Are people who die in natural disasters and political atrocities just getting what they deserve?
Let’s discuss the difference between calamities and divine punishment.
Let’s look at the atrocity and disaster in Luke 13:1-9 and Jesus’ response.
Luke 13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Are Victims of Atrocities Worse? (vs. 1-3)
Governments are sometimes guilty of mass murder. Does God use such things to punish evil people? Are innocent victims of war worse people than us? What about the bombing of London, Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Were those men, women and children worse than us? What about the massacres of history? Were they God’s punishment? In Luke 13 Jesus described a massacre of Galileans by Pilate, who apparently killed them in the very act of worshiping God. Was their worship insincere? Was it tainted? Such judgmental questions annoy Jesus, because as he said, we will all perish unless we change our ways. Human governments claim to judge between the right and wrong but their opinions do not constitute divine judgment.
Are Victims of Tragic Accidents Worse? (vs. 4-5)
Were the victims in the Titanic punished by God? What about the victims of Chernobyl or those killed in Bhopal? What about the astronauts who perished in the Challenger disaster, the victims of the 1944 East Ohio Gas Explosion or those killed in the 1981 Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkway collapse? Are accidents God’s way of punishing us? Jesus answered such questions in the context of a construction accident. Were they worse sinners than we are? Just like those who died in the Tower of Siloam collapse, who were no worse or better than you and me, unless we all repent we too will perish. We love to judge the fate of others, but Jesus reminds us to judge ourselves.
How Lenient is God towards Us? (vs. 6-9)
The owner of a vineyard had a fig tree that had not borne fruit. His gardener pled to be allowed to dig and dung the tree one more year. This parable of the barren fig tree teaches us God’s willingness to give us another chance to get it right. Jesus sought the fruit of good works in Israel for the three years of his ministry. The evidence of true repentance is a change in behavior. As he was giving Israel space to repent, so too has God given all of us clemency. As in the parable, that leniency will not last forever. There is a certain urgency to repentance. Now is the time to repent, before it is too late.
Do We have a Wrong Idea of God?
Is God out to get us, like that old song, “God’s gonna get’cha for that?” The Bible says that God’s faithful love endures forever. When we point the hypocritical finger of divine punishment for atrocities and disasters, we forget that we have all sinned and ultimately face hell unless we repent. God has given us all time to repent. Let’s not waste it. Luke 13 teaches that not every calamity is God’s punishment. Disaster and punishment are not the same thing. As Ecclesiastes teaches, time and chance happen to us all. Not every loss is punishment and not every gain is a reward. Even when punishment is due, Jesus showed God’s preference to give us a second chance to repent.
Next time we hear of an atrocity committed by a government or a natural disaster, let’s look upon those people with pity instead of judgment. After all, we are just fellow sinners in need of mercy.
References: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.; Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.; Nolland, J. Vol. 35B: Word Biblical Commentary : Luke. 2002. Dallas: Word, Incorporated. 497.; R.T. France. NICNT. The Gospel of Matthew; William L. Lane. NICNT. The Gospel of Mark; Green, Joel B. NICNT. The Gospel of Luke; J. Ramsey Michaels. NICNT. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, Mich. W.B. Eerdmans. 2007; 1974; 1997; 2010.; Brian Stoffregen. Exegetical Notes. crossmarks.com/brian/