(Why) do bad things happen to good people in Luke 13?

The Sunday lectionary reading for the Third Sunday in Lent in Year C is Luke 13.1–9, where Jesus is questioned by his disciples about disaster bought on people by the wickedness of another, and Jesus extends the discussion into the question of disaster brought on by natural calamity. Though pertinent at the present moment because of the stories dominating the news just now, this touches on a perennial issue in relation to suffering.

There is a very deep-seated human tendency to see disasters that befall others as somehow indicating a moral judgement of the victims. At a personal and petty level, we find it in the language of ‘Serves them right!’ and ‘They got what is coming to them!’ The converse of that is the way that we somehow grant those who have prospered a moral status which allows them a platform from which to tell us how we should be living our lives. After all, if they have got on in life, then surely they have something important, useful—perhaps even moral?—to tell us. We find it immensely difficult to get our heads round the reality that, very often, these things appear to happen by chance—that either someone was just in the wrong place at the wrong time for no particular fault of their own, or conversely that someone else happened to be in the right place at the right time. I have been struck by how often those who are very well off came by their good fortune because they just happened to come across an opportunity at the right moment.

(I enjoyed the video by Derek on Veritasium entitled ‘The Success Paradox about the ‘egocentric fallacy’: when life goes well, we tend to believe that we deserve it, even when it is demonstrably by chance!)

There are, of course, good reasons why we want life not to be so random. We think that doing the right thing, working hard, making difficult and courageous decisions should be rewarded with good fortune, and lazy fecklessness should meet disaster. This kind of longing is found, for example, all over the Psalms. This might have a theological basis to it—but in fact we all have the longing that life is meaningful, and that such meaning has a clear moral dimension to it. (If you don’t believe me, just go and watch one of the popular blockbuster movies, where, by and large, the goodies win out.) The problem arises when we encounter actual disasters, especially on a large scale, and our moralising is not only clearly wrong, but it is damaging to those who experience it and reduces our capacity for empathetic response.

This Sunday’s lectionary reading asks precisely this question of the connection between the judgement of God and the disasters that befall people.

First: a confession. I have no idea why the lectionary has reversed the order of this reading and last week’s, so that this one comes before what we looked at previously. Answers on a postcard…or in the comments please!

The wider context of this reading is Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem begun at Luke 9.51, as for all the teaching in this section. Luke organises his record of Jesus’ teaching in quite a different way from Matthew, who tends to group it together more. Looking back over the previous chapter, we can see general teaching to the crowds (e.g. in Luke 12.13 and 54) with teaching directed more at the disciples (e.g. in Luke 12.1, 22). There seems to be, for Luke, a permeability and interchange between these two kinds of teaching, and in our passage Jesus’ teaching is introduced with a general question from an unnamed person (Luke 13.1). The question Jesus engages with here is one that is relevant to all, and his teaching here addresses questions that all need to consider.

The more immediate context is the preceding teaching on eschatological judgement, repentance and division. Stephen Langton (the Archbishop of Canterbury who introduced chapter divisions into the Bible) has probably done us a disservice here, since at the end of this section there is a new temporal marker (‘On a Sabbath…’ Luke 13.10) and a change in focus from the teaching of Jesus to his healing, and Luke 13.1–9 is clearly connected with what comes before with the Lukan phrase ‘at that time’ (ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ καιρῷ, a variation on ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ which we saw last week Luke uses seven times in his gospel and twice in Acts). This episode in fact appear to function as a closing climax to the teaching that began in 12.1.

The incident that the people mention, of Pilate slaughtering worshippers and ‘mixing their blood with the sacrifices’ is otherwise unattested in other sources. But this is not surprising; it is a single incident in a time for which we do not have detailed historical chronicles—but it fits well with the brutal behaviour of Pilate that we know from other writers.

After this he raised another disturbance, by expending that sacred treasure which is called Corban upon aqueducts, whereby he brought water from the distance of four hundred furlongs. At this the multitude had indignation; and when Pilate was come to Jerusalem, they came about his tribunal, and made a clamor at it. Now when he was apprized aforehand of this disturbance, he mixed his own soldiers in their armor with the multitude, and ordered them to conceal themselves under the habits of private men, and not indeed to use their swords, but with their staves to beat those that made the clamor. He then gave the signal from his tribunal [to do as he had bidden them]. Now the Jews were so sadly beaten, that many of them perished by the stripes they received, and many of them perished as trodden to death by themselves; by which means the multitude was astonished at the calamity of those that were slain, and held their peace. (Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.9.4)

The fact that those who suffer are Galileans implies they are ordinary people, and the only time when they might be ‘offering sacrifices’ is the Passover, the most significant festival in the Jewish calendar, which only serves to heighten the distress of the event. The mention of Pilate might suggest that there is a political motive behind the question, with the speakers looking for Jesus to take sides in a political argument about Roman authority. There is not much hint of this in the way the question is put, and the shape of the narrative suggests that the question is functioning more as a distraction from the issues of judgement and repentance that Jesus has been addressing—and to which, in response, he quickly returns.

Jesus himself puts alongside this first tragedy another one, the collapse of the tower of Siloam, the pool in Jerusalem mentioned in John 9.7 at the end of Hezekiah’s tunnel. Once more, we have no parallel historical record of this, but the collapse of buildings is hardly an unusual occurrence, and we do appear to have archaeological evidence of a tower there that was rebuilt on earlier foundations. It is striking that, by adding this example, Jesus is offering two contrasts: first, between those from Galilee and those native to Jerusalem; and, second, those who have suffered at the hands of another, and those who have suffered as a result of some natural calamity.

This pair of examples is responding to a widely held conventional view that when disaster comes, there is some sense in which it is deserved by those who suffer. Apart from our instinctive response in this direction which I described above, there are some important texts in Scripture which make some sort of connection between disobedience and disaster. In Israel’s narrative, the foundation of this is found in Deut 28–30 with its promise of blessings and woes:

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.  All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:… (Debt 28.1)

However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:… (Deut 28.15)

Read in proper theological context, this contrast was never intended to set God up as a divine moral slot machine, into which you could put the right or wrong moral response and, pulling the handle, receive either blessings or curses as appropriate. Rather, as the following ‘Deuteronomic’ narrative sets out, running through 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, to the final clinical description of the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of exile, it sets up God’s people as moral agents who are able to make meaningful moral decisions which will shape their destiny. The same kind of connection, moving from decision to its consequences, is found in Proverbs, and in part of the Psalms; it is important that we understand that what we do has consequences, and that we are not simply being blown through life by the unpredictable winds of fortune (as Forrest Gump appears to be learning in the final scenes of the 1994 film, focussing on a helpless, floating feather).

But alongside that, there are counter voices, both in the Psalms and in Job and Ecclesiastes. As one witty OT scholar once said: ‘Proverbs says “Do this and life will go well with you”. Ecclesiastes says “I did, and it didn’t”‘. Life in all its complexity does not yet reflect the will of God, and we live in patience while we wait for that to be revealed.

And here is where we need to listen to Jesus’ response. In reply to the assumption that the Galileans ‘deserved’ their fate at the hands of wicked Pilate, or that the Jerusalemites ‘deserved’ their deaths at the hands of whimsical fate, his answer is the same: an emphatic ‘No, I tell you!’ twice over. We see the same dynamic in the other episode mentioning Siloam, John 9, the episode of the man born blind:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  (John 9.1)

Jesus’ answer there is emphatic: ‘Neither!’ Joel Green puts it like this:

It is true that Deut 28–30 (to name only one example) insists that judgement will overtake those whose lives are characterised by disobedience, but this is not the same thing as arguing that disasters come only to those who are disobedient. In fact, Jesus’ reply does not deny sins its consequences, nor that sin leads to judgement; instead, he rejects the theory that those who encounter calamity have necessarily been marked out by God as more deserving of judgement that those who do not. (NICNT p 514)

In doing this, Jesus is both acknowledging the unpredictability of disaster—but at the same time refusing to let go of the notion that we are morally responsible agents.

That then leads into the second half of this reading, which functions as a conclusion to this block of teaching before the next narrative section. Again, the scenario depicted in Jesus’ parable, of a fig tree growing in a vineyard, is entirely plausible (I have both growing in my garden). And the image of either vine or fig tree as pictures of God’s people is rooted (pardon the pun!) in the Old Testament, often with an eschatological dimension to them, as in Micah 4.4. But what is striking here is the contrast with other parables or stories featuring these two—whether the narrative of the vineyard in Mark 12.1–11 or the unproductive fig tree in Mark 11.13 = Matt 21.19. In those stories, the main lesson is judgement—but in this one it is the staying of judgement by the one tending the tree. Jesus makes it clear that the desire of the gardener is that the tree will become fruitful, if at all possible:

‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! (Luke 13.8–9).

For those eager to regard others as more deserving of God’s judgement than themselves, Jesus continues by insisting that the unrepentant have escaped judgement not because of their relative sanctity, but because of God’s mercy. (Joel Green, NICNT p 515)

John Bradford was an English Reformer in the 16th century; it is said of him proverbially that he is the originator of the phrase, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’. He was supposed to have watched men go to the stake, and said ‘There but of the grace of God goes John Bradford’. That period of grace came to an end for Bradford himself was burned at the stake in 1555. Whether the saying originated with him or not, the force of it remains, and this reading gives it weight. When we see disaster befalling others, the appropriate response is compassion and solidarity, as we share with our fellow humans the frailty of mortality, and we can say with full seriousness: ‘There, but for the grace of God, go we’. And in the light of our shared mortality, we need to hear afresh Jesus’ call to repentance in the light of final judgement.

(Don’t forget to go to my YouTube channel to see the video discussion of this which will be posted on Tuesday.)

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39 thoughts on “(Why) do bad things happen to good people in Luke 13?”

  1. Why do bad things happen to good people? First, there is no such thing as a good person, for we are all fallen and ‘the heart of man is dreadfully corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). We all exist and interact in a web of sin that began to be spun in Genesis 3 and has grown ever thicker since then. Second, Satan is active in the world during the church era and hates good behaviour.

    • Anton,
      Yes. Augustinian monism see that all ‘bad’ things come from God. Conflict theologians embrace a dualism where they understand that Satan has agency – not withstanding the fact that a dualist perspective accepts that ultimately God is the author of all first causes.

    • Hi Anton,
      I don’t believe it’s biblically right to say that there is no such thing as a good person. I believe the correct thing to say is that there is no such thing as a good person without God’s help. If what you said is correct then it would mean that salvation provided no benefit other than saving us from the consequences of past and present wrongdoing – that it otherwise had no transforming power.
      God doesn’t have a list of naughty things a person can do which he uses to assess our actions. For example a person might murder another person motivated by the desire to say – having been endlessly abused – “You’re wrong – I’m worth something” – and while their action is still sin (reflective of their being separated from God) God agrees with their reasons for doing what they did – they are indeed worth something. Their action isn’t rebellion against God unless it is wilful, free and knowing. As I said the only thing in this example that their action proves is that they are away from God – their being away from God was at some point a free, knowing and wilful choice – rebellion – but this doesn’t mean that their current act is rebellion.
      There are three kinds of sin:
      – sin which is weakness (Matt 26:41) – where someone wishes to do right but their flesh draws them away.
      – sin which is wilful but ignorant (1 Tim 1:13).
      – sin which is wilful and knowing.
      I will never forget the priceless story of a Sydney Pentecostal pastor who was living with his girlfriend who is now his wife when he was converted. God gave him the word “fornication” so he went to his pastor and asked him in a big loud voice – “what is fornication?” When he found out he made the necessary changes. Not all sin is rebellion. All sin is the product of either present or past rebellion – but not all sin IS rebellion. Only category 3 above is current rebellion. Categories 1 and 2 above are the product of past rebellion – the product of every person having a free and knowing choice to obey or disobey God – and then disobeying God. Some people believe that if this were the case that not every person would end up disobeying God – however they fail to understand the way in which our interrelationships are designed by God to have an in built power to multiply both for good – and as a consequence of that – for ill. If our initial choice in relation to God wasn’t a free and knowing choice there would be no sense in which we were accountable for that “choice” – just as a person who is kidnapped by a gang – and injected with drugs against their will – who then steals from people to get a fix – is not accountable for their actions.
      But that’s the very thing that many people who profess a faith believe. They believe that God hates all sin because it isn’t about motives/knowledge or freedom – as if when God looks at our actions he is only interested in the actions and not our state of heart when doing them. They believe it makes no difference whether our sinning is the result of a choice which is knowing and free. Those who hold to these views believe that God makes people with a tendency to sin and when they end up acting consistent with how he made them he considers them worthy of hell. That’s a pretty extraordinary idea – which cannot be reconciled with God being any of the following – a perfect creator – holy – just – merciful – or gracious. I reject all of these ideas – they simply don’t make sense nor have any biblical backing. The only biblical support for original sin is Psalm 51:5 (at least the only support that doesn’t rely on Calvinism being true) which can just as easily mean “from the moment I was born I was surrounded by sin”. There is absolutely no way in which anyone should build such a monumentally consequential piece of theology on a POSSIBLE interpretation of a verse. To believe in original sin is to imagine that the kind of justice which is administered across the first world in court rooms is completely foreign to God – that he doesn’t think about our actions in any way similar to the way people’s actions are assessed in court.
      So what then is a good person? A good person is someone who in their need for God offers him full access to their life. The only area in which we have the capacity to be good or not good is in respect of choosing or not to be in relationship with God. God considers a person who comes to him in repentance and faith FAITH FULL. The person’s transformation is from that point on for God’s glory and reliant only on God and his mercy (as long as the person remains repentant – continues to offer their lives consistent with what God reveals to be wholehearted devotion to him).

      PS Romans 3 – which says that no-one does good – is speaking about the vertical. It isn’t saying that those who don’t know God – who rebelled against him at some point after birth are incapable of doing anything good horizontally (see Mark 12:34 for an example of someone doing good who is not yet in the kingdom) – it’s saying that every person has failed to seek God relationally – vertically. However to rebel against God’s love in creation is not as serious a crime as to reject the gospel – the bible doesn’t say that the wages of sin is hell – it says (and the most common meaning of the word death in the verse I am about to quote is about physical death not spiritual death) that the wages of sin is death. The wages of saying no to God’s offer of relationship in the gospel is hell. If God’s revelation in creation was as full – if it made people as accountable as his revelation of himself in the gospel – no-one would become Christians. The former revelation rebelled against makes us objects of wrath (Eph 2:2) but the bible doesn’t as far as I can tell say that rebellion against God’s love in creation makes us worthy of hell although in some cases God may see that a person’s response to his love revealed in creation is of a nature that reveals we will never accept the gospel upon hearing it (which is why in 2 Thess 1:8 there are two groups of people who will be in hell – those who don’t know God and those who disobey the gospel).

  2. Yes. But much of the Old Testament seems to be a constant reiteration of Israel or its leaders collectively sin, and this brings punishment, ultimately exile; while counter protestations both at an individual level and occasionally the national are found in Job and the Psalms. Of course saying that sin leads to punishment is not the quite the same as saying that punishment/suffering infers previous sin.

  3. Deut 28:1. ‘If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you.’
    The blessings and curses of Deut 28 are fundamentally misunderstood in this post. They don’t relate to individuals obeying or disobeying but to the nation as a whole. Individuals may act well or badly, but if the nation as a whole remains faithful (and much hinges on the faithfulness of the king), it will prosper, and vice versa. Daniel understood this (Dan 9:11).

    There is a strong prophetic element in the curses, for Moses knows that the nation will not be disobedient (cf. Deut 32). Hence in Deut 30:1 he says, “When all these things come upon you and you find yourselves exiled among the Gentiles … ” The first half of Deut 30 says that God will eventually restore Israel’s fortunes, a repeated theme also of the prophets (some prophesying after Israel has been exiled). That day is now not far off.

  4. Wisdom literature (including Job) has much to say. The quotation cited humorously in relation to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is too simplistic. Proverbs is more nuanced, with contrasts and Ecclesiastes relates to life, a world, “under the sun”. But that is also too simplistic.
    It seems that the disciples were often caught up with the idea that being rich was an indication of God’s favour. Jesus didn’t.
    Growing up the phrase, “there but for the grace of God go I”, was often heard. It isn’t heard at all today, inside or outside church.
    The topics of Providence and Common grace don’t seem to be discussed much either.
    Why does God owe us anything?
    Is it all down to me?
    Didn’t Glenn Hoddle when England football manager get condemned when he said something to the effect that ill health was a result of personal sin? Hasn’t he in the last few years had heart surgery?
    With apologies to GK Chesterton: what is wrong with the world? I am.

    • Geoff – perhaps this comment is out of place here. Are you the one who decided to launch a full scale invasion against the Ukraine? Are you one of the Russian soldiers who agreed to participate in the invasion? If not, then the `what is wrong with the world? I am’ is way out of place, given the current events – and I think it’s basically a wrong way of looking at it anyway.

  5. As you know, Anton, there was more than one covenant, also pre-Mosaic, along with God’s gracious, unmerited, redemptive promises ( pre-covenant) such as the unilateral covenant with Abraham, in which Abraham played no part, fulfilled and completed unilaterally in the new covenant by Jesus, the promised seed, to counter the curse.

    • I wholeheartedly agree that there is more than one covenant in the Old Testament. But I also believe, as you perhaps don’t, that *only* the Mosaic covenant is fulfilled in Christ in the church era. Surely you believe that the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9) is still in force? If not then you might worry when it starts raining! So the question arises as to whether the Abrahamic covenant is like the mosaic covenant, fulfilled in Christ, or is like the covenant with Noah, still in force. I believe from Romans 11 and the specificity of Hebrews and Romans 6 (grace vs law) that the Abrahamic covenant is still in force today. (That is why I support the State of Israel, although not unconditionally the actions of its government, but may we stick simply to discussing the status of the covenants?)

      • Hello Anton,
        Are you referring to God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, which was in my mind when writing my earlier comment?
        As far as Noah is concerned, there was God’s sovereign administration of grace: universal, unconditional, unending, undeserved. And I thank Andrew Wilson for this, “Jesus is the new Noah who finds favour in the eyes of the Lord, and in whom humans are rescued from the judgment they deserve,”
        Clearly far more can be said relating to tracing OT covenants (and more emphatically God’s promised Seed-Jesus) in the Biblical history of redemption, including Mosaic and Davidic covenants and following through to the NT, including Romans, Galatians and Hebrews, but it is suggested that a comments section isn’t a particularly conducive format to follow through with some coherence. Or that may only apply to me!
        And it could result in a huge diversion from Ian’s article. I suppose he is more than well-used to that by now.

        • Yes I am talking about the covenant with Abraham described in Genesis 15 & 17. I too wish to keep it brief and I am asking simply whether the status of this covenant today is the same as (a) the status of the covenant with Noah or (b) the covenant with Moses? Please include a clear (a) or (b) in any answer.

          • a) I think I’ve already answered that point above relating to Noah 5:11 pm. but for more detailed emphasis:
            1 It is a covenant of grant by God
            2 Universal in scope; not only for Noah (but his seed after him) and every living creature.
            3 Grace bestowed was not dependent on a favourable response or intelligent understanding
            4 Unconditional: no obligation or promise by Noah and his seed, hence the idea of covenant breaking by Noah is irrelevant
            5 It is what God himself will do; there is no contribution to the agency by which the promises are fulfilled
            6 is everlasting (RT Kendall)

            b) as far as Abraham is concerned I’ve also, I think I’ve also been clear, (comment 12:30 pm above) It was performed by God ultimately by Jesus (the promised redeeming Seed/Son in whom we have no contributing agency) on the cross to ensure completion of God’s covenant with Abraham. But more detail could be given from RT Kendall and others.

            Moses: I’ve not addressed that covenant. It is to be read in the context of following on from the Exodus and Passover but I agree that it was fulfilled by God/Man/Son/ Jesus. Again, through resources from RT Kendall and others, more could be provided.

            Other than that, I’m not too sure what you mean by status. Teleological, redemptive purposes? (e.g. Galatians). Extent, scope, continuity, discontinuity, lapsed, fulfilled?
            Tracing the Biblical history of redemption, I’d suggest that we have an unbreakable- Promise-keeping, covenant -keeping, curse curtailing God who staked his life on it.

      • God made two covenants with Abraham. The first, in Genesis 15, is unconditional and has yet to be fulfilled. The second, in Genesis 17, is the one on which Paul gives his commentary in Romans, and it is essentially the same as the covenant with Moses. I think Christ fulfilled two OT covenants: this one, and the covenant made with David.

        • I thought the promise in Gen 15 had already been fulfilled in Solomon’s kingdom per 1 Kings 4? Clearly hyperbole is being used in both Genesis and 1 Kings – stars in the sky/sand on the seashore. And Solomon’s rule covered the land promised.

          • Yes, I Kings 4 describes a brief fulfilment, and some will be satisfied with that. But Solomon was a type of the one to come, when the promise will be permanently fulfilled. Hence e.g. Zech 9:10.

      • “So the question arises as to whether the Abrahamic covenant is like the mosaic covenant, fulfilled in Christ.”

        Is the Mosaic Covenant fulfilled in Christ? What then do we make of Jeremiah 31:31-32 and John 1:12?

        • Indeed Colin they are fulfilled by, in and through Jesus in the New Covenant in his his substitutional passover lamb of God blood as it applies to all who will believe eg John 17.
          How are they not?

          • Colin H,
            The new covenant is the ultimate exodus from death to resurrection life eternal in a believer’s union with Christ, with the only human agency being in the God/Man our Lord Jesus the Christ. Result – al believers Jews and Gentiles from every tribe tongue and nation are a new creation, a new humanity, adopted, friends, not enemies. With access into the Presence of God, unto the throne room. Holy of Holies, Prophet, Priest and King (of Kings).

          • All that you articulate is surely a fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise as Galatians 3 outlines? As Jeremiah and John to my mind so clearly explain. The mosaic covenant is dead – not fulfilled?

          • Colin

            I agree that the mosaic covenant is dead or finished but there is a sense in which it is finished because i is fulfillled. All that the Mosaic covenant aspired to is realised by Christ in the new covenant. Jesus himself said of the covenant that it would continue until fulfilled (Matt 5).

        • Colin

          Like Geoff I think we need to say the mosaic covenant is fulfilled in Christ. In the first instance he was the only one who kept the law and in that sense fulfilled it. He enables its eschatological fulfilment to be realised in his people who walking in love by the Spirit fulfil the law (Roms 8). He fulfils the law typologically; he is the fulfilment of the sacrifices, the High Priesthood (though his priesthood is sourced in Melchisedek… and so on.

  6. Do we seek to resolve and combine the various voices of Scripture, particularly in the OT, or do we engage in the canonical conversation that the various voices are a part of?
    There is a Deuteronomic strand which does seem to equate punishment with sin, sin being the failure to live by the “Law”. Leviticus offers a more purity/ unclean approach, where ultimately the land will spew out those who have contaminated it with sin.
    Saul is punished for his wrong-doings, but David remains king despite his, and Solomon has punishment delayed to the next generation, and it seems this is because God has some favourites, and some he is less fond of – though Saul lives a more godly and a more kingly life than either David or Solomon! Chronicles tries to tidy up some of the difficulties Kings has left behind!!
    There is a debate as to whether the sins will reach down the generations or – as Ezekiel opines – each generation and each individual is responsible for their actions.
    Job is a drama in which it is clear that his suffering is not linked to his wrong-doing, whatever else is unresolved, the drama only works because we know, but Job does not, that he is righteous before God. His family are attacked by a brutal enemy.
    Sin is first mentioned in Genesis 4 – a strange tale in which God is concerned for Cain but does not protect Abel. If this is a foundational story about God and the violence and victims of this world, then we note that some suffer because of the sin of others.
    It is not a comfortable or very comforting story, but I see it enacted on a national scale in Ukraine where Russian aggression is causing grotesque suffering. Sin must be called out on the aggressor. The freedom we are given is a freedom to hurt and a freedom to be selfishly unconcerned at the hurt of others, among other things.
    In a few weeks we will remember that Jesus will be the victim of the aggressors, and God will not step in to rescue him, nor will Jesus choose to play his “get out of humanity” card as the devil offered him. In a few weeks we will also celebrate that death could not conquer, that resurrection bursts the tomb. In the meantime we cry out “how long?” “Your Kingdom come ..” and we are called to the way of the Cross.
    Jesus acknowledges that accidents happen, and that ordinary people suffer at the hands of the ruthless. He does not explain, nor justify but asks us to reflect on our own relationship with God.

    • Peter is correct to point out the confusion about this. Although the consequences of sin impact other generations (Exodus 34:6–7) Scripture is emphatic, contra Augustine, that the guilt of sin does not (Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; Jeremiah 31:29–30; Ezekiel 18:20).

      • I’m sure you are aware that there are other scriptures which make it a more complicated matter: e.g. Ex 20:5, Jos 7:24, 2 Sam 21:5, 1 Kings 14:9-10. Ezek 18:3 and 19 suggest that with the Exile something has changed. If someone argued that Deut 24:16 was therefore post-Exilic, I would find it hard to disagree.

        • I do not see any disconnect in the verses you cite. The iniquity – the sins of people impact – impact others – but not the guilt. I do not see a double standard in Scripture pre-or post exile.

          • That is an interesting distinction. I think you are saying that my sin is my responsibility before God, but God may still punish a future generation. I think I am saying that there is a debate about whether or not God does punish a future generation, delaying a judgement that “should” have fallen on the current. Does God intervene to protect Solomon, but then “ordains” suffering instead on a future generation, or is this more a retrospective analysis by a historico-theologian, who tries to trace God’s hand through the reigns of Saul, David, Solomon and Rehoboam?
            The causality of sin and suffering and the consequences of sin leading to suffering, and to what extent God directs it is deep-water stuff. I can believe in Providence but not be able to explain it, and maybe only see it in retrospect. Tracing the finger of God is hard – discerning the hand of God – that’s a bold thing to attempt!

          • Peter Reiss

            I think a case can be made from both Scripture and experience that the sin (behaviour) of a previous generation impacts on generations that follow.

      • Colin,
        It is not guilt: it is a. fallen nature we inherit.
        No one ddoes good broght to a crescendo of universal evil in God’s sight pre flood, prompting the flood, universal judgement, descibed by some as a de-creaftion save for gracious God’s chosing for salvation from death to further his promise of the promise seed. This is part of tracking the biblical, theological history of redemption, I’d suggest.

  7. As we have already seen in this post, it is often much easier to define *goodness* as the world sees it.Now it has already been alluded to that “only God is good”. Nevertheless, the comprehension and significance of this goodness cannot be divorced from human experience; not least of that of the Christian believer!
    Romans 8:28 speaks of *the good* – God’s goodness revealed to his people. In spite of certain ambiguities concerning phrasing in this verse, the overall context, not only relating to Romans 8 but to the whole epistle, illustrates two factors which stand out in this debate:
    First, the phrase ” to those who love him” [ NIV] , (“for those who love God”[ESV]) clearly refers to the covental love that is revealed explicitly and implicitly thoughout scripture; not primarily our love to God, but His love to us (verses 28 – 30 alone would establish this point).
    Secondly , re “the good”: this is manifested in (a)*judicial* (eg ‘justification’), (b)*relational* (eg ‘sons and heirs’) and (c)*inspirational* ( ‘the indwelling Holy Spirit’) language. It is not primarily related (if at all) to incidents or circumstances! It relates to all aspects of Christian existence (and not necessarily to the exclusion of others)! As Paul writes [8:15 – 17] “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, and fellow heirs with Christ – *provided (‘if indeed’ NIV) we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him”. This not only speaks or our identity with Christ in union with his death and resurrection. It highlights the sufferings we will face, not as *incidental* to his goodness but as an integral part of our walk along the pathway to glory.

  8. Jesus didnt exactly say those who died didnt deserve it. Rather he seems to say they didnt deserve it more than anyone else. He says they were not special sinners, but were just the same as the rest of us.

    Or am I twisting his words?!


  9. Hi – on your question of why this reading is the wrong way around with last week’s. I think the answer is that this week’s reading was already there in the Roman Lectionary when the RCL was put together. Lent 2 is the Transfiguration in the RL. RCL allows Transfiguration then or Sunday before Lent, with Lk 13:31-35 added as the alternative for Lent 2. CW lectionary takes away this either/or. So the principle of keeping readings where possible on the same Sunday as the RL has trumped reading them in canonical order.


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