How To Talk About Tragedy And Suffering In Your Youth Ministry

Newtown CT TragedyWe can barely understand and comprehend the tragic events of Newtown, CT can we? I have three kids, and my 6 year old was at school today. It’s hard to wrap my head around the tragedy in a school full of innocent children.

How are our students processing this? How do we help them process it? It’s challenging enough for ourselves isn’t it?

Below is an excerpt from a book I authored that tackles Answers to Teenagers 50 Toughest Questions. Below is a good starting place for us all. Friend and youth worker Liz Simmonds wrote this answer that looks at why God seems to allow suffering and tragedy. It does not possibly answer every aspect of what we and our students are thinking, but it is a good start, and perhaps a good message outline for you this week? I hope this helps…

“If God is so loving, why does He allow so much suffering in our world?”  This answer is not black and white because we all know how much it hurts to suffer. However, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture of the world we live in and understand why suffering exists… Adam and Eve had it all.  Due to free will, they chose to disobey and now here we are.  Many generations later, humankind deals with the consequences of living in a fallen world. Bad things DO happen to good people.  But, there is a difference between God allowing bad things to happen and God causing them.  The undeniable fact is that suffering is a part of life.

Editors Note: The hardest part of a tragedy is that we wonder why didn’t God intervene? This is not a quick and easy question to answer. However, we must be sure that God gives all people freedom and even in that freedom, sin and pain is caused. Let us also be sure of God’s love for us and the certainty that he desires all of us to be with Him eternally. With great loss of any loved one, I believe that God’s grace and his eternal plan is essential for us to reflect on and trust in. While we feel loss of today, we must pray and think eternally and trust God’s eternal plan for these little children who have been killed in Newtown, CT. 


Verses on Suffering: 

“My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” Psalm 119:71 (NLT).

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)

  1. Peter writes that we should rejoice in our suffering for we are made partners with Christ in it and will see his Glory revealed to the world. God said to Paul that His power is made perfect in weakness.  How contrary to worldly thought–power through weakness!
  2. Scripture offers hope and direction for when suffering comes (not if it comes).  Nowhere in scripture does God reveal why.  When Job is questioning God about his current circumstances thinking that he knows better, God launches into a litany of questions for Job.  God wants to know if Job filled the heavenly storehouses with snow or set the stars in the sky or made the creatures.  God’s complex creation is vastly more gigantic than our tiny human brains can comprehend.  Our best effort in scrutinizing scripture reveals hope and encouragement for responding to the pain that comes with life on earth.  The best news–no suffering in heaven!
  3. God wants us to respond to the suffering we see in our world. The Bible is full or commands and examples of how God calls us to minister to the poor and hurting. That could be someone in our school or a kid living in Africa.  Consider who God is calling you to minister to.

Your Next Steps

  • Don’t expect students will quickly and readily accept that God allows suffering in the world. It will take time for them to understand the connection of sin and suffering in the world.
  • Encourage students to read the book of Job and follow up with conversations about it.
  • Create opportunities to serve those who are suffering in your community as well as summer mission trip experiences.

Further Reading

The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis

This is just a start and I know that there are many other great resources out there. However, we must go digging in order to engage the questions students are asking…

Hope this helps…

Phil <><


photo credit: e-magic via photopin cc

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