Reflection: What Is Our Response to Calamities?

12 05 2008

Each time we hear more news from Myanmar, the death toll from the cyclone continues to rise. It is now in the tens of thousand but some even predict that it might exceed one million. Over this past weekend, a tornado ripped through the Midwest in parts of Oklahoma and Missouri resulting in the loss of 22 lives.  How are we, as Christians, to respond when we hear about these staggering losses of lives from either natural disasters or human evil? When there was a massive flooding in New Orleans caused by Katrina, we heard some pastors saying that it was God’s way of punishing them for their sins.

In Luke 13:4-5, Jesus was asked to explain the reason for the fate of “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifice.” Without reading on, what would you have predicted Jesus’ response to the question might be? My prediction would have been that Jesus would answer in the most compassionate and sensitive way and attribute the reasons to the evilness of Pilate and that God would repay the evil act. However, Jesus did not response in the way I predicted he would or in the way that I would as a sensitive person. But rather, his response is quite shocking.

First, Jesus dispels any notion that might exist in the questioners that the Galileans were any more sinful than other people were because of the manner of their death. In other words, he is saying, “Don’t you dare think that because of the way they died that they were any worse sinners than you are.” In addition to the atrocious act of human evil, he lumps the accident (the falling of the Siloam Tower) which took the lives of 18 people together as events that demand the same response. These are Jesus’ words:

“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.” (Luke 13:2-5)

Jesus’ response seems to say that we ought not judge those who die in these man-made or natural calamities about their sinfulness but rather we ought to REPENT. The response assumes that these so called calamities are not surprising from God’s point of view because everyone is a sinner who deserves such death. It is the exception that we are spared from these calamities. It is God’s restraining grace that He keeps us from tornadoes or cyclones. However, these calamities are reminders to us, to repent from our ways of trivializing, defaming, and belittling God in our lives. So let us be reminded through these disasters to repent and turn toward God and His mercy.

Father, we confess that daily we fall short of your glory. We do not love you with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. And yet You withhold your rightful judgment on us because of your mercy and grace. We cling to the blood and work of Jesus. Thank you for reminding us to repent through these disasters. Lord we weep with those who have lost their loved ones. Would you draw them to you through this time and turn this tragic event into good for your glory. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

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