On January 26, 2020, our world was shocked to hear of the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. He was just 41 years old. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also killed in the crash. Our hearts sink just thinking about the family members still alive that are affected by this. I was personally moved, because I can understand a little of the pain they are going through. I lost my brother, sister-in-law, and their unborn baby girl to a bus crash that happened right in front of me. It was a tragedy that seemed to sap the vitality of life right out of me. All of this tragedy has left many people asking the same age-old question that man has been asking:
If God is all-powerful and loving, why does He allow tragedy and death?
Does God just sit back and “let things happen?” Does nature operate with a mind of its own without God’s input? If it did, I suppose, that would be an advantage for the Christian. In that case, if the Christian were asked, “What’s God’s role in all this?” The Christian could simply respond, “Well, God doesn’t really have a role to play here. It’s just a natural disaster and so the responsibility for it is not with God.”
But that wouldn’t be a biblical view of God. If God is who He says He is – the Sovereign of the universe – then events like this carry with them large implications. Our biblical convictions about God’s sovereignty lead us to just two conclusions: either, 1) God is in everything or, 2) God is in nothing.
When those tectonic plates slip past each other and release all their pent up power, this is not something that just happens independently of God. When our loved ones are ripped away from us in what appears to be a moment of senseless horror, it was not a mistake by God. When we try to sidestep and avoid God’s responsibility in these tragic killings and pass these events off as natural or random occurrences, then we have reduced God into a hapless or impotent bystander. And yet, to bring God in and put Him at the helm of these events, while perhaps a thoroughly biblical thing to do, raises disturbing questions. Is God fair in allowing tragedy? How can you say that you believe in a God of love who would allow such horrific events to take place?
But before we begin to rage against the unfairness of it all, we would do well to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. The tragedy of death puts an exclamation point on the reality that we live in a fallen, broken, sin-cursed world.
Let me come at this from another angle. Each day some hundreds of thousands of people die. We see this as somehow natural. We follow funeral processions as if it is the natural course of events. Yet, humanly speaking, what is fair about that either? In fact, what is fair about any death? If God prevented all death save the death of one solitary person on the globe, that one death would also be unfair and perhaps even more so. So the question becomes much bigger than “why tragedy?” It becomes,“Why is there any death?”
That question has to be answered by Christians because we claim Scripture has the answers for all of life. My argument is that we cannot begin to answer this question without going back to the book of beginnings and taking Genesis history very seriously.
The Genesis history tells of the creation of a once good world in which death and suffering were not natural at all but were intruders. They invaded the scene uninvited and unwanted. They occurred because of man’s rebellion against his maker as Genesis 3 points out. And so tragedy in all its kinds find their ultimate reason in the fall of man.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:22)
We live on a groaning planet. When sin entered the world, it had a cosmic effect. The entire creation was thrown out of balance.
“And to Adam [God] said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you, in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:17)
No longer could God say as He did at the very beginning that it was good. So, when we wonder about things like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunami’s and the like and ask why God created such things, I believe that we are taught that, although is sovereign over all these things (Amos 3:6b; Isaiah 45:7; Lamentations 3:37-38), God did not make these things. These things are the result of the imbalance of nature that came about as a result of sin. Sin has left its ugly stamp and stain everywhere.
With those thoughts in mind, let me invite you to take a breath with me … and exhale. The air you felt just fill your lungs is a gift from an almighty God. It’s the most valuable gift of all. I want you to notice the care in which our Savior rehearses the catastrophic events at the Pool of Siloam.
“Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them,do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4)
Jesus knew immediately how many were lost on that day. I have little doubt that Jesus not only knew the number (18) but also the names of those who were lost on that day.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father [knowing].” (Matthew 10:29)
Surely, if our God cares for the little sparrows, he cares for us as well. He understands the brevity of life and He grieves when a life is snuffed out. What would Jesus do if he were with us today grieving the loss of loved ones? I think he would cry with us. He would weep because he feels and understands our pain (John 11:35).
Men and women are like shadows and vapors. Death is hard but death is very real. We are here for one moment and gone the next. There is no guarantee you will be able to draw another breath by the time you finish reading this article. What should we do? The day of your death may be tomorrow, or a few weeks from now, or a few months later. But be sure of this – it’s not far off! Moses said, “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deuteronomy 32:29). The brother of Christ put it this way, “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
Man is like a flower. His early days are marked by color and life, but then he wilts and withers. Gravity eventually wins out and pulls him back in to the soil from which he came. Our meditations on the tragedy should have brought you to an understanding of the briefness and frailness of life and an understanding of the finality of death. This finality should at once be sobering to you. The decisions that you make now are final once death comes knocking.
“So a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.” (Job 14:12)
Once you lie down in the grave there will not be another chance to rise up again and change your mind. Therefore, Jesus says, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
For centuries man has had an innate wonder: “What happens after death?” The most exhaustive study that has come down to us from antiquity is that of Cicero. Cicero concluded his long essay with the sentence, “Immortality of the soul is an established belief of all peoples.” There is nowhere on earth and no time in the history of mankind that does not hold, however fettered, the knowledge that there will be something after death. You can well understand, then, why Job would feel compelled to ask, “If a man die, will he live again?” (Job 14:14).
I’m not going to tell you that tragedy is easy. I’m not going to tell you that I have all the answers to your “why” questions about tragedy. But I can tell you based on Luke 13:1-5 that the fact that tragedy has not hit you and you are here to hear this message should show you God’s great patience. If you have not yet repented of your sin there is still time. But, don’t mistake God’s patience to mean that his judgment will never come. Death and final judgment could come at any moment.
It would be well for us to leave this subject with solemn inquiry: have you repented? This is a serious question that has eternal consequences. Nothing less than life – eternal life – is at stake. If you die impenitent, you will never find that life. The line is drawn that divides men: those who believe and those who don’t; those who will live forever and those who will die forever; those who have eternal life and those who have eternal death. Which group are you a member of today?
Perhaps, you belong to the redeemed. You have repented and you are prepared to face death. Can you solemnly ask yourself a question – What are you doing to tell others? You cannot help but read the urgency of Christ’s message in Luke 13. Twice he pleads with his listeners. Twice he cries out to them. Twice he pleads with them to make a decision.
“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Caleb Phelps was born and raised in New Hampshire and is an avid fan of all things New England sports. He grew up in a pastors home and was saved at the age of 12. As a young junior higher he sensed God's call on his life to go into full time Christian service. Caleb graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb served as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. In September 2018 the Lord moved Caleb and his family to Palm Bay, FL where he now serves as senior pastor at Faith Baptist Church.
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