Early in 2012, we tackled some tough verses that are tragically relevant today as we mourn the victims and grieve for the families in Newton, Connecticut.
1 There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” –Luke 13:1-5
As we looked at this passage, we first talked about two wrong responses to tragedy. The first wrong response is to conclude that those to whom tragedy occurs are somehow extra wicked and deserve it more than others. After natural disasters in recent years, or even 9/11, some comments by prominent Evangelical leaders are illustrative of this first wrong response.
Fortunately, such arrogant comments have not been made in connection with the tragedy in Newtown. The thought of young lives cut so short causes a reaction that is painful not just emotionally but physical. The thought of a six-year old child deserving such a fate is abhorrent.
A second wrong response to tragedy is to conclude that there is no relationship between sin and tragedy. Some naively deny the reality of evil or that God’s wrath will someday be poured out on the wicked. Or they speak of wickedness only in terms of a mental illness. Evil therefore seems clinical and physical and our culpability is lessened.
There are many right responses to what happened Friday. Mourning. Grief. Righteous anger. Yearning for justice.
One crucial response for each of us is repentance. What happened Friday is a vivid reminder that we live in a fallen world and need a Savior to deliver us from it. As we encounter tragedy, our response should not be that the “other” sinner deserves tragedy but instead an admission that I deserve God's judgement. Tragedy reminds us that God has graciously delayed our ultimate reckoning and today is a day for repentance and salvation.
Here are some suggestions for rightly responding to tragedy:
Understand that grief is not sin (Lk. 19:41). Don’t deny the hurt or the pain you feel. Don’t judge others for feeling deep, profound grief.
Acknowledge the reality and presence of evil in the world (Eph. 2:1-3). Evil is not an abstract concept but a real and present danger.
Acknowledge the reality and presence of evil in your own heart (Jer. 17:9). To simply see evil only as a force that is without instead of within removes our feeling of culpability and need to change.
Turn from sin and hope in God (Lam 3:19-24). Repentance in response to tragedy manifests itself differently than repentance to personal sin. Our response to tragedy must include a personal commitment to turn away from sin that God brings to our attention as we contemplate the reality of evil within us.
Weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:14). As we encounter grief our response is empathy. Grief isn’t something you “fix.” It is something you experience with a hurting brother or sister in Christ.
Think biblically about the character of God (Col. 1:15-20). One of the dangers of responding to tragedy is that we say things that we think are helpful but are unbiblical when describing the character of God.