Summary: When we see calamities, it is not ours to determine God’s exact purpose in ordaining them; instead, it is a reminder to repent.
Hurricanes, Terrorists, and Luke 13
WHAT JESUS SAYS ABOUT CALAMITIES
by Doug Smith
I am not normally a news junkie. But once in a while, something causes me to pay more attention to the news—such as September 11, 2001! I remember sitting at my desk when told about the planes hitting the World Trade Center. Keeping up with the news suddenly became much more important to me.
The recent Katrina and Rita hurricanes, have generated more interest in current events as well. But with the reporting of the news, opinions inevitably follow. One of the more popular opinions, among Christian writers, is that God’s judgment is on America, although they may not agree on the exact reason(s) for judgment. According to one antiabortion activist, Katrina – which he thought resembled an eight- week-old fetus in one satellite image – was God’s punishment for abortion in America. Others say there is no coincidence in the timing of the Jewish settlers being forced out of the Gaza Strip and the destruction and evacuation of many American homes in the Gulf area. Then others point out that the day Katrina hit New Orleans was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were scheduled to march in a parade called “Southern Decadence.”
But the question we must ask is, “What does God say about these calamities?” And Jesus has not left us in the dark when it comes to the issue of why things like terrorist attacks and natural disasters occur. In Luke 13:1, some people bring news to Jesus that Pilate slaughtered some Galilean worshipers with their sacrifices. Not only do they bring news, but they have an opinion on the news. They do not state their opinion, but Jesus reveals their thoughts when He answers them in verse 2, “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things?”
Jesus knew that the people believed that the tragic massacre was a direct result of some great sin of the Galileans. This kind of thinking was not new. Job’s friends accused him of some secret sin, since he was suffering. People inquired about a blind man in John 9:2, “Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” This kind of thinking causes people today to say that a hurricane happened at a particular place and time because of a particular lifestyle or sin.
How does Jesus answer their unspoken question of whether these Galileans suffered this calamity because they were worse sinners than other Galileans? He responds, saying, “Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.” In other words, Jesus says to the people, “You need to change the way you think. You have no right to say that this calamity was a commentary on the lives of the Galileans; instead, this calamity is a message for you. If you don’t repent, then you’ll perish like them.”
God uses calamities to call us to repentance as well. After the enormous and deadly Asian tsunami of late 2004, John Piper wrote, "Every deadly calamity is a merciful call from God for the living to repent" ("Mercy for the Living" in WORLD Magazine, January 15, 2005). We ought not to consider tragic news in an impersonal, detached manner. We must not claim to know God’s hidden purposes in calamities. Instead, we must repent or perish.
THE MEANING AND IMPORTANCE OF REPENTANCE
To repent means to change the mind. And it is not merely a change of mind, but a change of mind that results in a change of attitude and therefore affects behavior.
Listen to the Word of God in Isaiah 55:7: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
Hear Ezekiel 18:30-32: "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.”
When Jesus calls us to repent, he calls us to change our mind about ourselves and our sin. We must change our minds about Him, so that we may live and not perish.
Luke’s writings are full of statements about, and illustrations of, repentance. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:22). Ninevah repented at Jonah’s preaching, and a greater than Jonah had come (Luke 11:32). There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). The prodigal son “came to himself” and changed his mind and returned to his father (Luke 15:17- 18).