The devastating earthquakes in Haiti have evoked a massive outpouring of support from around the world. In the face of tragedy, many hearts have opened, pouring out the love of God toward those in need. But there are others who use tragedy as an opportunity to condemn the victims.
For example, some think God deliberately sent the earthquakes to punish Haiti for its sins. The same kind of thinking led many Christian leaders to say that the disastrous Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was God’s punishment on unbelievers and that the terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11/2001 were God’s punishment on abortionists, gay rights activists and the liberal filmmakers of Hollywood.
One problem with such thinking is that everybody is a sinner. Paul wrote, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And even if the liberal filmmakers of Hollywood actually were worse sinners than anybody else, they were in Hollywood, not the World Trade Center when the towers fell. If God were trying to punish specific groups of people, why does he seem to have such poor aim? After all, according to the Bible, it is the righteous who seem to do most of the suffering.
Ecclesiastes 8:1, for example, decries the unfairness of life, mourning the fact that the righteous get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked get what the righteous deserve.” The book of Psalms offers whole chapters lamenting why the wicked seem to thrive while the righteous suffer. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” says Psalms 34:19.
Jesus is certainly well acquainted with suffering. The Son of God became a man like us and suffered like us. But suffering will not last forever. God loved the world so much, John 3:16 tells us, that he gave his Son that whoever believes in him would have new life. And verse 17 adds that Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it (see John 3:16-17). If Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, how much less is it our role to condemn the victims of a horrible disaster?
Death is part of life, and just as surely as we live, someday we will die. But the good news is that death is not the end of our story. God didn’t make human beings for a life of tragedy and sorrow; he made us for his new creation of wholeness and joy. Lives racked by pain, oppression and deprivation now will be full, complete and whole in the life of the new creation.
Christians hold this hope in faith—faith in the Son of God who in love freely took up our human cause as his own, even to the point of a cruel and horrible death, and then was raised again, not only for himself, but for us.
It is in this hope and love that we extend compassion and help to others, and all the more in times of great need. As we do, we taste the deepest riches of the true life that is yet to come.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.