It's amazing to me how many followers of Jesus are so quick to interpret the mind and heart of God for the rest of us when disaster strikes. I'm not interested in calling naming names, but there were those those that spoke up following Hurricane Katrina, saying that it was God's judgment on the city of the New Orleans. Others spoke up a couple of years ago when a tornado hit Minnesota, saying that it was the judgment of God on a certain denomination who was meeting at the time. According to this writer, God was sending a message of warning to this denomination because they were considering the adoption of a statement on the issue of homosexuality.
Now, most of us would not go so far in attributing such disasters as God's judgment, but we casually adopt similar thought processes. If someone seems to have had good fortune of late, we may say things like, "Well, you must just be livin' right." If a person seems to have fallen on misfortune, we might say the opposite, "You ain't been livin' right." Typically, these are said in jest, but I think that deep down there are many that believes that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the two - God rewards good behavior and God punishes bad behavior.
I have to say that this kind of talk makes me really nervous - and really angry as well. It seems that Jesus felt the same way when a group of Galileans come to him and start making similar comments. "Be careful," Jesus seems to be saying. "Do you really think that one group of people were worse sinners than another group because they were victims of terrorism? Do you really think that this group of builders was worse off than the rest because of an accident at birth? Do you really think that this man was born blind because of some moral failure of his parents?" (see John 9)
It's as though Jesus has taken a lesson or two from my Mamaw: "Every time you point one finger at someone else, you have three more pointing right back at you." Or in Jesus' words, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (see Matthew 7:3) Twice, Jesus says in this passage, "unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." This is the real thrust of what is going on. The Apostle Paul really did get it when he emphasized, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." No one is exempt.
I don't think that we really want a God like this - a God who rewards and punishes based on what our actions deserve. If God did act in this way, I'm afraid that none of us would be here. None of us is worthy. That is why it is called grace. In this text, Jesus refuses to allow simple answers to complex questions (if A, then B). Jesus will not allow quick fixes to solve some of the world's deepest problems. He also doesn't get into a debate about theodicy (how an all-good, all-powerful God could allow bad things to happen in our world) or try intellectually explain away God's actions.
No, Jesus turns things right around on his listeners. Jesus is on a mission to bring his kingdom on the earth. He takes advantage of this teachable moment to refocus their attention and their questions. "Let this be a warning to you all. You don't know what tomorrow will bring. Repent now. Get on track now. Start living now." Eternal life doesn't start after the casket is sealed and the dirt settles. Eternal life starts right now as you repent and seek to be a follower of Jesus.
So, instead of jumping to cast blame when disaster strikes, let it ring out in our heart a call to repentance. Every atrocity in the world (natural of man-made) is a reminder that we all sin and fall short of God's glory. Every sinister act serves as a mirror to the brokenness of our own soul. This is a time of repentance. Let it begin with me.
Prayer: God, I confess that as I look around the world, my heart breaks for the pain I see. And yet, I must confess that there is no sin I am incapable of committing given the right circumstances. I admit that I want to rank my sin and compare myself to others, falsely comforting myself with the thought that I am not as bad as they are. However, you are the standard and I fall so short. I repent. Forgive me. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.