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What do we learn from tragedy?

Shots ring out at a music festival; excitement turns to horror and sorrow. Hurricanes pound the East Coast, and wash away everything people own. Fires destroy natural beauty, chase people from their homes, and spew smoke into the air. Earthquakes cause devastation in a city of nearly 9 million people. Crime and injustice break hearts. Sickness invades lives. Poverty and uncertainty hold so many down. At some point, we all wonder, why? Why does this happen? Is God punishing those people? Did they or some of them, did I, deserve this? Is it all meaningless? Are these random events with which we just have to cope?

One of those questions is easy. Is God punishing those people? Do they deserve their troubles? Jesus answered this question when disaster struck near him. He said, ”Do you think that these [men] were worse sinners than all the others because they suffered these things? I tell you no” (Luke 13:2, 3a).

Many decent people suffer many things, while many wicked people seem to be unscathed. To us, God seems selective with his justice. We forget that God’s justice is perfect and eternal.

So, is it meaningless? Not quite. Every tragedy is a reminder for every person on Earth. This world is broken. When sin entered the world, it was never right again. The “good” God created was corrupted and destroyed. All of creation feels the bitter effects of sin, our ancestors’ sin and our own. “All creation is groaning with birth pains, right up the present time. And not only creation, but also we ourselves” (Romans 8:22, 23). All creation groans for something better, and our hearts groan with it. We groan for the goodness God intended for us. These disasters make us long for better.

These events are also our opportunity to evaluate ourselves, our own lives, and whether we are ready for our own deaths. “Just as people are destined to die once and after that face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We might try to run from this truth, but eventually life will bring us face to face with our own mortality. Eventually we must face the big question: Am I ready to face the judgment of a holy God? If we compare ourselves to others, like that murderer in Vegas or the uncaring people we meet every day, we might feel comfortable with that judgment. But God’s judgment isn’t a competition. We will answer for our own actions, and the evils we commit. Jesus tells us what tragedies mean for all of us, “Unless you repent, you will all perish too” (Luke 13:5).

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The word “repent” means to turn. When Jesus calls us to repent, he calls us to see our sin, everything we have and continue to do which is wrong. He calls us to recognize that God will punish all those who sin. He calls us to turn from those sins and plead to God for mercy. He calls us to receive from him forgiveness in his death and resurrection. He calls us to believe in him and receive eternal life, set free from sin and all its tragedy. He calls us to live a new life of joy and peace in him.

We wonder why tragedies happen. In Christ Jesus, God’s Son, we find not only an answer, but the solution.

Pastor Luke Tembreull is a graduate of Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, WI. Before accepting the call to serve as pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Corvallis last year, he served Our Savior Lutheran in Two Rivers, WI. He and his family are blessed to be a part of this congregation and this community.


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