“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’” (Luke 13:1–5, NASB).
I usually try to avoid writing or posting about a Bible passage shortly after hearing someone else preach about it. However, during the Scripture reading this morning, something grabbed my attention, and the pastor did not really address it. So, I will deviate from my rule this time.
This passage appears in an extended series of teachings that Jesus is giving to the crowds who are following Him. During His teaching, someone told Him about an incident where Pontius Pilate had apparently had some Galileans killed while they were offering sacrifices at the temple. It is not clear whether this is the first time Jesus heard about this or not. What is important is the way Jesus confronted a common view of human suffering.
The people of Jesus’ day viewed suffering as a sure sign of divine justice or judgement. If a Roman official could have you killed while you are worshipping God, you must have deserved it; if you were innocent, God would protect you. Likewise, if a tower fell upon you and killed you, then you got what you deserved. By this logic, everybody who died on 9/11 must be in hell.
Although I believe strongly in divine justice, this view is simplistic, erroneous, and evil. God is just, but this life is not always fair. We will see divine justice finalized in the next life, even though a lot of evil goes unpunished in this world and a lot of good does not see its reward. (I add that this is part of the reason that I find universalism—the belief that all people will be saved and nobody goes to hell—to be an absolutely heretical false teaching, completely incompatible with the Christian faith.)
Jesus simply does not allow His hearers to ponder the fate of others. He turns the question back on those who are present. He confronts us as well.
It should not matter to us so much what God is doing about other people. Yes, they are sinners who are doomed if they do not receive forgiveness. But, so are we. Every one of us has sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If we have not repented, or do not repent, we will give a reckoning to Him on the day of judgement. Maybe my sins are not as blatant or scandalous as those of some politicians, serial killers, terrorists, or morally reprobate celebrities. Still, I do not need to worry about what God will do to the Kardashians. I need to make sure that I am doing His will and allowing Him to work through me.
Which brings me to the other point: How should we react when we see evil or disaster? Should we rejoice when a sinner “gets what he deserves”? Should we rejoice that God finally did something our way when natural disaster devastates a region and kills many people?
It is not our job to judge: When disaster or tragedy strikes, our job is not to analyze, but to minister in Christ’s place. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the east coast, especially Long Island. Some may have asked if this was God’s judgement upon the liberal northeast. Maybe it was, but it was not my job to proclaim God’s wrath. At that time, real Christians (along with other people of good will) were donating clothing and money to help those who had lost possessions; they were donating time to help people clean out their flooded homes; they were inviting homeless or displaced friends and relatives to stay in their homes. They were manifesting the love of God.
Let us always keep our eyes on God’s will for our own lives, seeking to minister to the victims when life is not fair, and to repent of the sins that infect our own souls.
This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge
This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.