Again: So Many Accidents! Why?
In the previous issue, we considered accidents from the perspective of the glorification of God’s Name and the coming of His kingdom. In what follows we pay attention to another perspective, namely, that they be considered as a warning for all of us. In this respect we have to be careful not to go in the wrong direction when we see here a warning. Here, too, we have to let ourselves be guided by the Word of God. In other words, the question “Why?,” placed in the title, has to receive an answer again from the Scriptures.
Accidents are Not to be Seen as Punishment for Specific Sins
When things go “wrong” the thought can arise: Is God punishing me? Is He punishing us? Is He angry with us because of our sins? Although this is possible in clear-cut cases of an obviously sinful life without God, the Lord Himself teaches us to be very careful on this point and to watch out for concluding from misery to sin as the reason. Job’s friends drew such a conclusion when they saw his misery. God showed how wrong these so-called friends were.
Another example of this wrong thinking and conclusion is the doctrine of the Pharisees in the time of the New Testament. When the Lord met a man born blind, the disciples asked Him the question: Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? (John 9:2). The disciples, taught by the teachers of the law, saw the man’s blindness from birth as God’s punishment for grave sins. On this point they had no questions. The Pharisees did not either. Later on that day they said to the man: “You were wholly born in sin” (9:34). But the disciples did have this question: Who sinned, the man or his parents? A baby cannot sin so badly before he is born, can he? So, did the parents sin? But, then, God teaches that a child will not be punished for the sin of the parents. Ezekiel 18:20 is very clear on this point. With the parents, but not for the parents. Each will be punished for his own sins. Christ answered that the disciples’ problem was based on a false premise. This blindness was not at all the consequence of and punishment for specific sins. On the contrary, this misery, endured for years by both the man and his parents, had to be seen in the perspective of the coming of God’s kingdom and the glory of the Name of God and of His Son. The man was blind from birth in order “that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). God’s saving work through Christ was to be made manifest in the healing of the man. This healing was a clear testimony to the people and their leaders that the Lord Jesus was doing God’s work, and could not be a sinner.
A third word of Christ with the same lesson is given us in Luke 13. In the preceding chapter we read how, at a certain time, the Lord warned for God’s anger and judgment against disobedience. Most likely in connection with this serious warning, some people in the audience told Him about a terrible event, probably suggesting that in it one could see such a punishing judgment of God. They told this story: When some Galileans were in the process of bringing sacrifices to God, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate mixed their own blood with that of their sacrifices. Here again is the same linking of misery to sin as its cause. The Lord said in response, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” And Christ added another example of misery, one that happened not to “those Galileans” – who, as Galileans, were considered very sinful anyway – but to the “better” people in Jerusalem. Moreover, this second example was even more “an act of God” since there was no human hand involved. The Lord asked, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them, do you think that they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” And again the warning was added, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
The first teaching from these passages is clearly that we must not conclude from illness or accident to greater sinfulness and God’s special anger. Such a conclusion would be just as wrong today as in the days of Job and of the disciples. Making such a link would do wrong to those who hurt already and would go against God’s Word.
Accidents can be Taken as a Call for All to Repentance
However, the second teaching from the passage in Luke 13 is that Christ added to both events the exhortation for all of His listeners to repent. The Lord came with the call for self-examination to all: “If you do not repent...” Thus, we may say that accidents also function in underlining the call to repentance from sin to which the Scriptures call all of us. They exhort us to examine our lives. Do we live for the LORD with an undivided heart? Do we seek to serve Him with all our mind and might? Do we live not just according to some but according to all His commandments?
Hebrews 12:1-12 comes to mind here. This passage speaks about the difficult hardships in the life of the believers addressed in this letter. These hardships are called the “discipline of the LORD.” We are reminded of the Scripture’s “word of encouragement” addressing us “as sons,” namely in Proverbs 3:11-12. Part of this text reads:
For the LORD disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.
Peter gives the same message in his first epistle when he writes that God’s purpose with our life is not our (eternal) death but that we reach our destination of the eternal inheritance “kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5). It is through faith that we reach this destination. And it is this guarding power of God that builds our faith, writes Peter, when God leads us through “various trials, so that the genuiness of your faith, more precious than gold ... may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
In the last part of chapter 4 of this same letter, the verses 12-19, we read the following words: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you (the painful trial you are suffering [NIV]), as though something strange were happening to you” (v 12). In verse 17 Peter adds,
For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?’
In Brief Annotations (Korte Verklaring) on this passage (esp. v 17-19), Dr. S. Greijdanus writes:
For it is the time ... that the judgment of purification (1 Corinthians 11:19) and cleansing (1 Peter 1:6-7) begins from the house of God. The Lord’s congregation, the believers, for whom there will be no judgment in eternity for the sake of the sacrifice of Christ, and who, therefore already in this temporal, earthly life have to suffer the judgment which is necessary for them and is determined for them, even though it is not as a punishment or a payment of debt, because the Lord Christ has taken away all their debts... When already those who believe the gospel and have accepted the Lord Christ and possess Him as their Saviour, nevertheless, cannot remain free from affliction and oppression, which, however, have to serve their salvation, how terrible must, then, be the judgment which is coming on those who reject the message of salvation of God and His Christ with His atoning sacrifice?
Greijdanus refers to 1 Corinthians 11:19. Also important is what Paul writes in the same context about a lack of proper self-examination for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Sitting at the table of the Lord was not matched by a holy life in obedience of faith to the Lord’s commandment of love for the brotherhood. After the call for this proper self-examination with the result of true repentance from sin in verse 28, Paul writes the following in verses 29-32:
For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves (examined ourselves), we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
Here, too, the call goes out to all for self-examination. We are to examine our lives to see whether we lack in faithfulness to God with an undivided devotion and commitment. We have to look at ourselves and see whether we allow unfaithfulness on certain points to continue in our lives. Do we live for ourselves and our own interests? Or do we show with word and deed that we love one another as members of the Lord’s congregation? In 1 Corinthians 11, as in the entire letter, Paul uncovers a lack of true love within the congregation. In 1 Peter 4:7-12 Peter, as well, emphasizes the calling to show love and care for each other. Especially when there is suffering, such a need for love from others is so necessary.
Accidents happen. Some die. Some become handicapped. Some are healed. But – and not only those involved, but we all – do we examine ourselves whether there are sins we have to repent for and turn away from and fight against? People suffer. It is so important that loving support of fellow believers in the communion of saints is shown for those hurting and for those taking care. We have to show that we are a congregation, a Family of Christian brothers and sisters. Those who suffer are a calling of God for the congregation as a whole, for the communion of saints, to show themselves to be instruments of help sent by God. Coming back to the first question, we ask again: Do accidents and other forms of suffering make sense? In the light of God’s revelation we answer again: Yes, they do. In God’s hand they are means of discipline for His people in order to keep them in, or make them return to, the way of faith and love on the way to the eternal inheritance.
God is serious in calling us all to repentance. Let us be serious in showing repentance, listening to Peter, once more (1 Peter 5:6-7):
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God (leading all things in life), that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you.