Sunday, September 11, 2011

Problem of Evil and Suffering: How Jesus would address 9/11

Luke 13:4-5 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

What I experienced and saw the day 9/11 took place
       As a nation we should never forget the terrorist attacks that would come to define life as we know it in the 21st century.  At the time I was working night shift in a plant in Eastern Pennsylvainia with non-Christian men who were tough, rugged and used to the harshness of life.  I was also attending seminary and was taking a course on Christian counseling.  The day that those events unfolded, a faculty member ran into our class, wheeling a T.V on a cart.  As the class and I watched those events unfold, the Dean of the Seminary dismissed all classes.  Not a sound was to be heard as faculty and students alike left the campus.  That same night, as I went to work, the atmosphere was identical at the plant.  No joking, no crass humor could be heard.  All were walking around, as in a daze.  More questions than answers were in the chilly air that night.  Many were asking the question: "Why did this happen"? 

A falling Tower and Jesus' response to it
      In the passage above we are brought into a middle of a conversation between Jesus and a group of people discussing the problem of evil and suffering.  Two situations are mentioned.  The first had to do with a group of Jews who were minding there own business, worshipping God at the temple, when suddenly a group of Romans soldiers came in, ambushed the worshippers, and quite literally the blood of those victims mixed with the blood of the sacrifices on the cold temple floor.
      The second incident involved a collapsing tower - the tower of Siloam.  The Bible says some people were walking by as construction was being done.  These people, minding their own business, were suddenly crushed when the tower, without warning, fell over.  Jesus even gives the death toll - 18. 
      The first incident was mitigated by ruthless men who cared nothing for the sanctity of human life.  They were more bent on carrying out tyranny rather than preserving justice and fairness.  Like the incident in the temple, the day those twin towers were struck, ruthless men, with ruthless ideologies, were behind the plot.  The second incident would be what we would term "an accident".  It could not be explained - at least from a human point of view.   Yet Jesus gives a response to both incidents: "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Why did Jesus respond the way He did
       Jesus short and terse response did not offer explanations, did not pull back the curtain to reveal all the "why's" or answers to these two incidents.  Rather his response points us to a far greater need than simply answers - He points us to the God of scripture.  His response tells us a few things:

1. God is not unaware of those who perish.  Whether those who died in both of these incidents were believers, or unbelievers, is not revealed by Jesus.  The fact that Jesus tells the death toll reveals that God is keenly aware of the souls of men and women.  Even those who die in their sins, the Bible reminds us that God does not rejoice over the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11)

2. Man's greatest need is spiritual.  Jesus' word to his audience was that of "repentance".  All men need to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). 

3. The Greatness of God's Mercy.  The fact that not everyone is wiped out on the planet is testimony to God's mercy.  The Bible says: "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". (Romans 3:23)  It is amazing that God has granted this age of grace, holding back the judgment that all men justly deserve.  Only the cross can explain why God extends such common grace to all men.   The word there for "perish" points not merely to a worse calamity in this life, but eternal judgment that awaits those who die in rejection of Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure. (John 3:16-19)
4. God does not owe anyone explanations.  Jesus did not feel the need to go into a detailed explanation about these events.  His fundamental assumptions were that God is good, and that if anything, He was giving His listeners, who were no better than those people who had perished, the chance to trust in Him as Savior and Lord.

5. Our greatest comfort in times of calamity is Jesus Christ.  As we come to the end of the sequence of events here in Luke 13, we read the response to Jesus' words in Luke 13:17 "As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him."  Clearly Jesus' opponents were shown for who they were - they did not desire the God of glory, only answers.  Would it be, dear friend, that you and I find in Jesus the answer - for truly He alone did something about the problem of evil - the cross.