One of the most common questions people ask about God and religion is: why do bad things happen to good people? Is God up there in heaven boiling with wrath to punish us for our sins?
That’s a great question.
In doing research for this coming Sunday’s Gospel lesson, the answer was clear. No, God is not punishing us for our sins. We have a patient and loving God who waits for our return so that we can live life with the full confidence of God’s mercy.
The passage I was exploring was Luke 13:1-5. This comes just before the passage we’ll read on Sunday.
There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo’am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
(LUKE 13:1-5 RSV)
(The pool of Siloam, mentioned above, is pictured above.)
In short, they were asking: did these people die a horrible death because it was their punishment for sin?
Jesus very clearly rejects this idea.
There is no connection between guilt and punishment. This doesn’t mean we won’t be tempted, nor does it mean we won’t suffer in this life. But it does mean, we don’t worship a wrathful God.
Rather than playing in the hands of the questioners, who look backwards at the death of others to try and explain it in terms of their past (sins), Jesus reorients us to the future–being reoriented towards God in a healthy way.
Sin, in short, is rebellion against God. But, if we repent, that is, turn back to God by following his gospel teaching, then we come home.
Walking with God according to the gospel is to live in solidarity with others. It’s a life of love for others.
The mystery of evil still remains, but we are assured that God is not “dishing” out his vengeance on us. Instead, he’s patiently waiting for our return. He wants us to walk with him, rather than against him.
Our fate doesn’t depend on our sins but on God’s forgiveness. We repent, go to confession, and love, not to avoid pain, suffering, or death, but to face those challenges in the confidence of God’s mercy.
P.S. Experience God’s Love this Sunday!