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iweartanktops

Tragedy and Spirituality/Religion

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iweartanktops

I want to start a respectful discussion. 

Recently, tragedy has struck two families who are very dear to me. They all happen to be Christian, as well as most others in their circles. So of course, there's lots of praying going on and "crying out to God," etc. I don't really know what I believe after being raised Christian, but I guess I am wondering how this works for those who find comfort in praying, or knowing that something horrible was "God's plan?" 

Please know that I don't want to start this conversation to tell anyone how they should handle tragedy, or to make fun of the way many Christians cope. I just want to understand. Even when I was a solid Christian, all of the "God stuff" felt empty and forced to me, in the face of tragedy. 

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Secondgenfundyfree

An interesting discussion. I cannot comment from the perspective of a Christian. But I can from the point of view of someone who has recently experienced tragedy and was raised with no religion because their parent was raised in a Christian sect. My father ran far away from his family and religion and tried very hard to raise us without religion as it was such a negative experience for him but the effects of fundamentalism still reverberated in my family and upbringing (which is one of the reasons I read here because it gives me perspective of what my father went though and some of the weird things in my upbringing but I digress). 

Recently my young nephew died in a tragic accident. Having no religion and no clear sense of spirituality has made this journey tough for me and made me think about what is it I believe. However, in the past year I have found my spirituality and so has the rest of my family. We feel this is his gift to us. When someone dies young (6 years old) and in a very unlikely way (1 in a billion odds) it just doesn't make any sense. There is no one to blame and no rhyme or reason. You look for something  you have to to cope. I have found beliefs since his passing and they don't involve a god. And it brings me profound comfort and has allowed me to be ok in the fact that Im not in control and our little guy is in a great place watching over all of us.

Edited by Secondgenfundyfree
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SpoonfulOSugar

This is an area I struggle with.  "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" is one book that I have seen referenced.

I tend to think in the realm of Universalism - that God is all of us and we are all part and parcel of the energy of the Universe.  So when I lose someone, I know that on a cellular level, they are still part of me, and on a spiritual level, their energy has contributed to mine.

I reject an angry God.  I reject a jealous God.  Beyond that, I am open to the idea that other people experience God in many ways, and I try to respect that, even when I don't find the thought process rational or easy to understand.

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molecule

I am a Christian. I believe that God has a plan and that he knows all, but I also believe that he doesn't cause all things to happen, even though he could. When I have experienced difficult things, I see God as a source of comfort in our tragedy. I cry out to God for help in getting through. As for God's plan, I believe that God allows bad things to happen because he gave us free will and allowed sin into the world. I might say that something horrible in my life was God's plan, but I would never say that about a tragedy in someone else's life.

Believing that something is part of God's plans helps me move past the feelings that something was senseless. If I can believe that it is a piece of a puzzle that I simply cannot see yet, then I know that there can be a positive outcome even with a horrible, horrible thing. This belief is reinforced as I watch things unfold in my life. My husband's family experienced a tragedy about fifteen years ago. Since then, I have watched the consequences of that event. A very difficult thing (the death of a young mother of a little boy) led to wisdom, patience, and new relationships that have proven to be valuable in the lives of those affected. Seeing positive consequences of a negative experience gives me hope each time I experience something hard because I know that it will lead to good things. 

Is this a matter of hindsight being 20/20? Maybe. But it keeps me feeling hopeful rather than hopeless. When I experience bad things, I need to find meaning in order to move forward. The belief that it is part of God's plan and purpose gives me that meaning.

For many years, I didn't believe this way. I understand how much it may look to some like I'm fooling myself. What it boils down to, though, is that I truly believe in a God that is present with us in our lives--not a God of judgment and rules, but a God that is a refuge and who is with me in my pain so I don't ever have to feel alone.

I don't know if this gets at the heart of your question, but that's my experience for what it's worth.

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feministxtian

@molecule I believe much like you do...I wonder where God was when some things turn to shit...but...as time goes on I can see the positive things that came out of that bad thing...at the time the bad things seem dark, difficult, and I can't see where there's going to be any benefit at all...but, when I look back...from a vantage point in the future, I can see where bad thing A happened, but caused good thing B to happen. 

It's what works for me...I could give many examples of this, but I won't...

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2manyKidzzz

I think it is wonderful when each individual can find a spiritual "home", or belief structure that provides comfort. Because we all need comfort. 

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Bethella

I identify as a Christian, specifically a United Methodist but I believe that there are many paths to God/Higher Power and that those paths are equally valid (with the caveat that I reject those paths like fundamentalism that cause harm). 

I believe that we live in a fallen/imperfect world and that sometimes bad shit happens. In some cases the cause is evil in this world (murder, etc) and in other cases it can just be a horrible accident (cancer, natural disasters, etc). But when stuff like that does happen, I always seem to remember the quote from Mr. Rogers about "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."" I believe that God can be found in the helpers, not in the event itself. 

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Khan

I've watched some of my more intensely religious family members during times of mutual grief. They needed to believe that things happen for a reason and that their God would take care of everything. The need to believe in something greater, something compassionate. If something bad happens they say it is because we didn't follow God's Will. If something wonderful happens they again say it is God's Will.  

 I'm with Harlan; there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. 

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THERetroGamerNY

I'm listening to late night paranormal radio right at this moment, and the topic is NDEs (Near-death experiences). Rather appropriate for this thread... Fascinating in how people who experience these events come from all belief systems, and all nations.

I dislike stating what I identify as, spirituality-wise, because it seems to make people instantly assume 1,000 incorrect things about you...

A wise man once said "Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent." It is urgent to me because it is so finite, and the afterlife is a sketchy variable. I feel that what we do here has impact on our afterlife... But I don't subscribe to notions of Heaven or Hell, just an afterlife.

Do I feel that God has a "plan"? No. I see any such plan as a violation of our free will. I don't see God as letting some people be "taken from us", while miraculously healing others. We are on our own journey, and shit happens. As such, not taking things for granted, and living life to the fullest is rather a priority to me.

People, as you describe, who go deep into prayer as a way of dealing with loss... It's valid, for them that is. Death is the greatest obstacle for us to try and come to grips with, and we all cope with it in our own unique way - frequently in hard to understand, or even unhealthy ways. They are all valid. You don't have to understand how others handle it, just sympathize, and cope with it in your own way. Their faith helps them cope with the great pain of death by fitting it into a divine plan.

Myself? I can be dismissive. They died, but I'm still alive... And I don't want to waste precious moments depressed over something that nobody on this planet can alter. Hell, I'll avoid the funeral if I can. Better things to do.

 

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Geechee Girl

I come from a family of prayer warriors. Death was nothing to fear for there's plenty in this world to bring us harm. They pray for their Lord's intercession. Grief is for the living who must continue past the loss. They believe in the Big Plan, but in order for it to come to fruition, they must have faith that;s stops any doubts or questions at the door. Understanding in the Lord's way won't begin until the second coming. I do see how my family takes comfort in their faith.

I'm no longer Christian. Pagan, witch, and heathen are some of the names I'm called for being a Hoodoo practitioner. Death for me is an opportunity to gain a new ancestor.

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CoveredInBees

When my mum died I was (as I describe it) full blown god squad. Her death didn't cause me to lose my faith, but I did question it slightly and I stepped back for a while. I don't think it helped me much other than 'knowing that she was looking down on me from heaven'.

Now I'm a rabid atheist, I see religion as a type of crutch (I'm trying to explain it in a non offensive way, sorry). People in need (for whatever reason) cling to the idea of an afterlife/reincarnation in the hope they will have a better existence than what they have now, and cling to the idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing god who looks after them because the idea of the universe just being a clump of coincidences/accidents is too much to bear.  

HOWEVER, I'm very much on the side of whatever gets you through the day when stuff gets really hard. When someone who is really deep in grief, if it makes it just slightly bearable then OK.

(Although I do take issue with people who use this to their advantage, 'psychics' for example).

 

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feministxtian
5 hours ago, CoveredInBees said:

People in need (for whatever reason) cling to the idea of an afterlife/reincarnation in the hope they will have a better existence than what they have now, and cling to the idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing god who looks after them because the idea of the universe just being a clump of coincidences/accidents is too much to bear.  

I think I disagree with this...I'm not a Christian because I'm looking for a paradise afterlife...I'm a Christian because I found something/someone who helps me make sense of LIFE...

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CoveredInBees
6 minutes ago, feministxtian said:

I think I disagree with this...I'm not a Christian because I'm looking for a paradise afterlife...I'm a Christian because I found something/someone who helps me make sense of LIFE...

And that's fine :) you have your beliefs and I have mine. I probably should have said SOME people.

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DaisyD

I was raised by agnostics in an extended family of rabid atheists. I have always had spirituality (though I hid my "shame" from my extended family). Even in elementary school I would ask my friends to tell me about their beliefs. I found my peace in a belief in balance. I believe that God put a system in place and that, for the most part, that system plays out with very little intervention. I also see the good that comes from the bad. That's where the balance is restored. 

Much like you tank tops, prayer feels hollow to me. In fact, any time I have prayed it seems the opposite has happened. My mil, on the other hand, seems to have a direct line. When she prays for something I see a change. It's not that she lives some pious life, she just has an energy that she can exert that I don't (or haven't found).

I will say that, when it comes to dealing with other's beliefs during tragedy, it's best to respect their's and not insert your own unless they ask you. I made the mistake of trying to express my belief about the death of my husband's first child (many, many years after the fact) being a catalyst for a better life for my husband (as tragic as it was and still is) and was sternly slapped down by my mil. While I still don't understand how that can be the one instance in which she doesn't believe in God's plan, I will just keep all of that to myself. Her grief is not mine and I don't need to tell her how to deal with it. The same goes with my atheist family. In that instance I didn't share even when asked because I knew it was just bait from my uncle who angry and in pain. He didn't want help finding his own peace in understanding my beliefs. He wanted to prove his own were right.

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Jellybean

This is perhaps not relevant, but I'd like to share the responses I received, as a Christian fundamentalist, to my disability and progressive medical condition. 

I'm no longer religious, and find comfort in making good memories with those I love so that they have memories, souvenirs, photographs of the good times. The good times are fewer and less frequent, but they are still there. I agree with @daisyd681 that even in the worst of times there may be good, and I try to look for good things, especially during bad times (I'm currently in hospital). I'm not sure that good comes from tragedy, but rather that there is good to be found despite tragedies, and that we can look for it and actively try to create good things in response to bad times. 

At various churches, the responses were: Jellybean has unconfessed sin in her life; Jellybean doesn't have enough faith; Jellybean's experience should make us all thankful for our abilities. I think that pretty much covers it. 

Edited by Jellybean
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samira_catlover

In terms of dealing with horror and "why this? why us/me?"----one of the most powerful books I've ever read is Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kraybill), about the Amish school shootings at Nickel Mines.

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Gimme a Free RV

I don't think God is shocked when we angrily ask, "WHY did this have to happen?!!"  I think He'd rather take us with our doubts and anger during a time of tragedy and mourning than for us not to turn to Him at all.  (And by "we," I primarily mean people who have a belief in God.)

When I lived in Florida, I learned that as devastating as hurricanes were, they served to stir up things in nature that needed stirring.  (<--Badly put in my words.  Sorry.  Maybe a scientist here can better explain.)

Likely, the things we appreciate and love the most are so loved because we have had to experience a period of time without that which we hold so strongly to.

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church_of_dog

My beliefs (atheist, not spiritual in the mainstream sense, deep ecology worldview) don't offer much comfort during tragedy, but I don't feel that I can alter my views for my own comfort -- I believe my beliefs, and it doesn't make sense to me to ponder whether I wish I believed differently or not.  (to me, that would be akin to saying "I wish I could believe that gravity wasn't a thing")  Whatever the truth is, is, whether we believe it or not.

My parents (atheists with Jewish cultural heritage) lost a child (my brother) at age 12.  I was 16 at the time.  I remember my mother telling me how hard it was for her to hear other people offering attempts at comfort to her that actually didn't offer her any comfort whatsoever, given her beliefs: "God had a plan for him", "he's in a better place now", etc.

Ironically, I find the "that's just how nature works" to be quite comforting when I experience a loss.  I say "ironically" because I don't expect that most other people find that comforting, but it is to me.

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K'Z'K
3 hours ago, Gimme a Free RV said:

When I lived in Florida, I learned that as devastating as hurricanes were, they served to stir up things in nature that needed stirring.  (<--Badly put in my words.  Sorry.  Maybe a scientist here can better explain.)

Scientist here.

Hurricanes don't serve any purpose. They just happen because physics. However, their effects are not all bad, and in many ways can benefit the ecosystem overall. The ecosystem doesn't need stirring up so much as some parts of the system benefit when things get stirred, and in areas where hurricanes are common some species have evolved to rely upon this stirring. But if there was no stirring, they would have evolved differently. Similarly, many ecosystems are overall healthier if there is a fire every few years. It's not that the fires have any sort of intention, just that the ecosystems have evolved to make the most of a burning every now and then in maintaining diversity and productivity. No motives, no "fire good." Just "fire happens, so we make it work."

As a pure philosophical materialist, I find this sort of discussion fascinating. I have absolutely no concept of the "spiritual," and feel no need to try to make life events mean anything. I cannot even begin to connect things that happen with any sort of higher power or meaning or whatever. Shit just happens. It's hard to explain, since most people have no more ability to grasp my completely spirit-free mindset than I have to understand their beliefs in something "more." I couldn't believe in any of that even if I wanted to. I honestly do not see the benefit of "spirituality" (and don't bother trying to explain, because I've tried to understand and have concluded that it's such a totally foreign concept it will never make the least bit of sense to me; I'll just smile and nod) so I don't have any desire to try to believe in anything...beyond.

 

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ester

Help, I'm sucked in! I swore I wouldn't be, but here I go.....

Full disclosure: I'm a student Rabbi. A professional God-wrestler. When I see smart people struggling with the idea of the divine, I'm elated.

Here's a Jewish idea to chew on, if you feel like it. The world is a broken place. We humans are here to repair it, even at an infinitesimal rate. Even when there are people who break it more.

Creation isn't just a process, it is the process, holy for it's own sake. Our tradition says that at the point of creation (poetically described as very like the big bang, ) God retracted God's self, in order that the holy process continue. It isn't God's plan that matters, it is human choice, human growth. The reward isn't an afterlife (about which there are diverse views in Judaism. It's about bringing the presence of the holy into the broken world.

Good exists. I know it. I can describe what I see, but I can't quantify it. It is a deep sense of good that most people just have. Evil exists. I know that too. I can say what evil things are, I can name them, but I cannot quantify them. The sense of what is truly evil goes beyond survival.

I am a God believer, true. But I also know that there are places where God is not.

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FundieFarmer

I'm a Christian, as I've said all over the forum. 

I'm also smack in the middle of the Pulse and Christina Grimmie shootings in more ways than one for both of them and if Jesus showed up in front of me right now right now there's a solid chance I might look at Him blankly.

Ask me tomorrow how I feel and the answer might be different. 

1 hour ago, ester said:

Good exists. I know it. I can describe what I see, but I can't quantify it. It is a deep sense of good that most people just have. Evil exists. I know that too. I can say what evil things are, I can name them, but I cannot quantify them. The sense of what is truly evil goes beyond survival.

Oh, how well and truly I know this right now. Physically. The goodness in the outpouring of support and love from everyone. The evil in the fact that any of this happened at all.

Man, are some of us ever clinging to the fact that good exists.

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Geechee Girl
25 minutes ago, FundieFarmer said:

Ask me tomorrow how I feel and the answer might be different. 

This sentiment gives me a glimmer of hope as my faith has taken a huge hit today. My soul is weary. 

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CyborgKin

Some scriptures that have comforted me:

Quote

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

- Jesus to his disciples

John 16:33 NKJV

We're not promised a good time in this life, but that's okay.

Quote

For a righteous man may fall seven times And rise again, But the wicked shall fall by calamity.
Proverbs 24:16 NKJV

When we fall - and we surely will - we get up again. (The next verse warns agains rejoicing when the wicked fall.  God takes no pleasure in that.)

Quote

“Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! That they were engraved on a rock With an iron pen and lead, forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I  know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:23‭-‬27 NKJV

The ultimate hope!

 

But what message should we take from tragedy?

Quote

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Luke 13:1‭-‬5 NKJV

Tragedy is bad, and can happen to anyone.  It's not a sign that some people were especially deserving of judgement.  But death will come to all eventually.   Tragedy reminds us that it can happen at any time, so we should make sure we know where we stand with God ASAP.

 

While I'd say that tragedy isn't caused by God, God can use all things to glorify Himself.  My cancer was not a good thing, and was not from God, but much good has come as a result of it, so I thank God for the good, while not blaming God for the pain and suffering.

I hope my ramblings help someone a little.

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Dandruff
23 hours ago, iweartanktops said:

I guess I am wondering how this works for those who find comfort in praying, or knowing that something horrible was "God's plan?"

I suspect some call out during tragedy to reinforce (to themselves, at least) their contract with the Lord.  Terrible things will happen, people often have little to no control, and so much doesn't make sense...but the Lord covets faith, there are reasons for things even if we can't recognize them, and the faithful will ultimately be rewarded.  At least this is how I think it goes.

My own faith is limited.  Following a tragedy several years ago I felt I needed to get off the fence regarding my own belief and observance.  I started studying and trying to connect.  I mustered up some anger for the Lord who supposedly let it happen, and I learned a fair amount, but couldn't make the jump to "it's all for the good" or get answers to a bunch of questions that really mattered to me.  I didn't find peace, though I ultimately came to terms with my own ambivalence.  I'm OK on the fence now. 

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FundieFarmer
This sentiment gives me a glimmer of hope as my faith has taken a huge hit today. My soul is weary. 

I find that everything changes moment by moment right now.

Today my therapist said (cobbled together), "Take it minute by minute, hour by hour. It's not time to take it day by day yet."

I loved that. It applies to big steps of faith too. For now, pretty sunsets and positive moments are doing enough for when the promises seem empty.

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