Thursday, April 18, 2013

A "Senless Tragedy"? Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombings

Over the last several days I have noticed while reading the news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings that took place this past Monday that the most common phrase used to describe this event is "senseless tragedy". From President Obama (who called it a senseless loss in his initial statement) to former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's son to a former NFL football player to even Pope Francis.

What happened in Boston was tragic. Tragic to those involved, to those watching on television, and to all of us as our eyes are opened (once again) to the wickedness of the world in which we live.

But were the bombings senseless?

Did they have no meaning or purpose? Was it just a random act of fate?

Obviously the bombings were not senseless to those carrying out the attack. No matter how illogical their motive might be to us, there was a purpose to the bombers. But more importantly we know that the bombings were not pointless to God, even though we may not understand "why". Whether God ordains an event or permits it, He is still in control and He has a plan.

The Bible tells us over and over that nothing happens arbitrarily, even the most disastrous events are not out of God's control (Isaiah 45:7). Even the roll of a dice when I am playing a game with my daughter is determined by God (Proverbs 16:33). The people who were running in the Boston Marathon or on the sidelines were not there randomly. Where we live and where we travel on a daily basis does not happen by chance (Acts 17:24-28). We make plans every day, but the Lord directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9). We know that God can do ANYTHING. He can take one of his biggest persecutors of His church and turn them into a missionary (Acts 9), and He can even stay the hand of a bomber (Daniel 4:35). No purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2). And God often uses seemingly evil acts to bring about His good purposes (Genesis 50:20).

Randy Alcorn said in his book "If God is Good Why Do We Hurt" (a short booklet based off his larger work, "If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil."),
"We sometimes view the intense suffering caused by such horrible evil as being totally pointless. But our failure to see the point in extreme suffering doesn't prove there is no point. ....The Bible indicates that God will not permit anything to happen that he can't use to bring ultimate good to his people and to glorify himself. ...On the cross Jesus suffered the worst pain in history. Yet that event will forever remain at the center of our worship and wonder. If God used the most terrible event in history for eternal good, might he not use less terrible events in our lives for eternal good?" (p. 46-47)
Telling a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing that their family member died of a "senseless tragedy" offers absolutely no hope to the suffering. My pain doesn't make sense. We will probably never understand exactly what caused my pain to begin and why I have to continue to suffer, but to tell me my pain is senseless only leaves me angered and discouraged.

This is why our words are so important when comforting the suffering. We don't have to understand the "whys" to give hope to the hurting. We just have to trust that the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) ordained every one our days before even one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16), and know that He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

The kind people at Eternal Perspective Ministries have given me some copies of Randy Alcorn's "If God is Good Why Do We Hurt?" I would LOVE to give away 3 copies of this great booklet. I keep it close to my bed and pull it out for quick reference in times of discouragement or despondence. It never fails to encourage me to trust our Sovereign God.


The first three people to leave a comment on this post will receive a copy of this great resource. After leaving a comment, please email me at purposeofpain (at) gmail (dot) com and send me your mailing address.

May we continue to strive to trust our loving God and find hope in His purposeful providence in this fallen world.


  1. I am glad you wrote this because it reminds me there is a God who cares even if it doesn't seem like it. God knows all about us and even knows our futures. I don't understand why He allowed this to happen but I do know that all things work together for the good of His people. He loves us and mourns with us.

  2. You make such a wonderful point of how hearing "senseless" feels. I have used that term before and am thankful for the way you have pointed out how these words don't really help someone.

  3. Your words are so true, and you are right that our words mean something and so we must be very careful in our choice of words. So glad that even when awful things happen, they are not outside of God's sovereign hand.

    And woohoo, I'm 3rd! :)

  4. As someone who lives in Boston and was in lower Manhattan during 9/11, I agree with you on a individual level. People look for reasons, and I hope they have good support from their spiritual/religious leaders and other counselors. I question why our political leaders use such phrasing -- I feel that they are trying to protect the American public as a whole from knowing the reality that there are people in this world who have something very real against our country.