When People Suffer, Is It Because They Are Worse Sinners?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered?"

Luke 13:2

When some major disaster strikes, it’s not uncommon for some Christians to proclaim that they got what they deserved. For example, when Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake in January of 2010, several notable American Christians explained that it was God’s judgment on Haiti because of its idolatry and immorality. Haiti got it bad because the citizens of that country are worse sinners than the rest of us, or so the story ran.

This kind of reasoning isn’t new. In fact, Jesus addressed a similar perspective that appears to have been popular in his own time. The context was a vile deed by Pontius Pilate. Our translation says that he “had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple” (13:1). In fact, Pilate did something even more insulting, not only killing the Galilean pilgrims but also mixing their own blood in the blood used for sacrifices, thus desecrating the Temple as well as slaughtering innocent people.

As the Jewish people tried to make sense of this tragedy, some apparently figured that the murdered Galileans must have been worse sinners than others. This alone would provide some theological explanation for the apparent tragedy. But Jesus did not affirm this perspective. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” he asked (13:2). His answer: “Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God” (13:3).

First, Jesus refuted the argument that bad things happen only to bad people who deserve it because they are worse sinners. Life doesn’t work this way. God’s will is far more complicated than this. But Jesus went beyond mere refutation. He sensed in the people a tendency to see themselves as morally better than the murdered Galileans. This self-aggrandizement kept them from acknowledging their own sin and turning to God.

If we try to explain tragic events on the basis of degrees of sin, we are mistaken. How silly and heartless it would be, for example, to suggest that Joplin, Missouri experienced a deadly tornado because it was morally worse than the next town over. Yet, explaining suffering on the basis of the sinfulness of others might very well keep us from dealing with our own sin, thus missing the grace of God that is offered to us through Christ. When I see the hardships of others, I should be brought to my knees in prayer for them, even as I am reminded of my own desperate need for God.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever hear people trying to explain the sufferings of others in terms of their sinfulness? How do you respond to this? What are some of the things in life that keep you from turning to God in confession and repentance?

PRAYER: Gracious God, keep me from trying to explain the suffering of others in a way that is superficial and false. Preserve me from judging others so that I don’t deal with my own sin. Give me right thinking as well as compassion for those who suffer.

I am reminded today to pray for the people of Haiti. They have suffered and continue to suffer much. May they find comfort in you. May they experience your love through Jesus Christ. May they rebuild their country in a way that reflects the righteousness, justice, and peace of your kingdom. I pray, in particular, for the Christians of Haiti, that you will encourage and empower them, to live for you in all that they do.

I pray today, in particular, for Haiti’s new President, Michel Martelly. Give him your wisdom to lead his country. Bless also Daniel-Gerard Rouzier, the man appointed to be Prime Minister. If he is approved by Haiti’s parliament, guide him and protect him. May your presence be known in Haiti, Lord, so that many are drawn to you and so that the country might experience your peace. Amen.

P.S. from Mark

I am asking you to join me in prayers for Haiti today for several reasons. One has to do with Daniel-Gerard Rouzier, the man who will be Haiti’s next prime minister if he is approved. Daniel is a longtime friend of Laity Lodge, where he has often come to retreats. A couple of years ago, he shared his stirring witness as a Christian who is seeking to live out his faith each day. I am not in a place to have an opinion about Daniel’s political viewpoints. But I do know that he is a man of integrity and courage, a Christian brother with a deep, articulate, and mature faith in Christ. Daniel will sacrifice much if he becomes Prime Minister. I hope you will join me in praying for him, his family, his safety, his leadership, and his country.

A second reason I’m thinking about Haiti has to do with Laity Lodge Youth Camp. Once again this year, a team from LLYC will go to Haiti to help build and run a camp for Haitian kids. Jacob’s Well Youth Camp is an amazing ministry of which we are pleased to be a partner. You can find more information about LLYC’s Outbound Haiti here. Please join me in praying for this outreach to the children of Haiti.