Does God punish sinful people through tragedy?

Questions & Answers June 8, 2018

Q: Pastor, after lightning struck an Adventist church in Rwanda, I am confused and worried. I don’t understand why it had to be our own church that was struck. Have we sinned against God or what? — Naftali, from Qatar

A: Naftali, our hearts went out to our dear people in Rwanda when we received that terrible news of the lightning strike. I sent a special message of encouragement for the Rwanda Union at that time. We, along with the East-Central Africa Division, have provided some assistance for special needs. Each of our dear churches around the world, including Rwanda, need lightning rods to deflect the lightning that may hit a building or one of our churches, many of which may be on a prominent ridge or hill. 

God will definitely care for His people and we need to pray for our dear members in Rwanda that they will not get discouraged. The devil knows how to bring discouragement and frustration into the ranks of God’s people. 

We should always be in connection with God and be right with Him since we do not know what may happen to us as we all live in the midst of the great controversy. However, God does greatly protect His people. It is not easy to explain on this earth why bad things happen to good people, except to say again that we are in the midst of the great controversy — but Jesus will win! 

Actually, Naftali, your question is very similar to a situation that Jesus addressed, as recorded in Luke 13:1-5. 

There had been an uprising in Jerusalem, and Herod intervened by using violence (see “Christ’s Object Lessons,” pages 212, 213). While people were in the temple worshipping, Roman soldiers invaded the inner courtyard and killed people (who were Galileans) as they stood at the altar offering their sacrifices. 

The Jews thought these Galileans must have been terrible sinners for God to allow this to happen to them. But Jesus surprised them when He answered:

“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” (Luke 13:2,3, ESV).

Jesus then mentioned another tragic situation: “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” (Luke 13:4,5, ESV).

Jesus points out that although calamities happen in this world, it doesn’t mean the tragedy occurred because the person (or people) were sinners. Living in this world, where the great controversy rages between Christ and Satan, is like living in a war zone. Terrible things happen every day, and these tragic events are often blamed on God. 

But God, in His mercy, seeks to save everyone. Jesus said, “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56). “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).

When we see such startling calamities, such as lightning striking a church and killing many, let’s see this as another indication of Christ’s soon coming, and take the opportunity to ask ourselves if we are right with God. 

If there is anything separating us from God, there is no better time than right now to repent and confess that sin, ask God’s forgiveness, and to claim His help for the future. 

We are promised “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV). 

In this beautiful text, we are promised both justification and sanctification. And through His sacrifice on the cross, through His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, through His power and grace, we can be assured of salvation as we surrender daily to Him.

The little book “Steps to Christ” gives us wonderful insights into the true character of God. One of my favorite passages is found on page 100:

“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” James 5:11. 

“His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. 

“Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. 

“No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3. 

“The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”

With this wonderful assurance, we don’t need to be afraid of what may come in the future, because we know that we are safe in the hands that were nailed to the cross for us. 

And one day, all of these tragedies, calamities, and sorrows will be over. Because soon, I believe very soon, Jesus is coming again, to take His people home.