How to Respond to National Tragedies

by Rusty McKie April 21, 2021

I remember where I was on 9/11. I can still see the room, the people, the old-school television, hear people gasping in shock, and feel the emotions coursing through my body. 

Since then, the bad news hasn’t stopped. Just in the past year, we’ve beheld events of senseless murders, riots, and a Capitol insurgence. 

With media that’s bent toward sharing bad news, it’s no surprise that people grow weary and overwhelmed — swinging from outraged activism to overt avoidance. And sometimes, we have no clue how to respond in healthy ways. 

Sadly, devastating news is nothing new.

Nehemiah asks some travelers about the exiles in Jerusalem, and “they said to [him], ‘The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire'” (Nehemiah 1:3).

In the Old Testament, Israel was no stranger to bad news — from slavery to Jerusalem’s destruction to the exile from the promised land. Here in Nehemiah, we glimpse, like a fly on the wall, how a single Israelite processes a tragedy. 

Nehemiah’s six-fold response coaches us in how to respond to devastating national news.  

Step 1 – Lament

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days…” – Nehemiah 1:4

Compassion fatigue catches up to all of us when negative news inundates us. We might conclude that becoming a digital hermit who disconnects from all information is a viable option. 

However, I wonder how many of us are exhausted from the onslaught of bad news because we never fully lament.

Expressing grief is the only legitimate way to digest some tragedies. 

Step 2 – Fast and Pray

“… and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” – Nehemiah 1:4

Fasting denies certain comforts to remind us of our dependence on God. 

It’s helpful for us to pair fasting with lamenting because we often cope with pain through consumerism in our already overstuffed world.

The hunger pangs of fasting remind us that there’s a time to mourn and weep (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We need this reminder because we’d rather dance our days away with ever-increasing happiness. However, some days require grieving, and fasting can help us respond appropriately.

Step 3 – Confess Corporate and Personal Sin

Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.” – Nehemiah 1:6

Nehemiah bravely does what we’re often scared to do. He asks, “What part have we as a people and I contributed to this disaster?” 

When discussing injustice, we can place the blame entirely on society or individuals. Nehemiah teaches us it can be both.

We all must learn to take responsibility for what’s ours to carry, knowing that God’s perfect love casts away any fear of eternal punishment (1 John 4:17-18).

While every bit of news doesn’t connect to us personally, we are all interconnected as citizens. Are we brave enough to ask the Spirit of God to search us as a nation and individuals to see if there’s “any grievous way” in us (Psalm 139:23-24)?

Step 4 – Pray God’s Promises Back to Him

“Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses…” – Nehemiah 1:8

In remembering who God is, we can pray with boldness, asking God to act.

And God’s past faithfulness grants us hope that He will be faithful both now and in the future. 

When we don’t know what to pray, let’s pray God’s Promises.

Step 5 – Pray for Favor To Act

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant… and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” – Nehemiah 1:11

Nehemiah doesn’t stop with prayer. He asks God for the favor to do something and for God to bless his efforts. 

Negative national news may cause us to feel powerless. However, I bet we’d be surprised by the number of opportunities the Holy Spirit would open if we only asked (Matthew 7:7-11).

Step 6 – Do What You Can

“Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.'” – Nehemiah 2:4-5

God positioned Nehemiah to use Him. God sovereignly places you where you are too. 

Let’s faithfully take the next step available to us and trust God along the way (Galatians 6:10). 

Good News People Living in a Bad News World.

It’s natural for the brokenness of our world to overwhelm us. However, let’s not forget that we’re good news people living in a bad-news world.  

Nehemiah shows us a way to navigate tragedies, yet Jesus ultimately liberates us through the tragedy of His death. 

No matter what news you hear today, I’d encourage you to remember “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

We’re giving away a free eBook copy of Praying the Bible, where Donald S. Whitney offers practical insight to help Christians talk to God with the words of Scripture.