From Pastor to Elders

Who’s To Blame?

James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.

Who's responsible when towers topple? In tragedy's aftermath, we seek to explain the unexplainable.

Unfortunately, even some church leaders plunge into speaking without carefully studying the Word of God. Some have even declared that God uses tragic events to punish specific brands of sinners—liberals, homosexuals, civil libertarians, and abortionists. Such misguided individuals, along with their dangerous pronouncements, are wrong.

Scripture provides reliable answers: "There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; 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 sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish'" (Luke 13:1-5 NKJV).

Beware jumping to quick conclusions. Enquiring minds might leap to at least three possible conclusions, only one of which is biblically valid.

1. Sometimes towers fall. Even solid-appearing buildings might disguise engineering defects which collapse the whole building. This seems to be the case when the tower of Siloam fell and killed 18 people. Insurance policies call random tragedies "acts of God" when structural insufficiency may be to blame. Clearly this is not what happened in New York City. The destruction of the twin towers was not the consequence of shoddy workmanship.

2. God's wrath targets certain brands of sinners. Equally erroneous is the conclusion that Cod is punishing some sinners who are worse than others. Jesus allows nonesuch when He twice queries, "Do you suppose they were worse sinners than all other men?" Scripture provides no offensiveness scale defining categories of sinners. All sin is offensive to Cod's holiness. Just as God hates all sin, He loves every sinner.

As Myron Augsburger says, "Men are all alike sinners, but not sinners alike." Those who categorize some types of offenders as especially deserving punishment misread the Bible. This false logic is so appealing because the first preacher to declare God's intent opportunistically defines the terms of debate. In rushing to pronounce God's wrath on your sin, I ignore His wrath on my own. I presumptuously compare my strengths with your weaknesses, like the man who prayed, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men.' I even abuse prayer in self-congratulation. However, contrast my faults with your strong points, and I do not appear so pious."

3. An enemy hath done this. This is the conclusion of Scripture. Galileans worshipers had been murdered by the terrorist, Pilate. Did this tragedy come about because they were worse than other sinners? Jesus says, "I tell you, No!" Answering the question of ultimate responsibility for evil, Jesus says, "The tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil" (Matt. 13:38b, 39).

God does not use Satan's terrorist tactics. Jesus warns of rebellion's final consequence. "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." But Scripture relentlessly affirms, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

"To many minds, the origin of sin and the reason for its existence are a source of great perplexity. They see the work of evil, with its terrible results of woe and desolation, and they question how all this can exist under the sovereignty of One who is infinite in wisdom, in power, and in love... .It is impossible to explain the origin of sin so as to give a reason for its existence. Yet enough may be understood concerning both the origin and the final disposition of sin to make fully manifest the justice and benevolence of God in all His dealings with evil. Nothing is more plainly taught in Scripture than that God was in no wise responsible for the entrance of sin; that there was no arbitrary withdrawal of divine grace, no deficiency in the divine government, that gave occasion for the uprising of rebellion. Sin is an intruder for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be sin. Our only definition of sin is that vein in the word of God; it is "the transgression of the law;" it is the outworking of a principle at war with the great law of love which is the foundation of the divine government" (GC 492, 493).

Rather than rushing to pronounce God's judgment, we would better proclaim His love so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary