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What We Should Learn From The Tragedy In Central America

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Arizona Daily Sun, November 27, 1998

The statistics from the recent storm in Central America are staggering—over 10,000 dead, over 600,000 homeless! In Flagstaff terms, that would be one out of five dead and over ten times our population homeless! It’s hard to fathom that much human suffering!

When something like this happens, skeptics always ask, “Where was God in this tragedy? If God is both loving and powerful, why did He allow this to happen?” These are not new questions, of course. For centuries, thinking people have wrestled with the problem of suffering. I can’t resolve it in this brief article, but I would point out that removing God from the equation does not solve the problem. If you assume that there is no God, you should get the bumper sticker that says, “Life is tough; then you die.” If you take God out of the picture, you remove all hope!

The answer to the problem of suffering given in the Bible is the only one I have found to make any sense. In a nutshell, suffering and death are in this world as the penalty imposed by God because of our sin and rebellion against Him (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12). Because He is just and righteous, God cannot dismiss our sin without penalty. But because He is also loving and merciful, God provided a means for us to escape the ultimate penalty, eternal separation from Him (called the second death in Revelation 20:14): He sent Jesus Christ to bear the penalty we deserve. All who trust in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross are completely pardoned and receive eternal life as God’s gracious gift (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

But perhaps you’re thinking, “Does this mean that all those people in Central America who died or lost loved ones were greater sinners than the rest of us?” A story in Luke 13:1-5 answers this question. Jesus refers there to two tragedies that had happened in Palestine around that time. Pilate, the Roman governor, had slaughtered some Galilean Jews while they were offering religious sacrifices. And, in another instance, a tower in the village of Siloam had collapsed and killed 18 people. In both instances, Jesus asks, “Do you suppose that these victims were worse sinners than others because they suffered in this manner?” His answer in both cases is the same: “No, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

What did Jesus mean? Several things: First, when we talk about “innocent” victims in some tragedy, we are using the word “innocent” from a human perspective, not from God’s perspective. From God’s point of view, none are innocent. We all have need of repentance or we will come under His judgment. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). By “perish,” Jesus was referring not to physical death (which we all must face), but to the second death, perishing eternally because of God’s righteous judgment on our sin. By repentance, Jesus meant that we should turn from our selfish, sinful ways to God and trust in His provision for our sin—Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Also, Jesus is saying that when a tragedy hits, we who survive should take it to heart. We never know the day that we will die and stand before the holy God. Are we prepared to face Him should such a tragedy befall us? If not, the tragedy should be a wake up call: It could happen to us! If we do not repent before that day, we will perish!

In Romans 11:22, Paul marvels at both the kindness and severity of God. A tragedy like that in Central America should cause us to do the same. The suddenness and severity of what happened should warn us of the coming judgment which will be far worse (read the Book of Revelation if you need a reminder of what is coming!). You will not escape if you neglect the great salvation God now offers. But, also, marvel at God’s kindness. You are still alive. God is graciously giving you more time. Your first response to what happened in Central America should be to get right with God before it is too late.

Also, the kindness of God should move us to generous compassion toward the victims in Central America. At this holiday season, I urge you to show God’s compassion by sending a generous donation to a reputable charity that is assisting the victims there.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Character of God, Cultural Issues, Engage, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Suffering, Trials, Persecution, Worldview