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When Tragedy Strikes

I recently saw a photo in the Washington Post that moved me deeply. It seemed to be the entire Buffalo Bills football team kneeling in prayer around teammate Damar Hamlin who lay on the turf fighting for his life as a result of a tackle he made on a Cincinnati Bengals player. Any scene where someone is fighting for life is bound to be moving, you might say. But this one was particularly moving because most of the players are Generation Z, aged 18-34. Generation Z is not known for its faith in God.

At least that’s what national surveys in the U.S. show: 56% of Millennials and 67% of Generation X reject a belief in a creator. In his new book The Rise of Nones, Professor Burge writes about the increasing number of people with no religious affiliation. Similarly, sociology professor Stephen Bullivant’s book on the same subject is called Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America. Generation Z was born with internet devices in their hands and shifting cultural values. In the new and younger communities of people, many are questioning faith and religion in general.

According to Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at the Eastern Illinois University, “they may not be worshiping God, but they are worshipping a god – the idol of race, of sex, of self, of entertainment, of science, of political power, or of the earth. Those gods may fill the void of time, but counterfeit gods always disappoint, often disruptively so.” The realities of today’s world, social issues such as abortion, race, the mixing of Christianity with political parties, and sins and betrayal of some who speak in the name of Christianity, make the younger generations ripe for dissatisfaction with organized religion.

It’s human nature to want to be on a winning team. As a believer the above is not good news despite the fact the “my team” is winning in places such as Africa, South America, and even in China, so I’m told. But wait a minute! That photo seems to say otherwise. Surveys told us they abandoned God. Did they? What’s going on here?

In the first place, where do people turn when tragedy strikes and there’s nothing humanly left to do? Where did we as a nation turn at the time of 9/11? Houses of worship were jammed with people seeking refuge, community, and a place to grieve. Secondly, it seems within every human soul there’s a spark of God, a natural need, desire, and belief in something beyond what we can see in our material world. This is evidenced in archeological science going back thousands of years.

The creator of our universe, the one who first loved us and made us, certainly may be called on when crisis strikes. But knowing that he is the rock of our lives all the time will give us a peace that surpasses all human understanding. And for those of us whose lives are going just fine, thank you, he can lift us to a new level.

Seventy years ago, the well-known English philosopher, mathematician, and intellectual, Bertrand Russell, proclaimed that God was dead. Perhaps he had a glimmer of the seismic shifts in religious adherence to come. But we Christians know that God is very much not dead and at work in the world, often invisibly.

The latest news from the NFL doctor is that Damar Hamlin is predicted to play football again! Did the prayers of his teammates, coaches, and staff help? Did the crowd that gathered outside the hospital praying for him help? Only God knows. In any case, it gave solace to those players and fans.

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