Every Monday and Thursday, I visit a chiropractor in the morning before work. Yesterday morning, Fort Worth and the north Texas area was hit with heavy thunderstorms during morning rush hour. Because of traffic delays and three accidents along the way, I was about 40 minutes late to my appointment. Thankfully my chiropractor and my church both understood. But for the people involved in the car accidents I drove past that morning, this was not the case.
On the interstate, a pickup truck had flipped on its side. Several ambulances and fire trucks surrounded the scene, blocking the entire roadway (thus the horrendous traffic backup). On the exit ramp I was planning to take, a jackknifed 18-wheeler blocked the entire ramp and I was forced to take a different road. And a third truck had crashed on the interstate before I made it to the chiropractor. All three appeared to be fairly serious incidents. I couldn’t help but wonder about the victims as I drove past them. Was everyone involved safe and unhurt? Obviously there was significant vehicle damage in all three cases, but more importantly I was concerned about what happened to the people involved.
Tragedy is all too common these days. While I do not know for sure what happened to the people in those accidents yesterday, two major events have happened recently in which death is involved. First, tornadoes ravaged much of the Southeast last week. Tuscaloosa, Alabama is one of the primary spots hit hard by the weather, but parts of Mississippi and Louisiana were also struck. Secondly, as is well known by now, Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan on Sunday. While I am well aware that “tragedy” may not be the best description of this event, it is still an event that involves death.
This very concept is what has been on my mind today. Innocent victims died in the South and a very guilty man died overseas, and the idea of death has a very different tone for each. Words such as “devastation” and “tragedy” have been used to describe the tornadoes. When President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed, however, his vocabulary was very different. “Justice has been done” was the message he sent to the American people. I wonder, though, if we should view the events so differently. Two prominent questions remain. First, what should we think about these events? Second, what does God think?
I think we should seek to answer the second question first, because I believe the answer to the second question also answers the first one.
What does God think about what has happened to the victims of the tornadoes? Different viewpoints have emerged. In typical Pat Robertson fashion, some have claimed that God sent the tornadoes as a judgment on the people living in the affected communities. With Osama bin Laden, some have similarly claimed – John Piper in particular – that God struck him down. But is such a view truly biblical?
I think Jesus answers this question in Luke 13:1-5. It appears that Jesus encountered similar circumstances. He speaks of two different accounts of death. While we don’t know the complete story behind what had happened, it sounds like Pilate, a Roman ruler, had killed some people from Galilee. The second account describes people who fell victim to a disaster – a tower collapsed and fell, killing some people on whom it landed. Jesus asks a rhetorical question – “are they more guilty than anyone else?” The obvious answer is no.
Similarly, were the victims of the tornadoes in the South more deserving of such an event than anyone else? Obviously not. Even though it’s a chilling thought, we are all sinners just as much as even Osama bin Laden. To say that God wiped these people out because of something they did would mean that God is inconsistent, and this is not the case. While God can use events like these as reminders of our need for Him – and I absolutely believe God does do this – it’s entirely a different story to assert that He purposefully caused these events to happen.
The Bible tells us just the opposite, in fact. Ezekiel 18:32 tells us that God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked (such as Bin Laden). The story of Job and the blind man in John 9:1-3 tell us that circumstances are not a result of sin (such as the tornadoes in the South). The story of Hosea tells us that God continues to pursue us with love even when we act as His enemies. While God is indeed capable of wrath, God offers us love even when we don’t deserve it – this is the Gospel itself.
So as we consider events such as the death of Osama bin Laden, natural disasters such as the recent tornadoes in the South, and anything that may happen in the days to come, be careful in your consideration of these events. Know that God does not wish death on anyone, but in fact desires all to be saved (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7). And as God does not rejoice in death, neither should we – whether it is the loss of fellow Americans to a natural disaster or a hated terrorist overseas.