Sujo John has a dramatic story. But sometimes dramatic stories like his have a way of helping us to see life lessons more clearly. Seeing tragedy in his childhood challenged his views about life. Facing tragedy as an adult challenged the values that he lived for. And addressing tragedy in his life has given him the satisfaction that his heart longed for. Let me share three things I learned about tragedy from Sujo John’s life. You can hear him tell his story here at IamSecond.com.
1. Suffering challenges our superficial views about life.
Sujo John grew up in a Christian home in Calcutta, India. While church was a big part of his family’s life, he never felt connected to God, himself. When he was nine, his younger sister died of leukemia and it seemed unfair, particularly because his parents seemed so morally good and religiously faithful. He searched in the religions around him for answers to the questions he had but didn’t find any. It seems that his starting point was that people are essentially good and a good God would surely reward good people with good circumstances. I think many people have that assumption, but the reality of life’s tragedy challenges it. The Bible’s starting point couldn’t be more different than Sujo John’s. The Bible teaches that humanity is essentially bad and has created the tragedy and sickness that we see around us by turning our backs on God. Rather than God rewarding good people with good circumstances, He often uses bad circumstances to accomplish good in people’s lives.
2. Our questions about suffering aren’t solved by answers but by a relationship.
Sujo’s “search” didn’t end with a neat, philosophical system that answered all of his questions. Over time, that might come, but ultimately it wasn’t what he most needed. It’s seldom what we most need either. About six years after the death of his sister, he went to a Christian youth group and heard a missionary say something he had never heard before. He learned that the heart of the Christian faith was friendship with God. The message deeply affected him, and he began that friendship through faith in Jesus. While we often search for answers to tragedy, answers alone still leave us alone. We need someone who can walk us through tragedy. We need hope and fellowship. And Christianity offers not only a Saviour who will ultimately deliver us from tragedy, but One who has experienced the worst of this world’s tragedies and promises to walk with us in the midst of our suffering.
3. Tragedy helps us to see our life purpose most clearly.
Given the struggles that he had experienced with tragedy, you would think that he would feel joy and satisfaction in comfort. That wasn’t the case. Sujo was talented and determined, and in 2001 moved with his wife to New York City where they both landed good jobs. But success was accompanied by emptiness rather than satisfaction. He felt a disconnect between the values in his heart and the things he was living for. On the morning of September 11, he felt God convicting him to deal with his life purpose. At 8:05 am, he emailed his friend about it. Forty minutes later, he heard a loud explosion and would soon learn that the building he was in, the north tower of the World Trade Center, had been hit. He worked on the 81st floor of the north tower while his wife worked on the 71st floor of the south tower.
Amazingly, he was able to make it down the stairwell and immediately headed toward the south tower to look for his wife. As he approached, he heard a huge explosion and realized it was the sound of the south tower imploding. With debris falling all around him, he was filled with compassion and boldness for the people he saw. Instinctively, he started calling on the name of the Lord and urged the fifteen or so people around him to do the same. They joined him in prayer. But he would be the only one of that group to survive. While he feared his wife was likely dead also, he later found that she had arrived late for work that day and had been spared her co-workers’ tragic fate.
The tragedy changed them. They gave themselves to full-time gospel ministry and now lead an organization committed to bringing an end to human trafficking. While ‘achieving their dreams’ had brought them emptiness because of the disconnect with their values, great tragedy had resulted in a clearer life purpose. When faith is working in the midst of tragedy, it often does that.
I’m encouraged by Sujo John’s story not only because it reminds me how to deal with some of the challenges in my own life, but because it shows me some of the ways that God brings beauty out of tragedy and ministers hope to those who suffer. May God minister His hope to you in the midst of your circumstances today.
In awe of Him,