Recently in the USA there was another mass shooting. And not long after the above headline ran in the New York paper, The Daily News. The thinking behind this headline is that prayer is not enough, or prayer is not working. We pray and pray and pray, asking God to stop the death, stop the suffering, any suffering, any human evil, all human all. We just want God to fix this.So since he won’t (because he is malevolent) or perhaps cannot,(because he is powerless or non-existent), we have to fix it.Yet when I reflect on this tragic event and many tragic events I often think of the words spoken by our Lord Jesus that Luke recorded for us in chapter 13 of his gospel.
1 There were some present at that very time who told him 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.”
I suspect that these words (which are sadly not heeded by many in the Western world) are the very words that people desperately need to heed.
Now we don’t know what those present said to Jesus in v.1, but the response of Jesus in v.2 I think does hint at what they may have said, perhaps something along the lines of, “Those Galileans whom Pilate killed must have sinned in a really big way for them to die in the way that they did.”
And the response the Lord Jesus is to ask a question that I think is a very good question. Look with me at v.2:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?
I think it is clear what they thought the answer to Jesus’ question was, they would have thought “Yes!” But before we look at Jesus response, notice what Jesus does in v.4. He cites another example of suffering and human tragedy, this time he talks about an industrial accident which resulted in the deaths of eighteen people.
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?
They may have thought “yes”, but the answer of Jesus two both the questions he asks is:
5 No, I tell you,
He said no. Are those who Pilate worse sinners than anyone else living in Jerusalem? No. Are those who will killed in an industrial accident more guilty of sin than those in Siloam who were not killed? No. Jesus answers shows us that not every single suffering calamity that comes on a person is caused directly by their own sin. But (and this is a big but); according o the Lord Jesus, the question of whether suffering is due to a person’s sin is not the issue because whether a person experiences suffering or not, they are guilty of sin anyway. Those who are spared suffering should not assume innocence and therefore think that they will escape the judgement of God.
This is hard teaching from Jesus, because it is our nature to say, “I don’t sin”. It is our nature to say “I am not a sinner”. Yet according to the Lord Jesus the right response to God when suffering happens is for people not to demand God “fix this”,or “right this!” but rather we “get right” with God. Look at the rest of v.5:
“but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus point is that all human beings are sinners, all human beings ignore God’s rule over them so whether people are suffering all not, everyone needs to repent. Now repentance is one of those churchy words that we can hear a lot and still get it wrong.
Repentance – what it is not. Repentance is not feeling sorry for one’s sin. It is not feeling remorse. The Holy Spirit can convict a person of their rebellion against God, and they can feel remorse but still come away unrepentant. Repentance is not a feeling. Repentance is a verb. When Jesus commands people to repent, and it is a command from Jesus, not a suggestion; he means that people have to stop living their life in the way our nature defines it, the way our culture endorses it, in the way our heart justifies it,– which says life is all about you. This is the heart of what sin is – it is a declaration of independence against Jesus’ rule, control, kingship, authority. Or as CS Lewis wrote, “The anti-God state of mind”.
Jesus is serious about sin. Suffering is a problem, but sin is the greater problem, it is the Great Problem. In the 90s’ when I was a teenager there was a band entitled DC Talk and in their song In the Light, the lyrics state:
“The disease of self runs through my blood. It’s a cancer fatal to my soul. Every attempt on my behalf has failed to bring this sickness under control.”
Of course! We cannot bring it under control, because the problem is us. It it is human condition that unless we see it for what it is, we will not see the need to repent. From time to time other Christians have asked me what I think is the biggest stumbling block to belief. I would say that there are many but up the top of the list would have to be the reality of human sinfulness. So many people truly don’t think that they are sinful, therefore the need for repentance is nullified. Suffering is a way that God jolts the unbelieving world to see the reality of the human condition, the reality of our sin.
There can be no doubt that there are many many people who are suffering as result of the recent shootings in America, but perhaps the reason why ‘God isn’t answering the prayers of people in the way that they want is because the prayers being offered up to God are not prayers of the repentant but rather are prayers of people who ignore God most of the time who due to suffering them demand that God “fix this!”. In others words people are not heeding the warnings of the Lord Jesus, they are not heeding the warnings that suffering is delivering, they are not repenting.
Repentance – what it is:
Repent means to do a u-turn. A u-turn when it comes to who is the most important person in your world. We have the nature where we declare our independence from God every day. And repentance is the act of the will, the choice where one says to God, “Independence day is over for the rest of my life”. To repent is live with Jesus as the most important person in the world instead of the self. The repentant person is the person is who dependant on Gods love grace and mercy that He has bestowed upon them in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than their own so called goodness.The repentant person is the person who trust Jesus as their saviour and (and this is a big ‘and’) submits to his rule. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ wants people to do in light of human suffering, turn to God in repentance.
This is what the Lord Jesus Christ wants people to do in light of human suffering, turn to God in repentance.
And finally, what should we do when we suffer?
Now of course I don’t know and cannot know if you have suffered much in your life, but if you are thinking of giving up on Jesus! I can only plead with you by saying don’t. The worst thing that we can do when life does not make sense or when suffering seems unjust and/or when we suffer is to say to God, “Well God, you can’t be trusted anymore”. God can be trusted! God does know what it is like to suffer. And Christmas is a great reminder of this! God knows what it is like to be human, to experience grief and pain, the loss of loved ones, physical pain, emotional pain and spiritual pain. God the Son became one of us! And he suffered in way that no other human being ever would! He paid the penalty that was not his, but ours. He died a death that was not his, but ours. He took the punishment that was not his, but ours.
We may not be able to make sense of life, we may not have the answers that we long for, and when we look at the world through the eyes of sinful broken finite humanity, it may seem that God has not fixed this, but God has provided the answer and the fix, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we see Jesus face to face, (either when we die and meet him, or when he returns whatever happens first), our questions will evaporate. He won’t answer the questions because we won’t need to ask them!
But until then we live by faith, not by sight. When life does not make sense…fix your eyes on the fix; fix your eyes on Jesus and repent. When we don’t have all the answers…fix your eyes on Jesus and repent. When we suffer…fix your eyes on Jesus and repent. And on that great day, the great indescribable day when He returns, we will literally, physically fix our eyes on Jesus, the one who is the answer, the one that life is all about, the one whom we will serve and worship for ever.