You get laid off from work. Your spouse is filing for divorce. You lose connection with your children. You find out you have cancer. Whether it be natural disasters, spiritual warfare or the cruelty of mankind – life is full of tragedy. Devastation can happen in a moment. There was a great tragedy in the Garden of Eden when humanity committed cosmic treason against the Creator. What would follow is a terrible fracture in the universe from which all future tragedies would stem. Sin has caused the whole world to groan in pain. The reason for hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis; the reason for terrorism, genocide and war–is sin. Everything God made good, we have made bad. So what do we do with this as believers? What if we don’t come out of economic recession? What if things get worse?
In Luke 21:5-19, Jesus warns us of the hardships in life and encourages us in the hope to come. He tells His disciples that the Temple–the Jewish center for worship and commerce–would soon fall to ruins. False teachers would arise.
Wars would rage. Sin would continue. But Jesus says not to fear. He lets us know that the end will not come all at once. There will continue to be cycles of crisis until Christ returns, and He makes all things new. Charles Spurgeon referred to these disasters as “dress rehearsals for the end times.” There will be incidents across the world and throughout time. There will be natural disasters, famines and plagues. There will be times of great suffering and persecution when followers of Christ are dragged into prisons, placed before rulers, and executed. “But this will be your opportunity to tell them” about Christ (Luke 21:13). In spite of hardships, Christ gives us hope. He promises to give you the right words and the wisdom to live. Although friends and family betray you, and the world hates you because of your love for God, still yet He remains faithful. “But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls” (Luke 21:18-19).
James tell us that we are to “consider it an opportunity for great joy” when troubles come our way because the testing of our faith produces endurance so that we can be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (1:2-4). Paul also reminds us in Romans that we can persevere through life’s trials. We can have peace, joy and confidence in the uncertainty of life because of our faith in Jesus Christ. We look forward to sharing God’s glory and rejoice even in trials “for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment” (5:1-5). Paul had learned the secret of living in contentment no matter life’s circumstances. He knew that he could do all things through Christ’s strength (Philippians 4:11-13).
Concerning tragedy, Pastor Mark Driscoll pointed out this past August that Jesus tells us to “make the most of every opportunity.” When times get hard, ask, “Where is the opportunity?” The worst tragedies make the best opportunities. What occurred at the cross, the worst tragedy in the history of the world, became the best opportunity for the hope of the world.”
Storms will come. It is not a matter of if but when. You cannot control what befalls you, but you can control the way you respond.
You cannot control circumstances or other people, but you can control your own choices. Joy is a choice, not a condition. Do not worry or be troubled when times become hard – it is to be expected. Being like Christ is sharing in His sufferings. Trust in His assurance; He promised He would return.
And there are no disappointments in His promises. Our hope is in Jesus. We run to Him, lean on Him, trust in Him. We can make the most of every opportunity. It does not have to be your tragedy, but rather it can be your opportunity. It does not have to be your end; it can be your beginning. It can be your opportunity to bear witness, knowing by your endurance you will gain your life. “When the world runs out of hope, Christians run in,” Driscoll added.
God is not evil, and He does not do evil, but in His sovereignty He uses it for good. We belong to a kingdom that never ends. There is no bankruptcy in the economy of God. He reigns supreme for all eternity. So stop asking the wrong questions: Where is God? Why am I suffering? What’s going to happen? Instead ask: Where’s the opportunity? How can I help? Who can I serve? Not–why is this happening? Rather–what can I do with this now? At the cross, where sinners murdered their Savior, is where death became life and defeat became victory. This is where heartbreaking tragedy met glorious opportunity. At the cross, the whole world was changed forever. The worst tragedy became our greatest opportunity.
If we belong to Him, we are promised that life will be meaningful and fulfilling. We are not promised that life will be easy; but we are promised that it will be worth it. Christ will return for His beloved. We do not know when, but we know it will happen. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we know the One who holds tomorrow in His hands. As Christians we already know the end; we have already won. Jesus Christ makes life, death and suffering meaningful. He is the One who can turn despair into dancing and sadness into singing. He causes the diamond to form from earth’s pressure. He causes the butterfly to soar out from a choking cocoon. He causes the flower to grow and spring forth from broken dirt.
And “He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).