When Catastrophe Strikes

“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:3

As I write this post, at least 22 people have been declared dead in Middle Tennessee from a devastating wave of tornadoes that touched down in the early morning hours. Many are still missing and death tolls are expected to rise. Downtown Nashville was among one of the areas hardest hit, suffering immense damage.

Stories of catastrophe, violence, pain and suffering seem to grip the headlines and provide the most riveting news content in our culture. There is something about tragedy that directly appeals to human interest while at the same time speaks to the depravity of our human condition. Bad news seems to travel much faster than good news for a reason.

And I believe I know the reason why.

We are terrified of our own mortality.

Where Was God?

When something as apparently arbitrary and capricious as a tornado devastates an area, we assess the aftermath and naturally start to ask questions.

Why was my home spared when the one next door was swept away?

Why did my loved one die when tens of thousands walked away unscathed?

Why did God protect us and not someone else?

Where was God last night? Did He do this? Is He to blame?

All of us have wrestled with the age-old philosophical problem of evil and suffering. While I will not attempt to answer such questions here, I would like to point out that such questions arise from an innate sense of fairness — justice — right and wrong. This sense of moral fairness has been engraved upon every human heart because we all recognize injustice and automatically appeal to an objective moral standard that transcends time, place and culture.

It should be asked, therefore, from where does this inherent sense of morality and justice originate?

I think we all “know” the answer. Some just had rather not admit it.

But what are we to make of natural disasters and seemingly capricious tragedies in life? How should we interpret tornados and earthquakes and random accidents from a Biblical worldview?

Thankfully, the Lord Jesus gives us the answer and gets to the bottom of the issue.

Unless You Repent …

One day Jesus was posed with a very similar question from the crowds, and He answered in the most fascinating way.

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.”

Luke 13:1-5

Notice how Jesus addressed two primary truths in His answer.

First, He dismissed the faulty notion that every accident or tragedy is an act of divine judgment directly connected to a specific sin. Those who had suffered tragedy and death were no “worse” sinners or offenders than any others. The point Jesus was making was that all of humanity proper is guilty of sin before a Holy God.

Death entered the world through sin and because all have sinned, all will be judged by God in death [Romans 5:12]. In other words, death is the common denominator that reminds us of divine judgment. We somehow forget that someone dies every 2 to 3 seconds on this earth. Our timing of death may vary. Our certainty of death, however, is universal.

What is 80 to 100 years to God? Nothing. So if we live to be 20 or 120, the sobering reality remains — we all will pay the price for our sin.

The second truth that Jesus conveys in this lesson is that instead of trying to justify why some die sooner than others — or even under different circumstances — we should be examining our own lives in light of our own imminent death and judgment.

After all, death is certain and tomorrow is not guaranteed. Jesus was getting to the deeper issue and the heart of the matter. Unless we repent of our sins and turn to God in faith in the “living years,” we too will perish and face the Judge of all the earth.

The Nashville tornado is especially tragic for those who lost their lives, but the catastrophe was not wasted. God is giving every single survivor — including those reading this right now — another chance to examine his/her life and take advantage of His grace. As long as we have breath, we are being offered an opportunity to repent and turn to Jesus Christ in faith.

For God So Loved

Some may ask, “where was God,” in the wake of this disaster, but the answer is always the same. God is here. He has always been here. And the good news is that He has made the only way for mankind to be saved from the wages of sin and find ultimate rest in His free gift of eternal life.

God has always been here with arms outstretched, willing to receive all who would believe in His Only Son, Jesus Christ — who is the Only means of forgiveness and salvation.

The truth is that we all will perish in our mortal flesh, but the good news is that God has made a way for us to live, even if we die [John 11:25-26].

Jesus is the One who promised that even though we may die … we do not have to eternally perish, and He is the Only One who can make good on such a promise.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

If you were to die today, are you certain that you will spend eternity with God in heaven?

If so … why?

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