Responding to National Tragedy

jonah Perhaps the best way to respond to a national tragedy – or any kind of tragedy, is with mourning, repentance, and faith.

One especially relevant biblical account is that of Luke 13. Here, Jesus is told of a situation, in which Pontius Pilate had mingled the blood of some Galileans with their sacrifices. Jesus responded to this tragedy, saying: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:2-3; NKJV).

Jesus continued, by giving report of another, similar situation. There were some eighteen people in Jerusalem, who had been killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them. Jesus said: “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:4-5, NKJV).

You will notice that in both cases, Jesus first points out the fact that everyone who died was a sinner. (You might contrast this with today, in which both public opinion and not a few religious figures bestow instant beatification upon victims of a tragedy, regardless of the faith that those victims professed.) Human mortality points to the fact of sin; as Saint Paul says: “The wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23, NKJV).

Second, Jesus points out the fact that the survivors are all sinners, too. He directs them to turn from their sins in repentance lest “you all likewise perish”.

All of this might remind us of a situation in the Old Testament, at the time of Jonah the prophet. Jonah went to the Gentile city of Nineveh, proclaiming to them that the God of Israel was going to overthrow their city. The king of Nineveh and all the people of that city responded to Jonah’s preaching by mourning – with sackcloth, fasting, and ashes (Jonah 3). Nineveh’s king proclaimed: “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Jonah 3:7-9).

In faith, we look for salvation to the only true God. We can hardly believe that God would have saved Nineveh, if they had cried out for salvation to all of their false gods. The worship of false gods is solidly condemned by God in the Scriptures. And situations in which the worship of the true God is mixed with the worship of false gods (see 2 Chronicles 33) are solidly condemned as being “evil”.

Instead, when we are faced with tragedy, the best response is to confess the truth: We are sinners, and there is only one God who can save us, and that God is the One who has made Himself known to us by His Son, Jesus. We do not make such a confession when we gather together in the kind of public forum, in which leaders from a variety of religions (Christian and non-Christian) each take his assigned part of a joint-worship service, or in the kind of situation in which each religious leader takes his turn standing up to pray to his own god. Such practices give the impression that it does not matter what you worship, or to whom you pray. Such practices suggest that it’s best to cover your bases and pray (with Manasseh; 2 Chronicles 33) to all the host of heaven, a practice which the true God considers to be very evil indeed (2 Chr 33:6).

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