A Tornado Did Not Rip Through Washington, D.C., Last Week
Last week, the wind tore through my neighborhood in northwest D.C., taking down a large limb behind my house and damaging a power line. It wasn’t anything close to a tornado, but if it had been, I have no doubt that some well-meaning preacher would’ve gone on national television the next day to explain why it happened.
Consistent with previous explanations, they would say that the capital city was specifically targeted by God because of His impatience with its wickedness. There were preachers who did it after the September 11 attacks; preachers who did it after Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans under water; and preachers who did it after 250,000 people were killed in the Indonesian tsunami.
I suppose that kind of thing is easy to preach unless your spouse is the one who was incinerated inside one of the Twin Towers, or your grandmother is the one who drowned in the Ninth Ward, or your entire family was buried alive by a wall of water from the Indian Ocean. Not only is it easy to preach, it’s an easy pill to swallow for those who aren’t directly affected, because it’s rooted in a karma-based logic that gratifies our desire for justice.
It goes something like this: There are so many bad things going on in the world – justice eventually has to be done, and it especially has to be done in wicked areas, where there’s such a high concentration of evil people (unlike my geographical location, which apparently has a higher concentration of godly people, and is therefore spared of such disasters).
Jesus dealt with the very idea that horrific circumstances are divine payback for bad behavior, and He rejected it.
There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5).
Jesus takes the natural human impulse to believe that God uses tragic circumstances as payback, and He turns it on its head. He basically says, “If you find yourself eager to condemn others who are suffering through horrible circumstances, you should better respond to that impulse by checking where you stand with God.”
Yes, God does cause it to “rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45); but something is wrong when we automatically assume that we are the just and they are the unjust. So the next time there’s a disaster and somebody declares God’s wrath against the victims, we need to check our hearts to see if we find that idea appealing. If so, we are the ones who need to repent and ask God to fill us with His tenderness towards all sinful people, including ourselves.
A big thanks to my mom for her helpful feedback in writing this post. To keep up with my latest posts, you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter. And if you’d like a weekly recap of what I’ve written, click here.