Bringing Triumph Out Of Tragedy

Bible Book: Psalms  119 : 71
Subject: Faith; Victory; Tragedy; Hardships

I’m speaking tonight on the subject, “Bringing Triumph Out Of Tragedy,” and my Scripture is found in Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible.

In reading Psalm 119, you become aware that it runs the gamut of experiences and emotions. But one thing you can’t miss, if you read the Psalm in its entirety, is the fact that the inspired author was certainly no stranger to tragedy. Apparently his life had frequently been shaken and disrupted by adversity. As the late Clovis Chappell expressed it, “His face had often been wet with hot, blinding tears”--and perhaps the same thing is true of your life.

Indeed, if God lets us live any length of time at all in this world, it is inevitable that each of will confront tragedy, at least now and then. Just as thorns are a part of roses, so tragedy is “part and parcel” of the human experience. Tennyson wrote, “Never morning wore to evening, but that some heart did break.” Somebody has said, “Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is carrying a heavy load.” Probably you and I would be greatly surprised to know the nature and depth of the tragedies which those around us experience. Many bear heavy, uniquely personal burdens that would astonish us if we knew about them.

If we allow it to, tragedy can defeat us. It can absolutely beat us down. It can drain us. It can cause us to become embittered or to be whiners. But thank the Lord, we don’t have to respond in any of those negative ways. It is possible, by the grace of God, to bring triumph out of tragedy. That is exactly what happened in the life of the inspired author of Psalm 119. He said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted....” He was saying, in effect, “I have been able to bring triumph out of tragedy.” Let’s look at that verse and see how God enabled him to do it. There were three factors--they overlap and are intertwined, but they deserve separate mention.

I. Tragedy provides an opportunity to watch God bring good out of any situation

Notice first that the Psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted....” Now, he was not mentally or emotionally unbalanced; he was not saying that his afflictions had been pleasurable at the time of their occurrence. I don’t even think he was saying that he was glad, in retrospect, that they had occurred at all. But he was at least saying this: that since they did occur, he was thankful that God, by his grace, had been able to bring some good out of them.

The wonderful fact is that God can bring good out of any tragedy, whatever its nature or cause--and that includes those tragedies that result from our own blunders, wrong choices, or the blunders or wrong choices of others, or some combination of those. It includes those tragedies that are so mind-boggling and mysterious that we couldn’t begin to comprehend the cause of them.

Perhaps you’re saying, “Now, that may be a pretty good rule of thumb; that may be valid as a general principle; but, preacher, you don’t know about the tragedy with which I’m struggling: the awful complexity of it--yea, even the sordidness of it.” And probably I don’t, which is really beside the point. The point is that God knows; and God, knowing all about every tragedy that would ever befall your life or mine, moved upon the apostle Paul so that, after long experimentation in the laboratory of life, Paul declared in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” That promise is to those who have responded positively to God’s call to salvation. In other words, it is a promise to people who have repented of their sins and committed themselves in faith to Jesus Christ, receiving him as personal Lord and Savior. When a person makes that commitment, there is sparked within him love for the Savior. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love him, because he first loved us.”

Many things are not good in themselves, and Paul never said they were. But he did say that if we will yield our tragedy, whatever it may be, to God in love, having trusted Jesus Christ as personal Savior--if we’ll give him the broken pieces--then somehow God will miraculously bring good even out of a bad situation. And keeping that reality in mind can sustain you through many a crisis. Several years ago, when Connie and I served at Hannibal-LaGrange College (now University), a four-year Southern Baptist liberal arts institution, our family experienced a deep hurt, more painful than anything we had ever experienced, and as I sat talking with my friend Larry Lewis, who was president of the college at that time, he said, “Paul, there are times when a person just has to park a while at Romans 8:28.” He was right--and I’m so thankful that God has provided us that parking space. I’m so thankful that he can bring good out of any and every situation.

In 1987 Larry went to head up the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I was elected president of the college. Things went smoothly for the first couple of years, and then toward the end of my second year we had a devastating fire on our campus. It destroyed our administrative building, our auditorium, our gymnasium, and our cafeteria--all in one fell swoop. But our staff and students were magnificent, as were people throughout the community. Various organizations in town offered to let us hold classes in their facilities, and to help in other ways. We only missed one day of classes. We held classes in all sorts of places. A bus took our students to nearby restaurants for meals. We set up a huge tent on the campus for chapel and other assemblies. We began raising money. That fall we had a record enrollment, and within a couple of years we had built several new buildings, with twice the space we had lost, and all of it much nicer, more up to date space. Two years after the fire, a St. Louis newspaper published a feature article on the fire and the college’s recovery. The article was entitled, “From Tragedy to Triumph.” They couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate title.

In Enterprise, Alabama, there is a most unusual monument erected in a prominent place in town. At the top of the monument is a large statue of a boll weevil. When I was in Enterprise for a revival meeting and saw that monument, it struck me as strange, indeed. I used to raise cotton, and I never did feel kindly toward boll weevils. They were a cotton farmer’s nemesis. But then I learned the story of that monument. For years in that part of Alabama cotton had been king, as it was throughout much of the south. Then, in 1919 the boll weevil absolutely wiped out the cotton crops in that area. The farmers decided to try planting peanuts. The peanut crop grew well in that soil. They received a good price for their crop, and so year after year peanuts became their major crop. That county became known as the peanut capitol of the world. So, the people erected that monument, which contains the following inscription: “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil, and what it has done as the herald of prosperity, this monument is erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.” Who would have ever thought that God would have used an ugly, pesky old boll weevil to bring blessing!

In some situations we may not understand at the time how any good can possibly come of it, but eventually God will help us to see it--if not in this life, then in eternity. So, whether you understand it or not, just hang in there; cling to Romans 8:28; keep on keeping on; and one of these days, here or hereafter, you will be able to look back and say as did the poet:

God was better to me than all my hopes, better than all my fears;

He made a bridge of my broken sighs, and a rainbow out of my tears.

II. Tragedy provides an opportunity to learn valuable lessons from God

Regardless of whatever other good God may bring out of a tragedy, one type of good that he always brings forth, if we allow him to, is this: He teaches us some tremendously valuable lessons.

Notice that the psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn....” Every time tragedy comes to us, one thing we should always do is ask, “Oh, God, what can I learn from this that will help me to be stronger and more effective?”

Robert B. Hamilton wrote:

I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chattered all the way,

But left me none the wiser, For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow, And not a word said she;

But, oh, the things I learned from her When Sorrow walked with me!

Someone has rightly said, “Sorrows are our best educators.” Another has said, “A man can sometimes see further through a tear than through a telescope.” C. S. Lewis said: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” All of us know people who, because they have responded positively to tragedy, have learned lessons which have made them a blessing and a benediction to those who associate with them. You and I can benefit from our own personal tragedies in that same way, if we’ll earnestly ask God to help us do so.

III. Tragedy provides an opportunity to draw closer to God

Lastly, if you would turn your personal tragedies into triumphs, realize that each tragedy, whatever its nature or cause, provides a unique opportunity for drawing closer to God than you have ever been before.

Notice that the psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” He was saying, in effect, “Lord, I now know more about you, your truth, and your ways than I ever knew previously.” In verse 67 he said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.” Although we’re not given the particulars, he clearly had gotten off the track of God’s will--but as a result of his afflictions he had repented of his waywardness and had gotten back on course.

Sometimes it seems to take tragedy to cause us to look up. Someone has said, “The stars are constantly shining, but we do not see them until the dark hours come.”

A small boy invited his even younger sister to go with him on a hike up a mountain path. As they made their way along she began to complain about the big rocks they had to go over. She said, “Brother, this isn’t much of a path; it has all these big bumps in it.” He said, “Little sister, you don’t understand; the bumps are what you climb on.” He said more than he knew. What he described is actually a parable of life. May times it is the “bumps,”the rough places in life--the hurts, the afflictions, the heartaches, the tragedies of various types--that serve as our best opportunities for pressing on to higher spiritual ground.

So, it’s inevitable that each of us will confront tragedy from time to time. The big question is, how will we respond to it? Will we let it whip us down? Will we let it embitter us and make us wallow in self-pity and become whiners? Or will we, by the grace of God, turn our tragedies into triumphs?

Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote:

One ship sails east and another west, By the selfsame winds that blow;

’Tis the set of the sails, and not the gales, That tells them which way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate, As we voyage along through life;

’Tis the set of the soul that determines the goal, And not the calm or the strife.

And the set of soul that leads to the highest and best here and hereafter is that set of soul that results from two things: First, be sure that you have repented of your sins and by faith have accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved....” And secondly, once you are saved, be sure that each day you reassert and reaffirm your allegiance to him, asking him to guide you in your daily affairs. If you’ll do that, then you can claim our Lord’s promise in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”