We woke up yesterday to the horrific news that an alligator dragged a 2-year-old boy into a lake at Walt Disney World Tuesday evening. Disney closed all the beaches at its resorts. More than 50 law-enforcement personnel searched the lake. They eventually found the boy's body and presume that he drowned.
Some blamed Disney for not posting signs warning about alligators in the water. Others were quick to blame the parents. As with the boy who fell into a gorilla pit in Cincinnati, people on social media lambasted the mother and father who allowed their son to play in the water.
Why do we feel such a need to assign blame when tragedy strikes?
Moments after the Orlando shooting, the media began looking for motives. The investigation has continued all week—was Omar Mateen conflicted about his sexuality? Was he truly inspired by ISIS? Meanwhile, authorities are still seeking a motive for the killing of singer Christina Grimmie. Since the murderer killed himself, we may never know his reasons.
We want to know why tragedy strikes so we can prevent future tragedies. If Disney or the parents could have done something to prevent the alligator attack, people could be saved in the future. If we can understand why murderers kill, we could prevent homicides in the future.
But there's more to the story.
According to the United Nations, 437,000 people around the world were murdered in 2012 (their most recent report). However, National Geographic reports that 725,000 people die every year from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Freshwater snails transmit schistosomiasis, which kills between 20,000 and 200,000 a year. Annually, snakes kill 94,000 to 125,000; scorpions kill 3,250; sharks kill six people. And there's no one to accuse for any of these tragedies.
It's human nature to blame others so we can maintain the illusion of safety for ourselves. I can say that I wouldn't have allowed my sons into the Disney lagoon, but how many other times did I unknowingly put them at risk?
Obviously we should prevent every tragedy we can. But we should also admit that much of life is beyond our control:
• "Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14).
• "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" (Prov. 27:1).
• "Therefore, take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof" (Matt. 6:34).
The same law of gravity that enables us to walk causes us harm when we fall. Alligators are essential to the Florida ecosystem but dangerous to humans. We cannot have natural laws without the consequences of these laws.
So control what you can and trust your Father for what you cannot. Know that "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control" (2 Tim. 1:7). Make courage and serenity part of your witness to a fallen culture (Is. 26:3).
And look for good even in hard places, divine redemption in the midst of human tragedy.
Poet Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
Jim Denison, Ph.D., is founder of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a non-sectarian "think tank" designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth. Join over 100,000 who read Dr. Denison's daily Cultural Commentary: denisonforum.org/subscribe . For more information on the Denison Forum, visit denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit twitter.com/jimdenison or facebook.com/denisonforum.
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