1.What is your most vivid personal memory of a national tragedy? How did this tragedy affect you spiritually, if at all?
Most people will have some memory of September 11, 2001. Within the United States, other memories may include the shootings of Presidents Reagan and Kennedy, the two space shuttle disasters, the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many will think also of natural disasters, such as the tsunami of 2004.
Traumatic events have a way of searing images into our memories. The result is vivid memories not only of the event itself, but also our recollections of where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the event. Such events either result in people being closer to God or more distant from Him. It’s probably quite rare that a per-son’s relationship with God is totally unaffected in such instances. The church should be poised to help people see God more clearly in trying times.
2.What sins do you think could bring God’s judgment upon our country today? How would we be able to tell the difference between the judgment of God and what may be called “natural consequences”?
The first question will reveal different opinions among believers. Some believers will think that God is most concerned about sins related to sexuality. Others will focus on human life issues such as abortion and euthanasia (on the political right)and capital punishment (on the political left).Some Christians will stress issues of social justice, racial inequalities, environmental abuse, etc. These different opinions may provide part of the answer to the second question: sincere believers are unlikely to reach consensus on what sins would be “bad enough” to call forth God’s judgment. We are certain, however, that God’s patience is for our benefit (2 Peter 3:9, 15). Seethe next question.
3. In what ways have you benefited from God’s patience?
This question can call forth some very emotional stories. Certainly the fact that our world still exists despite our sinfulness is a sign that
God is patient! Beyond that, 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that God is patient because He wants every-one to come to salvation.
4.In reaction to a national tragedy, someone says, “I guess this is God’s punishment” How do you respond?
The book of Job shows us that there are other reasons for tragedy. In that case Satan was the cause of the devastation that affected Job and his family. Other tragedies may be the consequences of otherwise positive events: the storm that ends your drought may cause my flood. In an inter-connected world, many blessings have accompanying challenges. This may be more the general result of living after the fall than of direct punishment from God.
Since God does use natural and human means to effect His punishments, we often cannot tell which is specifically divine and which is merely natural. The best response is to turn to God in repentance and seek restoration in any circumstance. (Jesus addressed this very issue in Luke13:1-5.) We can use tragedy as a reminder to seek His face and turn from our wicked ways.
5.When is it appropriate to hold on to and nurture a bitter memory, and when is it better to try to let go and move on with our lives? How could our decision be different if the memory is of a shared community event rather than of amore individual, personal tragedy?
Some memories must stay alive, even if they are very painful. The fact that God chose to retain in Scripture the horror of the fall of Jerusalem is proof of this. Were the exiles to forget Jerusalem, they would have no hope of returning and restoring the city. To some degree community events are better kept in our collective memories because they allow as to grieve and he altogether. Such memories allow us to come up with a shared strategy for recovery.
Individual hurts, for their part, have more of a tendency to foster bitterness when they are kept “bottled up inside.” When that happens, the bitterness of individual tragedy breeds isolation. Allowing others to help us work through our grief is a key.