse to repent, bow under Christ and His Lordship and renounce self-righteousness. In Luke 13:4-5 Jesus said, “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

    3. Voice of God. Notice how Jesus here sanctifies physical tragedies. There is a theological reality behind the falling of buildings and crushing of flesh. We see and witness horrors to avoid ultimate horrors. In other words, tragedy is an act of God’s gracious self-disclosure. It’s a wake-up warning for gawking souls.

    4. Holiness of God. Tragedy – as Job found out firsthand – falls upon the righteous Jew and the unrighteous Gentile. That someone is impacted by tragedy does not mean they are worse sinners. Jesus’ words protect us from running around after all tragedies saying this is a sure sign of judgment for a nation’s sins. None of us are holy enough to warrant tragedy-less lives because none of us can match the holiness of God. Tragedies remind us even the most kind, generous, sacrificial sinner is still weighed under the perfect demands of God’s Law and cannot escape judgment in himself. We are humbled under God’s holiness.

    5. Grace of God. It’s a cliché now in many circles but the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a totally rotten theology. We are all evil. The better question is “Why do any good things happen to me, a rebellious sinner?” Now there is a question bearing biblical honesty. The only answer is grace! All tragedy works together for the ultimate benefit God’s children (Rom. 8:28). Tragedy is painful, but it has enduring benefits for God’s children in having a rare power to awaken, speak, convict and draw us to God. And the good we experience, well, why is it we even know what “good” feels like?

    6. The Son of God. Only sinners experience tragedy and suffering and death (Eze. 18:20; Gen. 2:17). Which is why it’s horrifying the one truly holy and perfect man — Jesus Christ — was murdered. He was not subject to tragedy as we are, but He willingly placed Himself under tragedy to redeem sinners like me. The soul that sins must surely die and that means the sinless soul (as well as the sinless body) live untouched by death. The Cross is the supreme tragedy but it was also the supreme display of love. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). We all taste death because we sin. He tasted death as our loving atonement substitute.

    Like I said, these are sobering thoughts but to redeem the time means taking the time in light of tragedy to be freshly reminded of this reality. Hope this helps. Blessings! Tony

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