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?
When the September 11 attacks happened I was still very young and I remembered people around me saying that there were Christians who died. Of course there were Christians who died, but it was a remark that raised questions that nobody dared to ask – where’s the justice in that? Where’s God in that? When the Indian Ocean earthquake and the subsequent Tsunami struck in 2004, I was barely a teenager, and I remembered that it was a Sunday, and people were saying that some were worshipping the Lord when they died. Suffering is a big topic, and suffering caused by natural disasters have always happened, even in the days of Christ. The Tower of Siloam was perhaps an early version of something like the Tsunami; the murder of the worshipping Galileans was perhaps an early version of something like September 11. Suffering is a big topic – even just a small branch of it, on natural disasters, will take us a long time to ponder. In today’s study, we will simply look at the implications of this verse in response to suffering.
1. Bad things do happen to good people
Accidents happen. I don’t know about you, but I live in a Asian society that is so used to the concept of karma that sometimes it is easy to forget that accidents happen to everyone – accidents were meant to happen to everyone. Right from the very first place, bad things do happen to good and bad people. The general idea that the good will be rewarded and the bad will be punished still stands, but we cannot assume the converse to be true – that bad things will never happen to good people and good things will never happen to bad people. This idea was already very thoroughly shot down in the book of Job, where his three friends single-mindedly insisted on his guilt and deduced that he must have sinned greatly for such an awful punishment to befall on him. Job was the best example of bad things happening to good people. Yet Job had his reprieve. What about the people of the Tower of Siloam?
2. There is a time limit for repentance
The motive of those who posed him the question of the perceived unjust murder of the Galileans was most likely a hunt for the answer to why are bad things happening to good people. Jesus answers the question by throwing it back and instead choosing to focus on those who are listening. Twice in that episode Jesus told them, unless you repent, you too will all perish. The parable of the fig tree basically serves to reinforce this point as well. Unless we repent, we too will all perish. You may be good. You may be righteous and do only the good things that you’re supposed to do. Yet, as we’ve pointed out earlier, you could still be the subject of a circumstance that is entirely not up to you. You may be driving in the middle of a quiet road when a tree falls and crush you to death. You may be a good person and yet get struck by lightning. In other words, because you’re not guaranteed a long life, and you do not know your lifespan and you do not know when you will die, you are essentially living on limited time, and hence there is a time limit for your repentance of your sins.
3. Putting fairness into perspective
If we were wondering if it was unfair that the Galileans died in such a way, Jesus did not give us any reason to make their deaths seem at all reasonable. No – these Galileans who died were not secretly great sinners; the eighteen who died in the tower of Siloam were just as innocent. In other words, it was indeed unfair. They were not any more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem, but yet they were the ones who had died. Not quite fair, is it?
We mentioned earlier the point of the time limit – and our limited time on earth is always a reminder of our eternal life in the Lord. The promise of eternal life puts our earthly suffering into context. Our suffering in this world is momentary. If we take our lifetime divided by eternity, it will be a negligible amount of time. We need to understand the context of eternity, otherwise we will never be able to answer the question of whether God is fair or not. Because there is eternal life, our earthly suffering is momentary – even if our suffering results in our death. Our reward and deliverance comes in the time of eternity. If we merely think in our limited time and limited humanity, it is unjust indeed. And while I don’t think we can ever explain the justice of God, and while I don’t think God owes us an explanation, I believe that understanding the concept of eternality will resolve a lot of questions about this perceived injustice.
There will be many more cases of modern day Tower of Siloam happening. The question of whether God is just and God is fair will rise again and again in our lives as we struggle with our earthly sufferings. Yet let us remember not to be shocked or surprised that suffering is happening to us [1 Peter 4:12|Article] – like Job and many other Biblical characters, bad things do happen to good people. Some of these bad things result in death – and this is a reminder to us that we have a time limit to repentance. Most importantly, let us learn to grasp the concept of eternity and eternal life – because that will put the fairness of God into a different perspective for us.