“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” (vv. 4–5).
Many people who heard Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse had such difficulty with our Lord’s words that they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Indeed, both the original hearers of Jesus’ teaching as well as those of us today who read His words in the Gospels often are struck by the difficulty of His teaching. Sometimes we have difficulty understanding what Jesus meant, but perhaps more often, we have trouble believing what He said. We will now take a break from our study of John’s gospel and spend a few days looking at some of the difficult teachings of Jesus with the help of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series The Hard Sayings of Jesus.
When tragedy strikes, people are frequently stunned into asking important questions that they have not thought about in a long time. We have seen this in recent years especially related to terrorism. Who could forget the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that destroyed buildings and killed thousands of people? We have also seen horrible natural tragedies such as the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 that created a tidal wave and ended up killing nearly 16,000 people. People see tragedies such as these and ask questions such as, “Where was God in this?” or, “Did those people do something to deserve such a tragedy?”
Men and women asked the same questions in the first century, as we see in today’s passage. Jesus makes reference to two horrible things that happened in His era. On one occasion, Pilate attacked some worshipers and mixed their blood with the animal sacrifices they were offering (Luke13:1). This was an act of deliberate evil on Pilate’s part. The other event Jesus mentioned is nondeliberate: the tower in Siloam fell on eighteen people, crushing them (v. 4). In both cases, Jesus knew the temptation for people was to ask what the victims did that was so bad to deserve such tragic ends. He knew the people would assume that they were somehow better than those who died.
Jesus used the opportunity to show the people that they were asking the wrong questions. Yes, there is a broad connection between all sin and suffering in that there is pain in this world only because Adam fell. But the Scriptures are quite clear that while suffering and sickness may sometimes be due to a person’s sin, that is by no means always the case (John 9:1–3). The real question is why such suffering does not happen more often, since we are all sinners and deserve nothing but judgment (Rom. 1:18–3:20). All suffering is an occasion to examine one’s heart.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The real question is not, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Rather, the key issue is, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Even the best of us has sinned against our infinitely holy God, so we deserve nothing more than divine wrath. The Lord is gracious beyond measure to us, and we should use that grace as an opportunity to look for sin in our hearts and repent.