And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
Note 2 at Lu 15:17: God's Word makes it clear that the wages of sin is death (Ro 6:23). Ro 1:18-20 reveals that even those who don't know God's Word have an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong and God's judgment against sin. Therefore, for people to live in sin, as depicted by this prodigal son, they have to be deceived. This is exactly what the Bible says is the case in 2Co 4:4. When Jesus said that "he came to himself," He was referring to the deception being gone and the son's spiritual eyes being opened.
Just as in this case, tragedy often brings people out of deception and back to their senses. It's not that God sends the tragedy. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, "Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee" (Jer 4:18). However, tragic situations do clearly illustrate that "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer 10:23), and they make people look somewhere else for help. Although turning to God is always beneficial regardless of what provides the motivation, "hard knocks" are not the best teachers.
Paul said in 2Ti 3:16-17, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." God's Word was given for reproof and correction, and if we will submit to it, we can "be perfect, thoroughly furnished" without having to experience tragedy first.