It seems as though we can’t go a day without hearing about more violence, another tragedy, more innocent lives lost. Most recently, friends, family and country are mourning the loss of freelance war correspondent James Foley, who was beheaded August 19th by the Muslim terrorist group Islamic State (IS) in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes. Foley was kidnapped in Syria in 2012. Before that, Foley had been captured in Libya in April 2011. He lived out his vocation tirelessly working to expose the world to the sufferings of the oppressed.
Friends and family describe Foley as a man of faith. At a press conference yesterday, his parent spoke of their faith as well as their pride in their son. “We thank God for the gift of Jim. We are so, so proud of him,” said his mother, Diane Foley.
His father, John Foley, said, “It's not difficult to find solace in this point in time…We know he is in God's hands, and we know he’s done God’s work.” He added, “We need the courage and prayers now to continue without him.”
According to the Women of Grace blog, during his detainment in Libya, Foley wrote a letter to his alma mater, Marquette University, in which he talked of his prayer life. Foley mentioned how his prayers gave him strength and helped his mind focus during his imprisonment. He went on to mention the prayers he and his fellow captives prayed, “together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.”
Foley’s death is just the latest in what has felt like a month of tragedy and violence. More conflict between Israel and Gaza, violent persecution in Iraq, Ebola outbreaks, and even in our own country, unnecessary deaths and riots. What can Christians do when faced with such overwhelming tragedy? Here are a few thoughts.
1. Give Thanks. After the devastating 2011 tsunami devastated Japan, Cliff Young wrote this about facing unimaginable hardship. “This tragedy has reminded me to be thankful each day for every blessing I have been given—Jesus, life, family, friends, health, peace, freedom, church, opportunities and the list goes on. Oftentimes the busyness of our life gets in the way of appreciating life itself.”
2. Be Intentional. Again, Cliff writes, “Over the past year, I have found two words stuck in my mind—deliberate and intentional. I believed God wanted me to be more deliberate and intentional about everything I did—not just ‘try to get by’ or complete things whenever I wanted to. I felt he was instructing me to have a specific meaning and purpose behind (almost) everything I did or what I wanted to accomplish, or else not do it. This past week’s events have caused me to reflect and evaluate how and what I am doing with that command and to recommit myself following through.”
3. Remember Who is in Control. The day after 9/11, Evangelist Luis Palau shared this about living in the midst of terrible tragedy. “Events never spiral out of God’s control, as if He somehow lacks the power or insight to direct the affairs of our little planet…Even when tragedies occur and innocent life is taken or maimed, God remains in ultimate control. Nothing happens that does not first pass through his loving hands.”
4. Turn toward Home. Perhaps the most comforting thing our minds can settle on right now is that this world, and all the chaos and evil in it, is temporary. Palau writes, “When loved ones die in tragic accidents or at the hands of wicked men, it is good to remember that this world is not our final home.
We were created for eternity, and tragedy can never change that. This is only a transition period, a prelude, to what God really has in mind for us. But because we usually look only at the present, we often consider someone’s death premature or untimely. Our perspective is enormously limited. We tend to look only at what could have been (and in our minds, should have been) down here on earth. But God looks at all of eternity. If we are to cope with tragedy, we must learn to look at it through eternity’s lens.”
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.
Photo credit: "James Foley in 2011" by user10. Via Wikipedia.