Nashville, Tennessee, is one of my favorite cities in the world. Its natural beauty is coupled with a remarkable commitment to academic excellence. Sometimes called the “Athens of the South,” it is home to outstanding universities and a vibrant cultural life. A number of denominational headquarters and ministry offices call the city home as well.
My love for the area makes the pictures coming out of western and central Tennessee today especially personal. Tornadoes gashed through the region early this morning, with the worst damage centered in and around Nashville. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says at least nineteen people were killed across four counties. There are fears that the death toll could climb as first responders continue to search for victims.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper tweeted, “Nashville is hurting and our community has been devastated. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones. Be sure to lend a helping hand to a neighbor in need, and let’s come together as a community once more. Together, we will get through this and come out stronger.”
The mayor’s grief for his city is just what any mayor of any city should feel. And my grief for an area I love is natural for someone with my experience as well.
Here’s the remarkable news: God loves every town as the Nashville mayor loves Nashville.
Two facts for grieving souls and those who care for them
Every community is as special to him as if it were the only community on earth. Every person is as special to him as if they were the only person on earth. The old saying is true: If you were the only sinner who had ever lived, Jesus would have died just the same, just for you.
Two reminders follow.
One: When tragedy strikes, we can turn to God for the hope we cannot find.
Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and other disasters are a fact of life on this broken planet. So are diseases. So are the consequences of sinful people doing sinful things.
But God does not abandon us to ourselves. Even though our sins led to the fall of his perfect creation (Romans 8:22), he still loves us and walks with us. He sent his Son into fallen flesh in this fallen world.
Jesus felt all we feel and faced all we face. He understands our pain and is present in our suffering (Hebrews 4:15). As a result, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).
Two: When compassion fatigue strikes, we can turn to God for the strength we do not possess.
It is inevitable in the coming days and weeks that those seeking to serve the victims of this devastating tragedy will grow weary. The well will run dry. It’s hard to know what to say and how to be present in such pain.
But the Holy Spirit who lives in believers will give us the strength, guidance, and wisdom we need. So long as we seek to glorify God by serving those he loves, we can count on his help. When he sends us to make disciples of all nations, he promises that his empowering presence will give us all we need and more (Matthew 28:18–20).
Frederick Buechner observed: “If you lose yourself in your work, you find who you are. If you express the best you have in your work, it is more than just the best you have in you that you are expressing.”
Let’s express our best for those who grieve, to the glory of the One who gave his best for us.