When a catastrophe happens in our world, it is virtually certain that a question will come up: “Where was God?” People always seem to question how a good God could allow a terrible thing to happen.
The same question came up in Jesus’ time, as we see from an incident recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
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.” (13:1–5)
Some people asked Jesus a question about an atrocity that had occurred at the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. It seems that some people who were in the midst of worship were massacred by Pilate’s soldiers. The people who came to Jesus were troubled about this and asked Him how God could have allowed it to happen to His chosen people.
Jesus answered their question with a question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” This response shows us that those who brought the original question to Jesus were assuming that all the suffering that people endure in this world is proportionately related to their degree of sinfulness, an idea that remains pervasive today.
Of course, suffering and death came into this world in the first place because of sin. So, Jesus’ questioners were correct in assuming that there is a connection between moral evil and physical suffering. But Jesus took that opportunity to remind them that we cannot leap to the conclusion that all people suffer in direct proportion to their degree of sin.
The Bible makes this point very clearly. It shows that the wicked sometimes prosper and the righteous sometimes suffer deeply. The book of Job especially belies the idea of a proportionate relationship between sin and suffering by showing that even though Job was the most upright man in the world, he was visited with untold misery, and then had to endure the questioning of his “friends,” who assumed he must have fallen into terrible sin.
Thus, when Jesus asked His disciples: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” the answer was obvious. No, they were not worse sinners than anyone else. Jesus wanted to get the idea of a proportionate connection between sin and suffering out of the disciples’ minds lest they think that they were better people in God’s sight because they had not suffered and died. So, He warned them: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
To drive His point home, Jesus mentioned a similar incident: “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?” Again, the answer was clearly no. These victims were no worse and no better than any other Jews. So, once more He warned them: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
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.
When anything painful, sorrowful, or grievous befalls us, it is never an act of injustice on God’s part, because God does not owe us freedom from tragedies. He does not owe us protection from falling towers. We are debtors to God and cannot repay. Our only hope to avoid perishing at the hands of God is repentance.
Jesus was not being insensitive or harsh with His disciples. He simply had to jolt them out of a false way of thinking. We would 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.