Luke 13:1-9: Suffering and Repentance
We come now to what is probably the most important portion in the Bible on people suffering and our response to it. We are all familiar with the classic problem, something bad happens and the questions begin to flow, why did a loving God allow this? Why did the innocent suffer with the guilty? Was it God; or satan; or man; or nature that caused this? This is a very large intellectual problem. The dilemma of a good God and evil existing has a long history. Epicurus a Greek philosopher born in in Greece in 341 BC put the problem this way: ‘God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or he is unable and unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able, or he is both willing and able.’ This leads to what he thinks are the only four possibilities: ‘if God is willing and unable, he is feeble.’ ‘If he is able but unwilling, he is wicked.’ ‘If he is neither willing nor able, he is not God.’ ‘If he is willing and able, then this leaves the problem of why evil still exists, why has he not removed it?’ This has led many an atheist to set up the traditional false dilemma, that either God is good and not powerful, or powerful and not good, and since the Bible teaches that God is good and powerful, they then in light of the presence of evil that the God of the Bible does not exist. Some of the greatest philosophical minds have felt that this is an irrefutable case against Christianity. The Biblical response to this is very simple, the good and Holy God of the Bible has a morally sufficient reason to allow evil. Simply because we cannot imagine what that purpose would be, does not mean that God does not have one. The Bible demonstrates over and over again God bringing good out of evil for His glory and our good. Our final confidence is not in our ability to understand or explain but in the character of God which He has proven to be both loving and holy by Christ dying on the cross. We are also told that God will finally do away with evil affirming our instincts that evil is bad and must be dealt with, but we have to allow God’s revelation to reveal that He has a different purpose and timeline to what we would expect. This explanation agrees with the truth about ourselves and the Bible, but it affronts human pride.
The Christian comes to realize that God does have purposes that He accomplishes through sin and suffering. We think of the story of Joseph where God allowed a 17 year old Joseph to be sold into slavery and be a slave or a prisoner for 13 years, but then used him to save thousands of lives, and most importantly the family line of Christ. His ways are not our ways, and we say with Joseph, ‘you intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.’ We see that suffering is employed by God in our sanctification, James 1:2-4, ‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’ By it our faith is tested and strengthened, 1 Pet. 1:6-7. We learn to rejoice in hope setting our sights on heaven, Rom. 5:3-5. We recognize it as the Father’s way of disciplining us, a discipline that is proactive and reactive, Heb. 12:5-11. That it is a way in which we bear testimony to the glory of God, Eph. 3:10, to both mankind and the angels. We recognize that God’s strength is shown in our weakness 2 Cor. 12:9. We recognize that there is a paradox in our suffering that the path of humiliation is the path to glory; that the path of mourning is the path of joy; that by being broken down, in God’s strength we are built up. Life comes out of death; healing out of brokenness; comfort out of suffering, etc.
When we become Christians we learn many things about suffering. We learn that God is sovereign over it all, willing what He permits; but this does not compromise His goodness nor make Him the author of sin. We learn that God is in control; but that this does not mean that God denies the free agency of His creatures, or not use means and second causes. We also learn that God has many purposes in allowing suffering, sometimes God uses calamities as a way to judge sin; but we also learn that not all suffering is the direct result of sin. This was a lesson that the Jews had failed to learn. Their wrong view of God, righteousness, and why bad things happen led them to bad views on why people suffer.
In Luke 13:1-9, Jesus is in the middle of a section where He is calling the Jews to repent of their rejection of Him, and warning them of the imminent consequences if they do not repent. In our section Jesus is going to continue in this vain. We see in this section that some raise the issue of some people sinning, and they probably have thoughts related to God’s judgement in their minds. Jesus is going to take this opportunity to set them straight and to continue to impress upon them their need to repent, and soon. So we will look at this section under three headings. Jesus’ teaching on why people suffer; Jesus’ teaching on how we should respond to suffering; Jesus’ teaching on when to respond.