A Response To Tragedy

“I just got off the phone with EMS dispatch. We have multiple gun shot victims on the way in from a Yoga studio down the street”.

It was an ordinary evening shift with a rather jovial mood, until this news arrived. For a moment, I looked at the charge nurse, waiting for the expression on her face to change and reveal the “gottya” smile. It never came. It didn’t make any sense. This was not “that kind” of city, and there are no violent neighborhoods “down the street”.  As we prepared, the EMS radio grew louder with multiple calls. Reports of injuries, frantic voices relaying procedures being performed in the field, and calls for assistance. It sounded surreal. My anxiety began to grow as we waited.

A few minutes later, crews began to arrive with critical patients, each one passed along to waiting teams of nurses and physicians. Once it was over, once the chest tubes and CT scans and resuscitation attempts were complete, there was a silence. The regular hum of a busy ER couldn’t be heard. We stood looking at each other, trying to compose ourselves and return to the waiting patients. Over the next few hours, local media reported information as it was being released by law enforcement. News of a shooting, of the location, and of casualties caused people to call the ER. They could not get hold of loved ones, they had friends who attended the studio, they had family who should have been home by now. They called hoping, praying that casualties were not their family members.

By the next morning, victim identities were shared publicly and the full scale of what we had experienced in the ER became known around the city, and the country. Tragedy, on a large scale, had already occurred in our area in the form of a recent hurricane that decimated the Florida panhandle and surrounding areas. But this was different. It was unforeseen, and something none of us were prepared to experience. And, for me, it brought the pain and suffering encountered in medicine to a whole new level, demanding an answer to the question: why does God allow such tragedy?

As I continued working my shifts the next few days, the surreal experience took root in my memory. I’ve heard presentations, listened to podcasts, and watched video of mass casualty events, and how to prepare for them. It is an unfortunate reality in Emergency Medicine. But none of that helped. Our response was excellent, but only medical. It is certainly necessary, but not fully adequate. There is more that needed to be discussed, beyond the procedures and patient care. The why. I hoped the investigation would reveal some sense of logic behind the shooting, but the more law enforcement found, the more senseless and random the shooting appeared. So, what now? Can faith be sustained at moments such as these? Is there an utterance that can be spoken to explain these events? Are there biblical words that can provide comfort?

I found some solace in the discussion of similar events. Lee Strobel delivered a particularly moving message titled “Why Does God Allow Tragedy and Suffering?” (link) But the message was a reminder of where we draw our guidance, not where we find the answer. Our Christian faith is personified in Jesus and his crucifixion. God does not provide a formula or an argument for the presence of tragedy and suffering. Instead, He provides himself, broken, beaten, and crucified among us, in this very broken existence we question. That is a difficult answer, if it is an answer at all.

I struggle to find any metaphors for the solution given in the Bible. The world is broken because of sin. That sin leads to pain and suffering and tragedy. The Lord knows this tragedy intimately, and he chose to experience it.  His example provides us with a path, but not a direct answer.  Though we may not understand the reason for existence of this kind, we certainly feel the pain. We can accuse God of causing the suffering, but that is not the truth. His love provides us with comfort, with empathy, and with strength to endure, but not with prevention of suffering.

So, I return to work. Day by day, I process the tragedy and take part in discussions regarding the shooting. But my focus remains on Him who provides clarity. His truth and comfort, proven by example, sustains me. His light takes away the darkness, but illuminates the brokenness. It is not a faith that seeks to explain and dismiss pain, suffering, and tragedy. It is a faith that confronts it directly, embraces the depth of it, and provides a way through. I know there will be more, and it will draw me closer to God. I pray for His strength to sustain me, and carry me when I falter.

Sam

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