Calamity: Accident or Punishment?

by Sarah Boghosian August 12, 2014

Sunday morning (8/10) Liam Goligher preached "Calamity: Accident or Punishment?", examining Luke 13:1-5. With this sermon he continues his summer series Christ the Controversialist (Jesus Confronts His Critics).

Liam begins by reminding us that over the summer weeks we're looking at a number of controversies Jesus engaged in, and this morning we're examining an issue that was raised with him concerning calamity, or tragedy, or disaster—whether they are accidents or punishments. It's an issue that regularly comes up. Liam heard a while ago about John Humphries who is one of the UK’s most respected broadcasters. He’s on the BBC regularly. He wrote a book not long ago called In God we Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist. In it he manages to sound gracious and generous to those who have faith, but he recounts how it was he came to doubt the nominal Christianity with which he grew up. An incident in Russia: armed terrorists seized more than 1000 school children, and this siege ended with more than 176 of those children being killed. Humphries' struggle with reconciling calamity and the idea of a good and loving God is not a new one.

Human history and our daily news bulletins are full of disasters—whether they’re freak accidents or fierce atrocities. In the last 1000 years it’s estimated that 15 million people have died in natural disasters of one type or another, including plague. We are surrounded by these disasters, and when these things happen, we inevitably ask the question, "Why?" Perhaps the worst thing that can happen when you’re struggling with this question is facing those people who rise up to give us superficial answers. Others have no answer. It's apparent from Humphries' book that it was these facile, off-the-cuff, superficial answers that led to his rejection of his belief in God. And yet, Jesus will have none of those superficial answers.

In this chapter, Luke 13, people come to Jesus and they have in their mind their own presupposed answers to the questions they raise with him. They point out to him what was being reported in the news at the time. These tragedies that had occurred—they told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilot mingled with their sacrifices and about the building collapse that killed many innocent people. They had a presupposition in their mind. They wanted an answer, and they wanted someone to blame. And Jesus will not let it pass. He won’t allow them to have an idea that remains unchallenged.

Tragedy, disaster, calamity is a problem for those who believe in God. And you can respond to this in a variety of ways. You can believe in fate. Others respond in terms of free will. Still others put it down to personal sin, which is what the people speaking with Jesus did. Surely the people who died had committed a sin for which they were being punished.

Liam goes on to ask the question, "What does Jesus have to say about disasters and calamities?" Jesus assumes two things, and he avoids two things:

  • Jesus assumes God’s sovereignty.
  • Jesus assumes God’s goodness.
  • Jesus avoids answering the question, "Who is responsible?"
  • Jesus avoids placing the blame on the individuals.

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