"In the world you will have tribulation . . ." so said the Lord Jesus just before he suffered intense tribulation for us on the cross (John 16:33). The world is definitely groaning under great tribulation today. The death, destruction and devastation have seemed to be so overwhelming in the past few weeks here in this part of the world. Multiple destructive hurricanes hitting the gulf coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, not to mention Puerto Rico and other Caribbean Islands. The multiple fires in California have mercilessly wiped out whole communities and have moved so quickly that people have been trapped by them and some lost their lives in what had to be one of the most frightening ways to die. A man wickedly fired his automatic weapons for ten minutes at concert goers in Las Vegas and ended up murdering 58 people before he took his own life. Let's also not forget that there was a 7.1 Richter Scale earthquake in the heart of Mexico a few weeks ago as well. This earthquake destroyed many buildings and killed a few hundred people. We have to admit, all this does seems a bit overwhelming.
As I have talked with different people in the community a question seems to come up, spoken at times with seriousness and other times with nervous laughter. "Is God trying to tell us something?"
The answer of course is always, "Yes, he is." Sometimes, if I'm in the right kind of mood and I have time to explain myself, I will add, "and I think it's pretty clear what he is saying to us."
What I don't mean by that response is that I believe we can look at each of the terribly tragic disasters and find some kind of a pattern as to when and where they happened and who they directly affected and then determine a particular message based on that. I also don't believe we will learn much of anything from the so-called experts on TV or the internet who claim they have figured out how these most recent events fit into some particular timeline of the end-times that they have concocted. I also am not claiming in any way that the Lord audibly spoke to me while I was deeply in prayer over these matters and told me a particular message regarding all that's happened.
What I am saying is that God has spoken. What he is trying to tell us through these terrible events is much the same message as it has been whenever clear signs of the curse of sin are revealed on the earth. We have that message recorded for us in Scripture which is all inspired by the Holy Spirit. God speaks to us clearly in and through the Holy Scriptures, and his word is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Whenever we want to know what God is trying to say to us all we have to do is open up our Bibles and pray, read and listen.
Do you remember what the primary message of Jesus, the Son of God was when he traveled around Galilee and the surrounding area preaching and teaching? Mark summarizes his primary message as, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15 ESV). That was a timely word then because God had come to save them in his son, Jesus Christ. It is still a timely word for us today as we are shown over and over again by these events that we are not in control of our lives. We cannot stop storms, earthquakes, or death from coming upon us and having their way with us. So it is incredibly wise for us to repent of our sin and trust that the good news of Jesus Christ saves and will lead us into a glorious future.
In Luke 13:1-5, we are given a remarkable passage that speaks to the very experience we are in right now. Jesus was told about a tragedy that occurred to some Galileans "whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices." Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, had ruthlessly executed some of the neighbors and community members of the the Galilean people whom Jesus was teaching. These folks, like us, were wondering in their hearts about the shocking loss of life, the terror this event caused, and wondering if God was trying to tell them something. What often happens when tragedies like these strike is that we can tend to wonder, "did these things happen to them because they were such sinners?" I have heard that question insinuated especially regarding the tragedy in Las Vegas. If we can justify these disasters in our minds that way, then we feel like we can at least make sense of it. But if we do that, we will completely miss the point of what we are to learn from such things as Jesus said in his response.
"And he answered them, '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.'" (Luke 13:2-5 ESV)
I think it's pretty clear what God is saying to us. "Repent and believe the gospel, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Every tragedy, every disaster, every time a person's life is tragically snuffed out we are faced with this reality. This world that we live in is under the curse of sin, it will eventually kill us. If we are not right with God then our deaths will only lead to our condemnation before him to an eternity of suffering, pain, and devastation far worse than anything we may face now. But if we have listened to what God has been telling us, that the door is open for us to eternal life, a glorious joy-filled future with him, forever. If we then repent of our wrong way of life before Him and believe the gospel and all that God's Word says about what it means to follow Jesus, then we will be saved.
So just because these disasters don't directly affect you, don't ignore the message from God. "Repent or you will likewise perish." If you are one who lives according to the gospel, in faith and repentance following the Lord Jesus Christ, then love your neighbors who may be affected by these disasters, and pray for and seek to make disciples of those the Lord has put in your life, teaching them to repent and believe the gospel. Serve the Lord with each day that he continues to give you.