I recently had an interesting request from a reader of this blog via Facebook.* The request comes from Christopher Calara in Manila:
Dear Dr. Marshall,
A blessed day! Please post something regarding the tragic Boston bombing. It would greatly help in efforts to offer healing and acceptance among the victims and the American public. Obviously, I’m not American but I am one with you in solidarity when things like this happen. It is an act of evil, pure and simple, this is the time when people look to God for answers and strength.
– Christopher Calara
When I heard about the Boston Marathon explosions, my heart sank. There are no easy answers to tragedies of this kind. I am a philosopher and my mind immediately begins chomping on the philosophical data:
1. God is all powerful.
2. God knew this was going to happen.
3. God could have stopped it somehow. He could have given the bomb-setters a heart attack. He could have had the bombs result in a dud.
4. Crisis Question: Why didn’t God do anything?
An easy answer would be something like this: “Well Boston Marathon runners are sinful people and so God punished them through extraordinary means.” Yet this answer is clearly wrong.
Fortunately, our Lord Jesus Christ did give us a teaching on these types of tragedies.
At Luke 13:1-5, Jesus speaks about 18 people who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them. These were innocent victims of a tragedy which was due to no fault of their own. Jesus said:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Lk 13:2-5)
Scholars and archeologists have not been able to identify the “tower of Siloam,” but the sudden death of 18 people certainly made an impact on the audience of Jesus. It was the latest news and had raised philosophical and theological questions.
Here, Jesus explicitly teaches that some tragedies (such as a tower falling and killing people) was not because the victims were more sinful than others. Original sin is the reason why there is evil in the world. But personal tragedy and personal culpability do not always go hand in hand.
Sometimes infants are treated cruelly and murdered. This has nothing do with the personal sins of an infant since an infant does not have personal sins. Baptized babies don’t even have original sin, and yet bad things happen even to them.
The long answer to this problem is “read the book of Job.” The short answer is “God never tells us.” It remains behind the veil of uncertainty.
We pray for those killed and wounded in Boston. Moreover, we recommit ourselves to living out the prayer “thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” In Heaven, nobody bombs anybody else.
Let’s open up for questions and comments: It’s hard to find a philosophically satisfying answer. However, does the theological truth of God’s infinite love and compassion (and its explicit demonstration at the cross) bring you comfort? I realize that I didn’t provide a tight answer, but at least we’re pointing in the right direction. Feel free to wrestle with the idea in the comments below.
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