The loss of life is both shocking and horrific. One moment celebrating the joy of life the next grieving in the pain of death. For those of us watching and listening at a distance, we can only imagine the heartache for family and friends as they try to come to terms with what has happened to their dearest and closest. Exams over, The summer to enjoy, The freedom of life, Happy memories to create – an accident that would cut short six young lives was the last thing on anyones mind. Death is cruel, it robs us of those we love the most and steals away our joy. As we remember we can only pray that in the midst of such brokenness and pain they will know and experience the comfort of others and the love and kindness of God.
We never plan for these events, we don’t live life thinking, Will it happen to me? Twenty four hours later we heard of yet more tragedy as nine people were shot dead in a South Carolina church. As the attending chief officer said: “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives.” Whether it’s a violent action or a tragic accident the sudden loss of life is never easy to explain.
It’s happened before
Sadly the recent events to hit our news are not new. They have happened before. The Gospel of Luke (Luke 13 verses1-5) records for us two events of similar proportions. Some people came to Jesus and told him about ‘the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices’. We don’t have all the details but it seems a group of people had gone to worship and pray. For no explicable reason (perhaps a reminder to the masses of who was in power), Pilate violently slaughtered them, cutting short their life. Those who came to Jesus with this news seemed to be looking for an explanation – ‘why do you think this has happened?’
If that event is not troubling enough Jesus reminds them of another terrible event: ‘those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them..’. Again we don’t know what happened, other than a tower on the city wall fell, killed and crushed it’s victims.
Like the nine people who went to pray in a church in South Carolina, like the six young people who were enjoying life on a balcony – suddenly and tragicly their lives came to an end.
Death comes to all
Jesus does not give us answers to all the questions we may have. He does not respond in the way we always want – but he does say something to us all about our life.
Jesus responds to one tragic event by telling the people of another. It’s a reminder that life does not go on forever – all life comes to an end. We all die. The reaction of many fellow students in Berkeley was: ‘It could have been me!’ And that’s the reality it could happen to anyone of us. We are fragile beings who do not control the number of days we have. Faced with the sudden and shocking loss of life we are confronted with our own mortality.
The reason for all death is sin
When Jesus responded to the tragic events he said something we would not expect: ‘Do you think that these were worse ‘sinner’s than all the others because they suffered in this way?…Do you think they were more ‘guilty’ than all the others?’
You see many have this ‘Karma’ view of life: Live a moral life and you will live long, Live an immoral life and you will die young. That is not true. Jesus dismisses outright this kind of thinking. How we die is not evidence of how good or bad we are. We make no judgement about those in the church or on the balcony. It’s not how or where we die but the fact we all die. The point Jesus is making is this: All death is evidence that we have all sinned. I may live a long and healthy life till I’m ninety, I may be struck down with cancer and die within a year…but however I die the reason is my sin. Death is part of our experience because we have rejected God’s loving rule over our lives, we have chosen to live apart from him and that always ends in death.
There is something worse than death
Like those who came to Jesus we are concerned about the here and now. But in his loving care Jesus directs us to think about what comes after death. While the people were all wondering: Why they died? What was the cause? How did they live? Jesus tells us to think about about our own life. In response to the murder in the temple and the falling tower Jesus says: ‘But unless you repent, you too will all perish’. To ‘perish’ is not just to die but to face the terrible reality of an eternal separation from God. In this life we enjoy so many good things; friendship, love, humour and creativity – all of these are good gifts from God. But to ignore God, to shut him out means an eternity without these things. It is a living death. So Jesus gently takes our focus away from the tragedy and pleads with us to be prepared for what happens after death: repent, turn away from self and turn to God.
There is something more wonderful than life
All death is sad and in particular there is nothing so heartbreaking than the sudden loss of life to those who are so young. In fact we all long for life to continue, we all dream that life could go on for ever where there are no more accidents and no more killings. But that is not just a dream that is also a reality. There is a life beyond this life. It is life as it is meant to be: A life were there is no more suffering, no more pain, no more tragedy, no more violence and crime, no more funerals and no more death. That is what Jesus has promised to all who repent.
How is this possible? Well as Jesus spoke about the murder in the temple and the tower that fell – he also became a victim of sudden death. Within a few months Jesus was also cut down in the prime of his life aged thirty three. He was slaughtered at the hands of a angry mob, crucified and nailed to a cross. But Jesus death was no accident, this was planned by God from before the creation of the world. Jesus died not because he was a ‘worse sinner’ or ‘more guilty’ – He was innocent! Jesus died because he took my sin and your sin on himself. Instead of God’s justice falling on us it fell on Jesus and crushed him. Jesus suffered the eternal death that you and I deserve so that we might be forgiven. Three days later Jesus rose again from the dead securing our eternal life with him. To know and experience this forgivenss and life, to guarantee this future we must turn from our selfish life and trust in his perfect life.
There is something more wonderful than this life, it is life in God’s eternal Kingdom where death is defeated and destroyed once and for all.
May God continue to comfort those who are grieving.