The tragedies just won't stop coming. The Manchester bombing, the London van and stabbing attack, the fire in the tower block. When coupled to the hung parliament and approaching Brexit negotiations life feels more fragile than usual. More uncertain.
There are a variety of ways that people respond to events like these. Some try to take control. Move to the countryside, check their smoke detectors, introduce legislation. But if there's anything that the last month shows it is that we can't control what happens in our lives. Most of the time we respond to events, rather than design them.
There is a right compassion for those who have suffered and are suffering. There is prayer. That is the word that was plastered in billboards across Manchester and tied to railings in Kensington yesterday. There is anger. Sometimes against the perpetrators of atrocities. Sometimes against the authorities who people feel should have done more in terms of security or fire safety or sensitive response.
There is even anger against God, often from people who don't believe in him. "How can there be a loving God when he lets suffering like this happen?" It's both an understandable question and a deeply ironic one. If there is no God why bother getting angry with him? And if there is no God, then you just have to accept in the face of pain and suffering: "It" happens! That's life. The life that we've made for ourselves.
Because we can't blame God for the state of the world we live in. It is the one we have chosen. A world where human beings have decided to rule by their own wisdom. A world where we are incapable of legislating against the evil of the human heart. The desire for self that is seen in the willingness of people to brutally murder children or scrimp on fire safety for the sake of money or simply just push past a frail and elderly couple as I saw on the Underground yesterday.
Jesus has a very surprising answer to what people should do in the face of tragedy. It comes in Luke 13. Here's a slightly longer Bible passage than usual:
'Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’" (Luke 13:1-5)
The news headlines have been full of two events: Firstly a group of Galileans, probably rebels (maybe even regarded as terrorists by the Romans), who the Roman governor Pilate has brutally made on example of, by killing at the temple as they went to make their sacrifices. Secondly, the structural failure of a tower near a famous pool, a sight for tourists and pilgrims, that led to 18 people being crushed to death.
The question on the minds of people was: What have they done to deserve this? It's the question you ask when you assume that there is a God who justly rules over his creation. It's based on the belief that good things will happen to good people and bad things will happen to bad people. We show that we buy into that belief when we say things like: "Why did he die so young? He was such a kind man!" Or even when people say, "How can a loving God allow people to die like that?" Our assumption is that they don't deserve it.
Jesus' answer is that they don't deserve it - any more than you do! The Bible is clear that we are all guilty and deserve death for rejecting God the author of life. And that as a result God has given the world over to our rule. He has given us what we want.
The result of tragedies that we see around us should be not to blame God, but to turn back to him. As we see the world that we have made, we should repent. When we do we will find a loving heavenly Father who chose to send his own Son to suffer and die, though he was innocent, so that he can forgive us and welcome us into relationship with him. A relationship that will go through death and into a world without terrorism or tower fires. A world where we will enjoy his perfect loving rule - forever.