How should a believer respond to catastrophe? We’ve all heard the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s a good question, and the answers are difficult. Our pastor addressed this last Sunday to a congregation of people who had recently been through the hell of the Waldo Canyon Fire. Many of us in the church, like me, were evacuated and feared losing everything but were spared. At least three families that I know of did in fact lose everything. What do we do with this?
I highly recommend taking 40 minutes and listening to his sermon “Certain Hope.” This link leads to a site where you can either download the sermon or just hit the play button and start listening. His words were incredibly comforting to me this week.
It’s amazing to me how many “coincidences” happen. (I admittedly don’t believe in coincidences, though. I believe in God’s providence.) I went to the mailbox today and found our August issue of Tabletalk – a devotional magazine. The very first article, by R.C. Sproul, was titled “When Towers Fall” and deals with this very question. “Coincidentally” he uses the same passage Mark uses in the sermon, Luke 13.1-5:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
This is perhaps not a very popular passage. Before this Sunday, I don’t think I had ever heard a sermon preached on it. These words of Jesus pierce “to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb 4.12) and force us to confront some of our delusions. Our delusion about our own guilt and innocence before God. Our delusional judgment that others merely receive their comeuppance. Even the delusion that, even though others aren’t, I at least am basically “good” and therefore untouchable.
I’ve had this overwhelming feeling throughout the week as I clean and put our house back together that I have been spared. I sat on our couch and realized how incredible it was I had a couch to sit on. I sat at our dinner table, working on a quilt, and marveled that I still had this table to work upon, when not so long ago I counted it all gone. It is difficult to express such deep, profound gratitude in words. There are just no words for it.
God, in his wise and provident grace, spared me, my family, and even our house and belongings. But that begs the question, what if he hadn’t? Ultimately I rest on the confident assurance that my life is hidden with Christ (Col 3.3), so though he slay me, yet will I hope in him (Job 13.15).
But that brings me back to the “why?” What does this all mean?
I’d like to borrow a quote from Sproul that I found incredibly encouraging and comforting:
Those who were killed by the Roman troops and those who died when the tower fell may have been upstanding citizens. But in the vertical dimension, in their relationship to God, none of them was innocent, and the same is true for us. Jesus was saying, “Instead of asking Me why a good God allowed this catastrophe, you should be asking why your own blood wasn’t spilled.” Jesus was reminding his hearers that there is ultimately no such thing as an innocent person (except Him). Thus, we should not be amazed by the justice of God but by the grace of God. We should be asking why towers do not fall on us each and every day….
Jesus was not being insensitive or harsh with His disciples. He simply had to jolt them out of a false way of thinking. We do well to receive his jolt with gladness, for it helps us see things from the eternal perspective. We can deal with catastrophes in this world only by understanding that behind them stands the eternal purpose of God and by realizing that He has delivered us from the ultimate catastrophe – the collapse of the tower of His final judgment on our heads. (Emphases mine.)
I have been spared not because I deserved to be spared. The reality is that I have sinned, and therefore I deserve the harshest catastrophe in judgment. But by the grace of God through the work of Christ, I have been spared – not only this fiery catastrophe, but the eternal fiery judgment to come. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.