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Teenager loses arm to alligator

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Kaleb “Fred” Langdale, 17, of Moore Haven, recovers at Lee Memorial Hospital after an alligator took his right arm while he swam in the Caloosahatchee River, July 9 (Photo courtesy of the Langdale family)

The headline caught my eye: “Teenager loses arm—but not his wit—to alligator.” Kaleb Langdale, a 17-year-old in Moore Haven, Florida, was swimming in the Caloosahatchee River on Monday when an alligator clamped on his arm and took him under.  The teenager made a split-second decision that likely saved his life.  Using his feet, he pushed on the alligator as hard as he could until his body separated from his arm.  It was found inside the 11-foot reptile when it was hunted down and killed later that evening.

Friends say Kaleb was happy the gator got his right arm rather than his left, because he uses his left arm to steer his airboat.  Now he says that he wants the alligator’s head.  “I’m going to use it for a prosthetic armrest,” he explains.

In similar news, last month a Florida tour boat operator lost a hand while feeding marshmallows to an alligator to amuse his passengers.  And a video that went viral this week shows a great white shark following a man in a kayak off the coast of Massachusetts.  He turned, saw the fin just feet behind him, and got to shore as quickly as he could.  It was the third shark spotted in the waters off Cape Cod in recent weeks.

Why did these stories make headlines?  “If it bleeds, it leads,” as the old newspaper saying goes.  Nowhere is that sentiment more on display than in the cinema: Titanic, The Towering Inferno, Independence Day, War of the Worlds, Twister—the list goes on.  What does the popularity of disaster-themed television shows and movies say about our culture?  Why does calamity so often lead the evening news?

One reason is that we feel better about ourselves when someone else is going through a tragedy we’re not.  The heat has been bad in Dallas, but when we watch the wildfires in Colorado we know it could be worse here.  Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ divorce makes us feel better about our marriages.

But there’s a better way.  When someone is caught in sin, the Bible tells us to pray for them (1 John 5:16).  When someone hurts us, we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  When someone is sick, we are to pray for their healing (James 5:14).  We are called to intercede for leaders, not slander them (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  We are to pray for our nation, whatever challenges it faces (Nehemiah 1:4; Amos 7:2, 5).  In fact, wherever we live, we are to “seek the prosperity and peace” of that city and “pray to the Lord for it” (Jeremiah 29:7).

The next time you see a tragedy in the news, would you take a moment to pray for those involved?  Ask God to redeem what he allows, and volunteer to be his healing hands in your hurting world.  Your ministry make not make the evening news, but it will gladden the heart of your Father forever.