When Bad Things Happen
In Jesus’ day, there was a deadly thought that had entered the minds of the Jews. This deadly little thought pervades our own thinking as well. It’s the thought that God mostly deals with us based on justice. It’s the thought that things are relatively good in our lives because we deserve it. Sure we aren’t perfect, but God knows our hearts and apparently he likes what he sees, right? I mean, I have a house and an iPhone to prove it. Of course, the flip side of this is dark and sinister. We see something bad happen to someone, and somewhere between the back of our mind and tip of tongue comes the thought, “Well, they must have done something to deserve it.” Jesus clarified this issue in Luke 13.
Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)
 There were some present at that very time who told him 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.”
We don’t know exactly what event Jesus is referring to, but apparently a terrible thing had happened to some Galilean Jews. And the murmur had started. “They must have been doing something wrong for God to let them suffer like that.” Jesus clarifies a tough truth for us here. When we see something bad happen, we shouldn’t say, “what did they do wrong?” We should ask, “Why was God merciful to me?”
“Why has God not destroyed you since you got up this morning?” That’s a question Jonathan Edwards asked his church to consider one fine Sunday morning. It’s an uncomfortable thought isn’t it? Yet as we consider the message of the bible, this is a good question to ask. We have a ready answer for it. Mercy. God hasn’t destroyed me because he is inclined towards mercy.
RC Sproul says this about mercy and justice in his commentary on Luke 13:
“One of the biggest problems that we have in understanding the Christian faith is that we have not understood two of the most fundamental concepts of the Bible: If we think that God is obliged to be kind to us, that he owes us mercy, then we are confusing mercy and justice. There is an obligatory sense to justice. Justice describes what ought to be done to reward those who have been righteous and to punish those who have been wicked. But mercy, by definition, is never an obligation to God. Again and again God says, ‘I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.’ If grace is owed, it is not grace, it is debt. That’s the point of the New Testament.
Every human being walks in this world under the sentence of death. Every human being has violated God and his holiness. The very fact that we are allowed to live from moment to moment is because of his grace. But God’s grace and mercy and patience are designed to lead us to repentance. However, they can lead instead to a hardened heart, whereby we begin to presume upon his grace and take it for granted.
We lose our capacity to be surprised by him. So when a tragedy befalls us, we turn in anger to the Lord God of glory, who fills our lives with grace and mercy every day. Jesus detected that kind of hardness of heart in those asking this question, and found it necessary to give a severe warning: ‘But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’ Oh that we might understand the difference between justice and mercy.”
Consider your own life today. Ask the hard question, “Why has God been good to me?” You won’t find your answer in anything you are or have done. You will find your answer in Christ crucified.
Daily Reading: Today’s bible reading is Luke 13.