Many in the world have been shaken by the two recent plane crashes. The first one happened on 29 October, 2018 when Lion Air flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board. The second one was just as fatal, taking 157 lives, as Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed on the morning of March 10, 2019 after taking off from Addis Ababa.
When tragedies such as these strike us, it is almost certain that an inevitable question will surface: “Where was God?” People ask how a good and holy God could allow catastrophes to take place. Well, the same question was raised in Jesus’ time when Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea (see Luke 13:1-5). Pilate’s soldiers had murdered a few people who were in the midst of worship — and mixed their blood with their sacrifices. The people who came to Jesus were deeply troubled about the incident. They asked Him how God could have allowed such a thing to happen.
Jesus answered their question with a question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” “No, I tell you,” was His reply to His own question. But He immediately followed it up with a warning: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (vv. 2-3).
Driving His point home, He mentioned a similar incident: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” Again, the answer was clearly no, and the warning the same: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (vv. 4-5).
Those who questioned Jesus assumed that all the suffering people experience in this world is proportionately related to their degree of sinfulness — an idea that remains pervasive today
If this conversation were taking place today, we would ask Jesus, “Did you hear about the 346 people who were killed in the two recent plane crashes?” And Jesus would look into our eyes and say, “Do you think this happened to those 346 people because they were worse sinners than the others who escape every day? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Those who questioned Jesus assumed that all the suffering that people experience in this world is proportionately related to their degree of sinfulness, an idea that remains pervasive today. It is true that suffering and death came into this world because of sin, and there is an undeniable connection between moral evil and physical suffering. But Jesus used that occasion to teach them that we cannot jump to the conclusion that all people suffer in direct proportion to their degree of sin.
The Bible affirms this truth very clearly. It shows that the wicked sometimes prosper, and the righteous at times suffer greatly. So, we cannot label anyone as sinful or upright based on the extent of suffering — or lack thereof.
The argument of Jesus is incredibly significant to all of us. We cannot think that we are better people in God’s sight because we have not suffered and died. Those who were massacred by the Roman troops, those who died when the tower in Siloam fell, and those who lost their lives in the crashes may have been upstanding citizens. But in their relationship to God, none of them was innocent, and the same is true for us.
We are all sinful in God’s sight and deserving of judgment. Jesus was saying, “Instead of asking Me why a good God allowed these tragedies, you should be asking why your own life was spared.” He was communicating a profound truth that there is ultimately no such thing as an innocent person — except Himself. We should be amazed at the grace of God that every flight that takes off doesn’t crash, and suicide bombers don’t strike our cities every day.
This is in no way to trivialise the pain experienced by the people who lost their dear ones. Our hearts and prayers ought to go out to the victims of any calamity that takes place anywhere in the world. But every time a tragedy strikes, as painful as it is, we must pause to realise that the catastrophe didn’t befall us because God is giving us time to repent! And if you do not repent, “you will all likewise perish!”
How can we cope with tragedies in this world? Only by recognising God’s eternal purpose behind them
There is something ghastly about the way their lives came to an end, in that none of them were anticipating that kind of an end. But the same will be true of us too — and only repentance can make us ready to meet God.
What’s more, a deep trust in God helps us see things from the eternal perspective. We can cope with tragedies in this world only by recognising God’s eternal purpose behind them, and by appreciating His grace in rescuing us from the ultimate catastrophe — the collapse of the tower of His final judgment on our heads.
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