Unspeakable tragedies. Infamous acts. Brutal terrorist attacks even in Sunday church services. Unlike us, many Christians around the world risk their lives to go to church. In the face of such needless violence, how should we respond?
What shall we say about these events in order to honor Christ and minister to people for their good? I hope this will serve as a kind of Biblical resource for theological truth and pastoral care. May the Lord strengthen your hands and heart in this crucial moment of need.
1. Pray. Ask God for his help for you and for those you want to minister to. Ask him for wisdom and compassion and strength and a word fitly chosen. Ask that those who are suffering would look to God as their help and hope and healing and strength. Ask that he would make your mouth a fountain of life.
James 1:5. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
2. Feel and express empathy with those most hurt by this great evil and loss; weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
3. Feel and express compassion because of the tragic circumstances of so many loved ones and friends who have lost more than they could ever estimate.
John 11:33-35. “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”
4. Take time and touch, if you can, and give tender care to the wounded in body and soul.
Mark 1:40-41. “And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him.”
5. Hold out the promise that God will sustain and help those who cast themselves on him for mercy and trust in his grace. He will strengthen you for the impossible days ahead in spite of all darkness.
Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
6. Affirm that Jesus Christ tasted hostility from men and knew what it was to be unjustly tortured and abandoned, and to endure overwhelming loss, and then be killed, so that he is now a sympathetic mediator for us with God.
Hebrews 4:15-16. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted [or “tested” which makes the application larger!] in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
7. Declare that these attacks were a great evil, and that God’s wrath is greatly kindled by the wanton destruction of human life created in his image.
Genesis 9:5-6. “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.”
8. Acknowledge that God has permitted a great outbreak of sin against his revealed will, and that we do not know all the reasons why he would permit such a thing now, when it was in his power to stop it.
Romans 11:33-37 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
9. Express the truth that Satan is a massive reality in the universe that conspires with our own sin and flesh and the world to hurt people and to move people to hurt others, but stress that Satan is within and under the control of God.
Luke 22:31-32. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-9. “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
10. Express that these perpetrators rebelled against the revealed will of God and did not love God or trust him or find in God their refuge and strength and treasure, but scorned his ways and his Person.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-2. “Finally, brethren, pray for us . . . that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.”
11. Since rebellion against God was at the root of these acts, let us all fear such rebellion in our own hearts, and turn from it, and embrace the grace of God in Christ, and renounce the very impulses that caused this tragedy.
Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
12. Point the living to the momentous issues of sin and repentance in our own hearts and the urgent need to get right with God through his merciful provision of forgiveness in Christ, so that a worse fate than death will not overtake us.
Luke 13:1-5. “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'”
13. Remember that even those who trust in Christ may suffer great tragedy, but that does not mean they have been abandoned by God or not loved by God even in those agonizing hours of suffering. God’s love conquers even through calamity.
Romans 8:35-39. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG, WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
14. Mingle heart-wrenching weeping with unbreakable confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God who rules over and through the sin and the plans of rebellious people.
Lamentations 3:32 “For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly Or grieve the sons of men.”
15. Trust God for his ability to do the humanly impossible, and bring you through crisis and pain, and, in some inscrutable way, bring good out of it.
Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Lamentations 3:21-24. “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.'”
16. Explain, when the time is right, and they have the wherewithal to think clearly that one of the mysteries of God’s greatness is that he ordains that some things come to pass which he forbids and disapproves of.
The clearest example is his ordaining that his Son be killed.
Acts 4:27-28. “Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
See the Appendix titled “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved,” in The Pleasures of God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 2000), pp. 313-340.
17. Express your personal cherishing of the sovereignty of God as the ground of all your hope as you face the human impossibilities of life. The very fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of our salvation and preservation hang on God’s sovereignty over rebellious human wills.
Hebrews 13:20-21. “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
18. Count God your only lasting treasure, because he is the only sure and stable thing in the universe.
Psalm 73:25-26. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
19. Remind everyone that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21-23. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. . . . I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.”
20. Pray that God would incline their hearts to his word, open their eyes to his wonders, unite their hearts to fear him, and satisfy them with his love.
Psalm 86:11. “Unite my heart to fear Your name.”
21. At the right time sound the trumpet that all this good news is meant by God to free us for radical, sacrificial service for the salvation of men and the glory of Christ. Help them see that one message of all this misery is to show us that life is short and fragile and followed by eternity, and small, man-centered ambitions are tragic.
Acts 20:24. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”
By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org. Used by permission.