The problem of suffering is one of the most common objections people will put forward against Christianity, arguing that a loving God would not possibly allow tragedy and disaster. Since the world is full of such events, they reason that there cannot therefore be a God. This is a huge area to explore and difficult to cover adequately in brief. It also makes all the difference in the world whether the tragedy is happening to anonymous people the other side of the globe or to people we know personally. My observation is that often the question is a smoke screen designed to divert attention away from a more fundamental issue that Jesus addresses when he responds to concern about ‘innocent victims’.
It was a commonly held idea in first century Judea that some people deserve bad things to happen to them. Jesus tackled this head on in Luke 13 when he spoke about the Tower of Siloam that fell killing 18 people. Jesus’ comment indicates that tragedy is neither deserved nor undeserved; in fact that is the wrong question. Rather than worrying about the whys and wherefores of tragedy in this life he focuses upon our need to repent in order to avoid a greater tragedy in the next life. Jesus doesn’t get engaged in an argument about whether God exists, or whether he is good. He doesn’t even really discuss whether the people who died were innocent or deserved punishment for their sins. Jesus sees these tragedies as a wakeup call to remind us that we will all one day die and face judgement. Twice in five verses he says: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Hardly a statement epitomising 21st century political correctness!
I am aware that there are more pastorally sensitive responses that we can make; there are also more intellectually satisfying arguments that can be advanced. However Jesus takes us straight to the heart of the matter that, when we hear of tragedies like the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, whatever else we may say the most urgent message that people need to hear is that if they do not repent they will perish eternally. None of us knows the day when we will draw our final breath; the day when it will be too late to make our peace with God. So, when you hear of another tragedy rather than pondering “where was God?” it is better to ask yourself “am I ready?” and if not to repent.
If you read Hook Focus you will notice that I have written a similar article for the February edition. I have expanded those comments a little here as I am aware that they may provoke a reaction and that you might be asked questions about it. So be prepared!
This blog post featured in the February 2012 edition of Lifelines