This is the question that frequently gets asked when a tragedy hits the news headlines. In recent weeks we have grieved at terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. Yet these are just a few of the terrible attacks that take place worldwide on a daily basis many of which never reach our TV screens.
It is only natural that we are more shocked and distressed when these events happen on our doorstep, in places we know and where we and our loved ones frequent. It is natural too for there to be outpouring of emotions such as anger, despair, or fear to mention just a few when we hear reports of another atrocity. The ubiquitous nature of social media only heightens the wave of public emotion as news spreads more quickly and more people have a vehicle to share their own personal reactions.
Technology may have changed but people have always struggled to process tragedy. 2,000 years ago the Roman occupiers of Judea slaughtered Galilean pilgrims as they were offering sacrifices in Jerusalem. This atrocity not only included the death of Jewish people but would have been seen as desecration of a holy site. Around the same time a tower in Siloam collapsed killing 18 people.
A common view of the day was that people who died in such tragic circumstances must have been guilty of some grievous sin. Jesus addressed the people who brought him this news and asked them whether the Galileans who had died were worse sinners that all the remaining Galileans, and whether the people killed by the collapsing tower were more guilty than everyone else living in Jerusalem. Like many of Jesus’ questions, it was designed to expose wrong thinking. In both cases he said emphatically, “No!” These deaths, tragic as they were, were not God’s judgement on their wrong doing.
Frustratingly Jesus doesn’t go on to tell us where God was when these events happen, or why he allowed them. However he did go on to explain something far more serious. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, warns his listeners that they should repent of their wrong doing lest something far more serious befall them. He wants us to understand that all of us are guilty of sin, but rather than fearing disaster in this life we should be readying ourselves for the coming day of judgement before God’s throne. Those who have repented will receive mercy while everyone else will perish.
It seems that for Jesus the bigger question we need to resolve is what will be our standing before God on judgement day than worrying about where God was during the bad stuff we see around us. The indignation that we feel when we hear about a terrorist attack is natural but can insulate us from our own need to be reconciled to God.
I pray that the families affected by the recent tragedies will find comfort amidst their pain. More importantly I pray that everyone reading this will receive Christ’s mercy and in so doing enjoy an eternity with Him free from pain.