Earlier in Jesus’ ministry the disciples asked Jesus a question concerning a man who was born blind, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” The common belief among the Jews during this time was that great calamity fell upon those who had greatly sinned before God. Jesus answered, “neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents” (9:3). Unfortunately, over two-thousand years have passed and many in the world, including Christians, still believe that when others are suffering it is a result of their sin. Even worse, many who are burdened by physical ailments or some other form of suffering often conclude that they must have committed some terrible sin in their lives in order for God to “send” such terrible suffering their way. Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 9 is not the only instance that God, through His inspired Word, addresses the misconception that physical suffering is always a result of one’s sins.
In the Book of Job, Job was confronted with several different individuals who blamed God and Job for the suffering Job endured. Job’s wife offered this flawed advice, “curse God and die.” Job refused his wife’s conclusion but attributed his suffering to God (2:9-10). Three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, were convinced Job was being punished by God for his sin (Job 4:7-9; 8:6; ch.20). The reality was much different from their belief, for God said of Job, “there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (1:8). God was not punishing Job; the devil was persecuting him (1:12; 2:6-8). Do you believe that God’s conclusion about Job is misleading, and that Job was actually punished for his sins? Surely not, therefore, God fearing people have been given at least two examples of those who suffered for reasons other than their sins.
In Luke 13:1 Jesus was told of a great tragedy – the Galileans had been slaughtered by Pilate, who had mingled their blood with their sacrifices. Major wrote, “The Galilean zealots were notoriously turbulent, and Pilate was ruthlessly cruel. Many massacres marked his administration” (The Mission and Message of Jesus, 281, From Geldenhuys 371). How terrible their sins must have been for their lives to be taken in such gruesome fashion! No, Jesus taught, “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay…” (13:2-3a). Jesus, the Son of God, knew that the Galilaeans had not died because their sins were greater than their counterparts. They were victims of a murderer who was intent on doing evil. Then Jesus referenced the “eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them” (4a) Yet another instance in which the vilest sinners were killed in Jerusalem, right? Jesus said, “I tell you, Nah…” (5a). Their death was an unfortunate incident, an occasion when God’s natural law (gravity) was violated (Eccl. 9:11-12).
So what is Jesus’ point? Jesus corrected the common belief that those who suffered tragedy were greater sinners than others. Jesus said to the audience, “except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish” (3b, 5b). When suffering or death befalls others our first response should not be “they must have committed some grave sin before God – I am glad I am not like them!” Instead, it should shake our being and cause us to ask, “Am I ready for death? Have I prepared myself, as one who has also sinned before God, to meet the Lord Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment?” If you are suffering from ailment, it is not necessary to conclude that you have been inflicted because of your sin. However, like all who are mature, you should consider whether or not you are prepared for the Judgment Day and repent when necessary. T.W. Manson wrote:
“The fate of these people is a reminder not of their sins – they were neither better nor worse than many others – but of the urgency of the Gospel. Had they only known what was astir, been warned that Pilate was in a black mood or that the building was dangerous, they might have saved their lives. But there was nobody to warn them, and they perished” (565, from Geldenhuys 371).
Job, the blind man, the Galilaeans, and the eighteen all had something in common. They were all guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23), but did not suffer physically or die because of their sin. All these examples are given in the New testament to remind us that repentance is urgent and necessary in order to escape spiritual death (Rom. 6:23; Job 42:6; John 9:39-41). Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. It is necessary step to be added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:38) and to remain faithful to God (Acts 8:22). Yet I Trust.