Sunday, December 23, 2012

In the Wake of Tragedy

All of us will wade through tragedy in our lives. Whether a death or a diagnosis, a broken dream or a divorce, all of us will, at one time or another, experience some degree of anguish, loss or uncertainty. In such times, inspired spiritual leaders often share the insightful account of a horrific tragedy that occurred nearly 2100 years ago.

Two missionaries were teaching in a large city. Many people were converted by their teachings, but the majority of those in the city were angry. They didn't like someone, least of all missionaries claiming they were sent from God, telling them they should change.

The majority began to persecute those who believed the missionaries. They threw rocks at the believing men and drove them out of the city. Then they did the unthinkable. Under the direction of the town's political leader and top legal authority, they gathered the women and children who believed the missionaries' teachings and burned them alive.

The missionaries, whose names were Alma and Amulek, were tied up and forced to watch in horror. Amulek responded much as you or I might respond: 'And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.'

Alma, who was also a prophet, explained the mind of the Lord his colleague. 'The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch for mine hand,' he said. 'For behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.'

Our Heavenly Father, who knows the end from the beginning, sometimes allows bad things to happen to good people-- to his own children whom he loves dearly and perfectly--because those good people are better off having gone through the anguish, suffering and struggle of tragedy.

Though Amulek may have understood and believed in Alma's explanation, knowing the truth didn't make everything okay. He had witnessed a horrific tragedy-- these mothers and wives, sons and daughters would not be with their families again in mortality. It was senseless, unfair, horrific and tragic. It was painful and hard and sad. Perhaps worst of all for the restrained Amulek, though present he was unable to stop it. He was unable to fight, unable to give his life to protect the innocent victims of a heinous crime.

Amulek also recognized that time marched forward. There was no chance to come to terms with what had happened. Despite the assurance of his prophet companion, he was still in the hands of his enemies and there would yet be many demands placed upon him.

As it was for Alma and Amulek, the time following a tragedy in our lives can be more difficult than the moment of tragedy itself as facts and feelings become less surreal. We are not likely to be beaten, stripped of our clothes, bound, imprisoned, interrogated or mocked as Alma and Amulek were, but we may question ourselves, blame ourselves or others, harden our hearts against faith and family, and ride a rollercoaster of emotions from guilt to sorrow to anger to emptiness.

Regardless of the tragedy, or how hard it may be, the solution for us will be the same as it was for these two missionaries. After several days of inhumane treatment, no doubt physically and emotionally exhausted, Alma turned to the Lord in prayer.

And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound.. and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain... And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith in Christ. And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands.

The Lord has the power to deliver us from the bands of depression, guilt, pride, anguish and sin. Through faith in him, our wounds can be healed and our hearts can know peace.

Like Alma and Amulek, our path to deliverance begins with heartfelt prayer and the belief that God will answer. Alma did not know how the Lord would respond; he only knew that the Lord would answer his prayer. Then, when Alma saw the answer to his prayer, he had the faith to stand up and walk out of the prison.

Tragedy is inescapable. We may suffer incredible things. Those we love will die. We may lose a job or know great disappointment. Senseless acts of violence will take innocent lives. Family relationships may feel as though they are under siege. Terrible things will happen. Our hearts will ache. Tragedy will strike without boundaries nor respect to gender, race, color, creed or socioeconomic status.

In the wake of tragedy, our Savior extends his open arms. We may restore peace to our hearts and feel the warmth of His love as we turn to him in faith.

1 comment:

  1. Source: Alma 14

    From the Book of Mormon Study Guide on that chapter, this seemed particularly relevant:

    "Many of us might feel like Amulek when he saw the suffering of righteous, humble people. Alma, however, helped him (and us) understand that Heavenly Father has a greater vision of what seems like tragedy to mortal men and women. Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained:

    'We find many people critical when a righteous person is killed, a young father or mother is taken from a family, or when violent deaths occur. Some become bitter when oft-repeated prayers seem unanswered. Some lose faith and turn sour when solemn administrations by holy men seem to be ignored. … But if all the sick were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. …

    'Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death; and if these were not, there would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood' ('Tragedy or Destiny,' Improvement Era, Mar. 1966, 180, 210; see also Alma 60:13; D&C 98:13)."