After the Storm
By Ajith Fernando
When cities, or even nations, experience calamity, Christians must look to the Bible for strength and guidance and reach out with the love of Christ to people who are suffering.
A time to mourn
The Bible says that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). The time in the wake of disaster is certainly a time to weep and mourn.
There are important sections in the Bible called laments where God’s faithful people grieve over what they are experiencing and ask God why He allowed such a thing to happen to them. Some of the laments are by individuals who have suffered. Others are by people who love their nation and mourn over its suffering. There is an entire book of the Bible, Lamentations, devoted to mourning for the sufferings of a nation. We must look to the Bible for strength and guidance.
Jeremiah cried, “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1). He wanted to weep because of the pain in his soul. Jeremiah’s words following that statement show that the weeping would help bring healing to his soul. As we struggle with pain over our family, community, or nation, expressing our sorrow will help release the pressure and make us more useful to those around us.
This is what happened to Nehemiah. When he heard about the sorry state that Jerusalem was in, he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed for days until the king noticed that his face showed the signs of deep sorrow. But after the period of mourning was over, he got down to action and became a national hero whose brilliant leadership style is a great example and is still used almost 2,500 years later.
Finding ways to express mourning
In the Bible, we find several ways that people express their mourning, like fasting (2 Samuel 1:12) and putting on sackcloth (Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31) and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; 25:34). We need to find ways to express mourning that fit our own culture. Certainly, fasting and praying for a family, church, community, or nation is most desired in times of tragedy.
In Sri Lanka after the tsunami, people hoisted white flags as a sign of mourning. Every culture has its own distinct expressions of sorrow. When Dorcas died and Peter went to her house, “All the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them (Acts 9:39). This type of scene is very common in Scripture.
We need to think seriously about how we can bring culturally appropriate expressions of mourning into our churches that are in line with the biblical understanding of lament.
Grappling with God’s Sovereignty
Asking why a terrible thing happened is one aspect of a biblical lament. The Bible encourages us to grapple with this question by giving examples of great saints who did this, like Job, Jeremiah and the psalmists. Job struggled a long time to make sense of what was happening around him.
Usually at the end of a time of grappling, God’s people affirm that because God is sovereign and knows what is happening, the wisest thing to do is to keep trusting Him. We see this often in the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 73).
Believing in God’s sovereignty at a time of tragedy helps us to avoid hopelessness amid the struggle. We must rely on God’s promise that even out of terrible tragedy He will bring something good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). This perspective of God’s sovereignty may not come right away.
Sometimes it’s necessary for us to wrestle with God over this. Prayer and meditation on His Word really help at such times (Psalm 27). We may be busy recovering from the disaster or serving those who have been adversely affected by it. But we must find time to spend with God and His Word.
This is why God’s people must always continue worshipping Him, regardless of how serious the situation may be. When we worship, we focus on those eternal realities that remind us of God’s sovereignty.
The exposure to these truths helps drive away the gloom that engulfs us and gives us the strength to trust God to look after us. Having been comforted by God and His Word, we then have the strength to launch into sacrificially serving others who are suffering. –Ajith Fernando
Download ‘After the Hurricane: A Biblical Response to Calamities’, available in English, Simplified Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia.
About the Author
Ajith Fernando is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. He served as the ministry’s national director for 35 years. He is the author of eighteen books, including Discipling in a Multicultural World, and lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with his wife. They have two adult children and four grandchildren.
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