Archives for posts with tag: tragedy

After my weekly post a couple of days ago I have been reminded of one of the great hymns of the church that affirms the fact that faith in God is not a guarantee that one will be free from tragedy. And that disaster does not negate the value of faith. In fact, it is the confidence that God loves us that sustains us in times of loss.

As a follow up to the Thoughts for Thursday post “Even If” I offer the story of the hymn, It is Well With My Soul.

Horatio Gates Spafford was a prominent American lawyer. He and his wife were also close friends of evangelist Dwight L Moody. The Spaffords invested in real estate but they lost it during the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871. Earlier that same year the Spafford’s four year-old son died with Scarlet Fever.

After these tragedies they planned a trip to Europe. However, due to an unexpected business need, Horatio stayed behind for a few days while his wife and 4 daughters sail ahead via the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre, on November 21, 1873.

Four days later, the ship collided with another vessel. The ship sank in 12 minutes carrying with it 226 passengers including the Spafford’s children. Unfortunately, only Anna survived among his family.

After being rescued Anna sent a telegram to her husband saying, “Saved alone, what shall I do?” Not long after Horatio sailed out to join his grieving wife. As he passed near the spot where his daughters died, he penned “It Is Well With My Soul.”

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
(Refrain)  

Text: Horatio G. Spafford  Music: Philip P. Bliss
Tune: VILLE DU HAVRE, Meter: 11 8.11 9 with Refrain

Jamie Jenkins

Why is my life filled with so much pain and struggle? What have I done wrong to deserve this? If I just had enough faith, this would not have happened! These and other comments reflect a misunderstanding of faith and life.

There are people who believe that faith in God will prevent tragedy and adversity. They espouse the understanding that God watches over God’s people and will shield them from all harm. They have scripture on their side and they quote verses like 2 Samuel 22:3 “My God is my rock—I take refuge in him!— he’s my shield and my salvation’s strength, my place of safety and my shelter.” Or “God is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

There are many more similar expressions of confidence that God looks out for God’s own- and I believe them too. But we have to consider the whole of the Bible and not just select verses.

The Bible contains many strong assertions that God will protect and prevent people of faith from suffering disaster. There are many examples where that is dramatically demonstrated and the faith of God’s followers is affirmed. Stories in the Bible and history contain details of people who trusted God and were spared. The Hebrew Children is an excellent example. King Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into a fiery furnace but they were rescued without even the hair on their head being burned.

Trust God and everything will be alright! But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood the possibility that they would not be spared. With that awareness they said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us… But even if he does not…we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

The story of Job is an interesting one. In spite of the fact that he had lost many of the things that were important, he refused to stop trusting God. He said, “Even if God killed me, I’d keep on hoping.” What about the Apostle Paul. It has been said that he is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the origins of Christianity and he certainly did not have an easy life.

Ok, so faith does not always prevent adversity but God will deliver those who put their trust in Him. Right? Yes but perhaps not exactly as we would wish.

Chapter 11 of The Book of Hebrews chronicles the exploits of many “heroes of faith.” Their mighty and miraculous deeds are listed and the writer suggests there are too many such people and stories to mention them all. But the record shows that there were others who were tortured, imprisoned, stoned, and persecuted in ways too horrible to mention. “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised” (Heb. 11:39-40 MSG).

“When disaster strikes, or calamity becomes the norm, there is no human logic that can explain all of the questions, ‘Why?’  There are things that, quite frankly, seem to make no sense at all.  Much of our human suffering appears arbitrary and senseless…One day every person faces eternity through death; better to believe in God through His son Jesus, and at least have the assurance of eternal life.  The trials of this life are temporary, even though they may seem to drag on forever.  Faith becomes the reality and evidence of what eternity will one day make vivid and real.”**

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “ For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NRSV).

It is important to maintain faith in a loving and powerful God Almighty. To believe that all things are possible if you believe. At the same time one must realize that faith does not guarantee a victorious outcome in this earthly life. The words to a song by Mercy Me captures what I am trying to say.

I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand. But even if You don’t my hope is You alone.

They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain. Good thing. A little faith is all I have right now. But God, when You choose To leave mountains unmovable give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul.”

Regardless of circumstances the important thing is to come to the end of this earthly journey and be able to say, “I have finished my course. I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith.” Then you can be assured that you will receive God’s approval and the prize will be worth the journey (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Jamie Jenkins
*”Even If” by MercyMe- writers: Bart Millard, Ben Glover, Crystal Lewis, David Garcia, Tim Timmons

**Why Should I Believe In A God Who Doesn’t Seem To Help? by Craig Blumel

 

 

My twelve year-old granddaughter is a very positive and happy person. She wants to talk and hear about positive things. At times I understand that she is simply naïve but I appreciate the fact that she has a positive outlook and wants to see the best in everything and everyone. And she tries very hard to be the best person she can be.

Recently I heard a response to the question of why the news media seem to always report only “bad” things. The reason given was because “bad news” is not the norm. There are far more stories of “good news.” The exception to the rule makes something newsworthy. Therefore tragedy, hostility, and other unseemly attitudes, words, and acts are reported because they are the exceptions.

I am not sure that is actually the reality but it is one perspective and possibility.

One of my teachers had a saying that bad news goes around the world twice before good news gets its shoes on. It certainly does seem that bad news travels faster than good news. Word of a robbery seems to spread much farther and faster than a report of a random act of kindness. Road rage makes the headlines but the many motorists who are patient and tolerant are seemingly absent.

I am often reminded that we see and hear what we are looking and listening for. Our ears perk up at juicy gossip and our eyes widen when we see something unseemly.

Today as I was driving I saw blue lights flashing in the distance. Instinctively I slowed down and expected to see an accident or someone receiving a ticket for violating the traffic laws. Maybe even a person being arrested for some criminal act.

But I saw something very different. Two police vehicles were diverting traffic around a stalled minivan and two officers were changing a flat tire for the driver of the stranded automobile. That was a surprise but a welcome sight. The officers were white and the motorist was black. The officers were male and the driver was female.

There are so many reports these days about white law enforcement officers inflicting violence on black citizens and headlines about men exploiting women. Nothing that I say here is intended to make light of these incidents. Violence against any human being is never justified and is even more detestable when it comes from persons in authority or from racist and/or sexist attitudes.

The experience I am reporting is meant simply to remind us that acts of kindness, generosity, gentleness, mercy, and respect occur all the time. We must not allow the “exceptions,” as horrible as they are, to lead us to believe that civility and human dignity have disappeared from our society. That charity and hospitality are things of the past.

What I saw today also sensitizes me to situations where I can be helpful. It reminds me to pay attention to those around me who might need assistance or support. It helps me to remember that no good deed is small. It aids me in focusing on others and not to be so self-centered. It reminds me to look for opportunities to “live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward (me)” (Matthew 5:48, The Message).

Jamie Jenkins

 

Over three decades ago a friend expressed his opinion and regret that, “The day of civil discourse is past.” I wonder how he feels today more than 30 years later.

I have opinions (on just about everything) and I am willing to share them- if you will listen. I am open to discussions, conversations, civil discourse- but not arguments. I know that I am not always right…nor am I always wrong. Sometimes I am neither. Sometimes I am both. And I am willing to give you that same consideration.

When I am “for” something it does not mean that I am “against” everything or anyone else. If you disagree with me, I will respect your opinion. I may be firm but I never want to be harsh. I will not demonize you. I believe it is important to separate issues from people. People are more important.

There are people who jump on every bandwagon. Ready to rally to any cause. I am not one of them and might rightly be accused of not responding to situations that are critical to the well-being of others. I understand that every good and just effort requires a champion if results are to be achieved, if change is to occur.

Elie Wiesel said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” I agree. There certainly are things that require a response. Demand a word. But not everything.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” He is right but everything does not need an immediate response and certainly not an angry and vindictive one. The ancient Greek, Euripides, reminds us that sometimes “silence is true wisdom’s best reply.”

Please do not misunderstand me. I believe that we need to be change agents and confront injustice and evil. That means that there are times when we stand up and speak up but we need to be careful to address issues and not attack persons. Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize recipient, suggests “The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue.” That is true for any behavior or attitude that damages people.

Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, offers this counsel: “We need to begin again to raise civil discourse to another level. I mean, we shout and scream and yell and get very little accomplished, but you can disagree very much with the next guy and still be friends and acquaintances.”

I am thankful if you agree with me. At the same time it is OK if you disagree. I simply ask that we treat each other with respect and dignity. It just might be that we can accomplish more together than either of us can alone.

Jamie Jenkins

Sam and Susan are folks you might never have known if it was not for two of their children. They lived in a small town and although they both were well educated neither of them were in high profile positions of leadership.

Sam’s career path was certainly not one that many would count successful. He spent over 40 years in a rather non-descript place. Many of the folks he worked with and for did not like him. Some of them even burned his house down- not once but twice. One of his associates had him thrown into jail because he could not immediately pay a debt. This was one of two times he spent in jail due to his poor financial status. Lack of money was a perpetual problem.

It could be easily argued that Susan was more gifted than her husband but there was no attempt to upstage or overshadow him. She gave birth to nineteen children but nine of them died as infants. Her primary role was to focus her attention on her children. She was the primary source of her children’s education and ultimately the prominent force in shaping their lives.

Sam was also a poet but never achieved any real fame or success as a writer. One account suggests that Sam “spent his whole life and all of the family’s finances” on one literary work that “was not remembered and had little impact on his family other than as a hardship.” In contrast, Susan’s writings were foundational to her children’s education.

Susan devoted several hours every day to her children’s education. She was a commanding presence and a profound influence in their lives. Sam failed to provide financial security for his family but his life was a demonstration of perseverance- holding on when suffering, tragedy and opposition came.

In different ways Sam and Susan profoundly impacted their children. Their influence can be seen especially in two of their boys, John and Charles, the founders of the Methodist Movement that changed the course of history in 18th century England and is a continuing spiritual force in the world today.

Stained glass windows depicting John and Charles Wesley.

Because of the impact of the Wesley brothers, the world knows Samuel and Susanna Wesley. In his book, Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It, Adam Hamilton says that the boys learned a lesson from their father that would be essential to their future work by his example that “when suffering, tragedy, and opposition come, don’t turn away; turn to God. And don’t give up.” As for their mother, Hamilton says: “Susanna Wesley changed the world by shaping the heart and faith of her children and by her wise counsel and persistent prayers and encouragement.”

I suspect that Samuel and Susanna had no idea of the impact they were having on their children. There was no way they could have seen the effect of their teaching and example on their lives. They were just doing what good parents are supposed to do- live before their kids a life of faith and integrity and leave the results to God. The role of parents has never been easy but has always been important- and never more so than today.

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

 

Dinah Washington won a Grammy Award in 1959 for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance with a song entitled What a Difference a Day Makes.  It was originally written in Spanish by Maria Grever. The English lyrics were written by Stanley Adams in 1934. The most successful early recording, in 1934, was by the Dorsey Brothers, although it was first recorded in English by Cleveland crooner Jimmie Ague.(http://www.songswithearlierhistories.com/what-a-difference-a-day-makes/)

What a Difference a Day Makes

In the song things changed dramatically in a twenty-four hour period. Lonely nights and dreary days are transformed into sunshine and flowers. A rainbow appears where once there were stormy skies. According to the song, all of this changes “Since that moment of bliss that thrilling kiss.” Romance!

Aileen Quinn in Annie (1982)

The idea of drastic and instant positive change is also sounded in the song Tomorrow from the Broadway musical production of Annie. The title character lives in a miserable orphanage run by the terrible Miss Hannigan. But good fortune comes Annie’s way when she is given the opportunity to spend the Christmas holidays in the home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks. Annie repeatedly sings “Just thinkin’ about, tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow, till’ there’s none.” The song pronounces an optimistic view of life as she continues, “When I’m stuck with a day that’s grey and lonely, I just stick out my chin, and grin, and say, ‘Oh, the sun’ll come out tomorrow so you gotta’ hang on till’ tomorrow come what may.”

It is true that things can change dramatically overnight, or in the blink of an eye. Adversity can be overcome. Failure can become success. Defeat can be transformed into victory.

But all change that comes quickly is not positive. Health can deteriorate. Fortunes can be lost. Relationships are destroyed. Lives can be snuffed out. In an instant!

It is important to maintain a positive attitude. But things do not always work out like we hoped and planned. When positive thinking comes up short, when the difference a day makes is devastating, what do you do? Where do you turn?

Wisdom of the ages suggests that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present[a]help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). David, the King of ancient Israel gives good advice: The Lord is my solid rock, my fortress, my rescuer. My God is my rock. I take refuge in him! He is my shield, my salvation’s strength, my place of safety” (Psalm 18:2).

Jamie Jenkins