Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)
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.”
This is a strange encounter between Jesus and the people. It seems that some folks had a morbid curiosity about a group of people who died horribly at the hands of King Herod. They wanted to know why this happened. Were those who died especially bad people? Was God getting them for what they had done?
Jesus’ response to his questioners about the suffering of those Galileans probably did not satisfy. At the same time, Jesus’ response is very instructive for us. Our Lord pointed out that the Galileans did not suffer the shameful deaths they suffered because they were worse sinners than the people standing before Jesus. Then Jesus went further and told the crowd that, if they did not repent, they would perish too.
To add emphasis, Jesus pointed to another story that the people apparently knew well. There was a group of people who died in a more natural-looking disaster; a tower fell on them. If ever something looked like the punishment of God on evil people, a structure falling on their heads without human intervention would qualify. But Jesus did not allow the crowd to entertain this notion. Again, he simply pointed out that if the people standing before him did not repent, they would perish too.
What are we to learn from all this? What does it teach us about human suffering? One truth is that we have a morbid curiosity about those who suffer. We want to know whether people who face hardships are facing them because they have somehow done something to deserve it. But Jesus lets us know that this is none of our business. He does not even entertain our questions here. Instead, he uses the illustration of the deaths of people to remind us that if we do not turn from our sins and turn to God, a death worse than natural death awaits us.
So, when you see suffering and hardship in the world around you, do not think you can explain exactly why it happened. You cannot. You are not God. Nor can you assume that you are free from pain because you are better than those who suffer. You are not. Let the hardships of others remind you that you deserve the judgment of God. Let it call you to repent of sin and seek the mercy of Jesus. Let it lead you to thank God for the good that you have.
What if you are suffering a hardship? You cannot assume that your pain is a punishment from God for your sin. You cannot assume that you are somehow a worse person and that is why you suffer. However, you should understand that you, just like the person not suffering, need to seek God’s mercy, turn from sin, and honor Christ in all that you are. Is it possible that God is using your pain to correct you? Of course this is possible. Is it possible that God is allowing you to go through a valley for a reason that is totally beyond your ability to understand on this side of eternity? You bet.
God’s ways are not ours. He is greater than us and totally good. Let us trust him and run to him whenever we see the hardships of this life, whether ours or another’s.