Responding to tragedy's cry

Nothing can separate you from God.

When tragedy strikes anywhere on the globe, today's communications links get the news out fast. But there's a positive side to instant communication: the need is made known quickly, and assistance can be provided almost immediately. For most of us, this won't mean becoming directly involved. But we do have a role to play.

Even before details are known, we can take into our prayers those who have been harmed. The Bible tells us, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1). And help from God includes spiritual healing. Those who would normally rely on material means for healing do not have to wait until these means become available. God's healing power is always present. It's as close as their prayers. And our prayers make this power more apparent.

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In a textbook that explores the very nature of life itself, Mary Baker Eddy declares, "It is not well to imagine that Jesus demonstrated the divine power to heal only for a select number or for a limited period of time, since to all mankind and in every hour, divine Love supplies all good" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 494).

Many radio stations present news every hour on the hour, and these newscasts offer opportunities to tailor our prayers to meet specific needs and to recognize God's provision for this hour. While it is important to stay on top of the situation, we need to be aware of the distraction of detailed, sensational information. The psalm quoted above also gives good counsel for someone listening to these news reports: "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (verses 10 and 11).

This stillness does not necessarily demand a physical stillness. People may have urgent work to perform, especially if they are in a disaster area. The stillness needed is an unmovable faith in and an understanding of God's presence. This recognition of God's presence lifts us above the immediate environment into a recognition of heaven's own harmony. Such an inspired response to tragedy, more than a mere reaction, brings divine direction and strength to rescue operations and spiritual comfort to people who are distraught.

Some tragedies involve hundreds, even thousands, whose lives are changed forever. Yet each person involved has a direct and individual relationship to God. People may find their original plans and goals swept away, but they do not have to feel directionless. While their possessions and perhaps even their loved ones may be lost to them, they can still find reasons for living that are rooted in the love of God, and deeper satisfaction than they may ever have known in the past. Because God, who is good, is supreme over every difficulty, the ultimate answer has to be progressive for everyone.

This is also true regarding loved ones who may have lost their lives in a tragedy. The wonderful example of Jesus showed us that we are immortal, deathless. While no one before or after Jesus has replicated his resurrection, his proof that individual identity cannot be erased stands as an example for all time and all people. It assures us that God's, divine Love's, healing care continues to surround those who have passed from our sight.

Everyone has a direct relationship with the living God.

Teaching lessons of immortality, and reasoning about resurrection even before his crucifixion and return from the grave, Jesus asked his followers to explore more deeply the status of those who had passed on. "But as touching the resurrection of the dead," he said, "have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22:31, 32).

Through his interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures, Jesus directly challenged the views of those scholars and religious teachers who did not believe in eternal life. Since God was the God of the living, yet declared himself to be the God of previous generations—and by implication of all who had passed on—Jesus implied that none are dead to God. Everyone has a direct relationship with the living God.

A poetic commentary on these verses and our continuing relationship with God reads: "An ice-bar once silenced the majestic music of Niagara Falls; but, as Jesus here tells us, death has no ice-bar that can still the ever-flowing love of God toward man. A pledge once given by God is given once for all. He does not at death extinguish the light ..." (The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VII, p. 523).

Just as this flow of God's love is too powerful to be extinguished by death, it also is not attenuated for the survivors. It offers a powerful and never-ending flow of ideas for those who are reconstructing their lives.

At a time of personal tragedy, when months of prayerful labor and human goals had been swept away, I could find no reason to live or direction to take. One evening, when taking the dog for a walk, I came to a street corner, and then could walk no more. I didn't know whether to go ahead, to turn to the right or to the left, or even whether to go back home. I simply stood there paralyzed by despair.

I don't know how long I remained standing there, but quietly an inner voice spoke, almost as if it were the voice of God. "Take a step. I will be with you." I did just that. I took a step, and then another, and then another, knowing I was not alone, but actually walking with God.

"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isa. 41:10). This promise from God is meant for you and for me. And the priceless sense of God's being with us can be felt at any moment. The divine Love that is Life itself is not remote or far ahead in an uncertain future, nor has God been left behind because of our loss.

Even in a devastating or widespread calamity, we can listen for and follow God's leading as we take each step toward recovery. While these steps may be slow and difficult at first, they will eventually become wholly joyous. As this occurs, it will become more and more natural to sing, as the Hebrew Psalmist did, "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever" (Ps. 30:11, 12).

The ability to pray immediately when our brothers and sisters around the world are in trouble is a special phenomenon of this age. Conversely, listeners thousands of miles away can learn quickly of our tragedies and offer their prayers to help us. Praying to God in times of trouble, and receiving His aid for us and others, make it increasingly clear that God is never absent. The children God has created are not separated into a here and a hereafter. When our response to a difficult condition of any kind is a spiritual one, we not only find help in the present situation, but also realize that the kingdom of heaven, its laws and bestowals, are really come to earth. Or, more accurately, earthly elements and happenings no longer obscure our ability to experience the kingdom of God.

Through this kind of prayer, we are doing what Jesus commissioned his followers to do—to reveal the kingdom of heaven right here on earth.

Am I my brother's keeper?
September 25, 2000

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