Guilt by Catastrophe

Tower-of-Siloam1People have debated the cause and purpose of suffering for centuries.  Job is the person most associated with this struggle to discover why.

The book of Job is about 4 miserable friends who visit Job to be of some comfort to him.  Instead they only add to his pain.  “Stop assuming my guilt,” he told them.  “….for I have done no wrong,” Job 6:29.

The question of suffering is never solved.  No one has ever been able to say categorically that this or that is the reason suffering occurs.  The best answers are simply a well-educated guess based on the character of God and the evil of our world. That said, I believe that suffering arises from the choices that human beings make in the exercise of their free will.

On one occasion some people informed Jesus that Pontius Pilate had murdered some people at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Pilate was Governor of Judea by appointment of the Roman emperor, and he is also associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.  The people bringing this information would have probably accepted the wide-spread belief that there was a direct correlation between all suffering and sin.

Knowing that, Jesus asked if they thought that the people who Pilate killed were somehow more unrighteous than other people in Galilee where they lived. Or, Jesus asked, what about the people killed by a falling tower in Jerusalem? Were they worse than others living in Jerusalem?

The assumption of a direct connection between catastrophe and sin contains some assumptions:

  • The first assumption is that there is a hierarchy of sin. So, assuming that, the people who Pilate killed were guilty of something more egregious than the rest in Galilee.
  • The second assumption is that there is divine initiative in the punishment and that God caused Pilate to kill the worshipers. If there was a correlation between the sin and the catastrophe, then there also had to be a Someone causing the catastrophe. This would be the same condition for the tower falling – a divine hand caused the tower to fall. Randomness and intention cannot go together.
  • The third assumption is that if there is a direct correlation between catastrophe and sin, then you have to apply that equation to all catastrophe: hurricane Katrina, the Sandy Hook shootings, rape, the Holocaust, barrel bombs in Syria, and starvation in Africa. You can’t hand-pick what you want to be correlated or not.

In the Luke passage, Jesus says that the only assumption we should make is that all creation is failed and in need of repentance. Everything else is irrelevant and random.


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