When extreme tragedy strikes, there is an almost universal tendency to see that the person somehow had it coming to them. Call it karma, call it something else, the tendency has always been there. The Bible has a version of this, memorably expressed by Paul in Galatians 6:7-8.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
At the same time, the Bible sees this principle as limited, at least in this life. The story of Job is an excellent example. A perfectly righteous man endures terrible hardship, while his friends try to make sense of it as best they can. Perhaps inevitably, they resort to blaming Job for his own troubles. They were wrong, but they add much insult to Job’s injury before they are forced to see it. God sets all things right at the very end, but it took Job a long time and a lot of undeserved suffering to get there.
Jesus encountered this kind of thinking one day and answered it perfectly as always. Let’s read it from Luke 13.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The Galileans killed by Pilate and the victims of the fallen tower were no worse people than anyone else. The twist in Christ’s version is not that they were especially innocent in God’s eyes, but that everyone else is comparably guilty. This is the biblical view of sin. It is the bad news that makes the good news of the gospel good.
We are all in need of repentance. That is one of the earliest lessons that the Bible aims to teach us. At some level, we are guilty before a perfectly holy God. Sure, there may be mitigating factors to the particular level of our guilt. A certain temptation was especially difficult. Under the circumstances there were no good choices. We have a natural tendency to do this or that. Someone or something drove us to a point where we reacted, which was wrong. But, in the end, we are wrong too. We have sinned because we are fundamentally flawed members of a flawed race who eventually lived up – or maybe down – to our potential. We sinned and fell short of perfect holiness, which is the standard of the one and only thoroughly holy God.
The solution is repentance. We are not to hold onto our sin and cherish it. We are to turn from it and turn our hearts toward our divinely provided Savior. This is the point made by Jesus when he says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
John 3:16 steers us directly to this principle. We have a chance to repent right now.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.