The Power of Tragedy

Luke Morrison • February 20, 2023


The bitter news of Dawson Trotman’s drowning swept like cold wind across Schroon Lake to the shoreline. Eyewitnesses tell of the profound anxiety, the tears, the helpless disbelief in the faces of those who now looked out across the deep blue water. Everyone’s face except one — Lila Trotman, Dawson’s widow. As she suddenly walked upon the scene a close friend shouted, “Oh, Lila … He’s gone. Dawson’s gone!” To that she replied in calm assurance the words of Psalm 115:3:

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

All of the anguish, the sudden loneliness that normally consumes and cripples those who survive did not invade that woman’s heart. Instead, she leaned hard upon her sovereign Lord, who had once again done what He pleased.

Charles R. Swindoll, Starting Over, Multnomah Press, 1977, p. 67.

1 A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. 2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. 7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. 8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. 10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. 11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. 12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. 13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? 14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. 15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. 19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. 21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. 23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? 25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

Ecclesiastes 7 ESV

Tragedy Makes Us Think About Life

We all to often think wrongly about tragedy. I may sound strange here but in truth, I would rather preach a funeral than a wedding. I would because at a funeral people are tuned in because they are facing tragedy. At a wedding all are happy and high on life and are not really listening to what you say.

Tragedy teaches us many things. Much like the lady from the opening story, we learn much of God in tragedy. But it also teaches us other things. Such as…

1. It Teaches us to Seek a Good Name

  • It Teaches us our Finiteness
  • It Makes us Think About Spiritual Maturity

A good name is more important than being popular. The old saying about death and the dates on the tombstone goes like “it isn’t about the dates but the dash in the middle.” This is so true. That dash is about what you did during those few brief years we have. Did you live a life of integrity or self-love over others?

Living a life of integrity means more than being able to have the finer things in life. This ointment spoken of here is like the high end cologne and perfume we have today.

But it is not the clothes, specialty fragrances, or anything else like that that matters in life, It is how you live your life that matters.

When you die, which is why tragedy is such a better teacher than comedy, what will people say about you?

Will they say evil things or will they have fond memories?

Will they hate you or praise you?

This is what Solomon means here. Live a life of moral uprightness and you will be better off than if you had every gift imaginable. Like Oscar Wilde said once, “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

Sometimes when we get all we want, we have ruined our name and made ourselves an enemy to all.

Back to how tragedy is a better teacher than comedy. Think about it if you will, what have you ever learned in a comedy? Nothing really. The fun and games all end eventually and it is awful.

Like a story I heard of a man at a councilors office.

He was talking about his life of depression and no meaning for an hour. The councilor never got to talk until the end.

He said, “There is this comedy venue down the street. There is a great comedian there. I think that with all your burdens a little time with a comedy will lift your spirits.”

The man stood up and looked at the councilor and said, “I am the comedian at that venue and comedy is not helping me.”

Comedy is alright for a time but it does not teach us anything. We learn through tragedy because it makes us think about life and who we are. It forces us onto spiritual maturity if we are honest with ourselves during tragedy.

This then forces us into looking at life and wisdom. So…

2. It Teaches us to Listen to Wisdom

  • It Teaches us Patience
  • It teaches us to not Look to the Past
  • It Teaches us to Guard Wisdom
  • It Teaches us to Trust God

We avoid the foolish talk of those whose voices sound like the crackling of tinder in the fire.

We seek true wisdom during tragedy.

We learn patience because in patience we can stand the power of pain and grief.

Tragedy teaches us to not become angry because we never know when the last time we will see someone is. If you leave angry at someone and they are taken that day, you will live with pain from then on.

Wisdom through tragedy, or review of tragedy, teaches us to not become angry and bitter because life is too short for that.

We learn in life that the past is that and we must stop longing for some long gone day.

It is over with and cannot come back. We must stop looking at that and looking ahead. That is what verse 10 is telling us.

Stop looking at the past thinking it was so great. Maybe it was but no matter how great it was, it is over now.

If you live in the past you will miss what is in front of you now.

I know of people who have held onto the past to their detriment. They never moved on past the “Glory Days” and now they are miserable or burnt out dopers.

Life moves on at an extremely fast pace and if you keep looking back you miss it and become lost.

So stop living in the glory days and live in the now because the now is what you have. Live in this time with a desire to leave a good name.

When we get wisdom from living this way, we must guard it like it is wealth. Verse 12 tells us that and it does so because wisdom is life. When we live with the wisdom of God guiding us, we live life and stop looking back.

We do this because we trust God. We know God is in control and with Him nothing is out of control.

We can be like the lady from the opening story and say, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

We can because He is and this will help us in…

Seeing Life As It IS Leads Us To Wisdom

Learning through tragedy helps us to see life as it really is. It gives us insight into what happens and why we do not need to let words spoken expand our heads or bring us down but it also lets us know there are some things we will never know. Some of this is pertaining to why the righteous die early while many wicked live long as we see in verse 15.

This is confusing and troubling but this should not cause us to want to live wickedly, as we will see in a moment.

1. We See that We are not to Overly Love Ourselves

The first thing wisdom does is show us that we are not to be overly fond of ourselves.

We are not to have this grand collage of pictures of ourselves in our homes because we are so in love with who we are.

We live a life of fear before God and we will not fall to wickedness or self-righteousness, which is what verses 16-17 are speaking about.

If we live self-righteous or evil, we are basically living the same way and neither is good.

Take hold of a life of integrity as we saw in verse 1 and live that way. Live in a manner to honor God over anything else. Place God above self and you will live a life of honor and integrity.

Because this world is full of unrighteous as we see next.

2. That None are Righteous

We cannot live a life of sinless perfection it is impossible. This is what verse 20 tells us.

We are not righteous and we cannot be righteous of our own accord. It takes something more than us.

Which this is God. So we must be cautious in our lives and not allow our self-righteousness come out because we are not and cannot be righteous in ourselves.

This should help keep us humble and living in integrity.

And it will help us…

3. To Not Allow Words Spoken to Destroy Us

Verse 21 tells us to not to take to heart all we hear because we may hear someone cursing us.

Well we may hear them praising us too and that can be devastating also.

If we get the big head over achievements we will be just as bad as the guy who hears all people say negative about him and he goes around moping and pouting.

We hear things said, but in wisdom we take the nuggets of truth and throw out the rest.

Also, we have said some evil and vile things about people too, as verse 22 says.

We are guilty, which points back to none are righteous.

We do bad and evil so who are we to get offended and whine?

It is like the prankster who cannot take a prank back. Get over it move on and fix anything that is off about yourself. But do not let the words of others make you arrogant or depressed. Look to God over them and you can live a life of joy.


4. And There are Some Things We Just Don’t Know

We do not say things about others because we do not know all things.

We have no idea what another is going through in their life, so who are we to say anything about them?

We are nobody to mock and scorn another who we do not even know.

We are nobody to mouth off and say vile things about someone we do not know or do not know what they are going through.

We do not know everything and that is a good thing. It is good that we have to show love to people we do not know. It is good that we are to care for others without knowledge.

Stop being mean and care for others. Live a life of integrity because tragedy is waiting around the corner and we do not have enough time in life to be filled with hate.

But wisdom does reveal a few other things to us which point us back to this last part of us not knowing everything.

Wisdom Reveals The Depth Of Sin

With wisdom we can see the level of sin in the world. We see it is all over and everywhere. We see it in all things. One of which is

1. A Deceptive Woman Is Deadly

In verse 26 Solomon speaks of a vile seductress. A woman who is a snare for people. One who slips in and destroys lives.

But this is not only about a woman who can deceive, we all know a man can do the same thing. This is more likely about humanistic philosophy and deceptive teachings that lead people astray from the Lord.

Hence the words of, “he who pleases God escapes her.” If we are pleasing God we do not fall into either area.

We avoid the promiscuous woman or man and we avoid the deceptive humanistic teachings that mislead.

We stay the course and follow the Lord. We avoid those who have a form of godliness but deny its power.

We stay focused on God because remember, life is too short to be caught up in all this trivial worldly nonsense when we have people needing Jesus.

Which is what the next observation is about.

2. We Cannot Fully Understand One Another Due to Sin

Solomon is not being anti woman nor is he saying men are better than women.

No, he is saying that he has not even figured out his own type much less women.

So, simply put, we do not understand one another.

This also points back to the early statement that none are righteous in and of themselves. We are not good people naturally.

We are evil and against God which is what the final observation says.

3. We Naturally Turn From Good to Evil

The last verse sums up our existence well. We are evil people because we love evil.

We can avoid this living if we fear God and trust Him in all things.

We can avoid this if we seek to live a God honoring life of integrity.

We can live better than an evil desperate life when we focus fully on Christ and let Him guide us over what we hear and feel.

Which now leads to the application.

Stop Looking to Self For Truth

If we are to live a life of integrity we need to stop looking to ourselves for truth.

We are still fighting the flesh even after salvation.

We are still struggling through this world of sin.

We are still sinners redeemed by grace if in Christ, but we have sin around us and our hearts can be very deceitful.

So, we stop looking to self for truth.

How do we do this you may ask?

1. Don’t Follow Your Heart

I know many people say to follow what your heart desires. But this is wrong on so many levels.

Our hearts are full of evil and self-love and self-righteousness.

We will do things that are against God and others to get what our heart wants.

We will lie, steal, cheat, and murder if necessary when following our hearts.

So don’t follow your hearts.

If you get to feeling this week a desire to follow your heart in a decision, look to the word of God and make sure that the desire lines up with God’s word in context.


2. Don’t Let Others Tell You Who You Are

We are image bearers of God.

We are uniquely made by Him for our unique purpose here.

If you are not into sports, or something, don’t let another force you into it.

If you are not into a certain type of music don’t let another force you into it.

More importantly, if you know something is wrong, don’t allow others to force you into it.

That decision falls on you completely.

They can pressure you and pressure you but only you can say yes or no.

You are, if in Christ, a child of God and of infinite value.

Don’t allow others to pressure you into putting a stain and blemish on your cleansed self.

Next we…

3. Live a Life of Character and Humility

Simply, do not do anything that you would not want to be caught doing if Jesus was to return.

Live in a manner that glorifies and honors God with all you do.

Don’t allow traffic to anger you.

Don’t allow work to anger you.

Don’t allow anything to push you away from Christ.

If you feel pushed, pray to God for strength to continue.

He will hear and He will answer and help you fight but know the more of His word and wisdom you have in you, the better equipped you are to fight the world.

4. Finally, go to the cemetery and look at the dates.

Stop and look at them closely. You will see that there are many different ages in the cemetery.

One thing you will see is that the older you get the dates are getting closer to you. Stop and think about your life and what you have done in it. Have you lived a life pleasing to the Lord, one worthy of others imitating, or is it one you are ashamed of?

The beauty of still being alive is that you can change what your dash will say on that tombstone if you let Christ guide you and direct you in all things.