“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” So wrote C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain. Pain presents a constant challenge for Christians as we strive to discern God’s design in the pattern of our lives.
Unanswerable as these questions seem, we are sometimes tempted to shrink back from thinking about suffering altogether, fearing perhaps that the subject presents insurmountable difficulties for faith. But in Luke 13:1–5, Jesus tackles it head on. He focuses on two instances of suffering, the first caused by the malice of other people: Pilate murdered some Galilean pilgrims on their way to worship at the temple and mingled their blood with that of their sacrifices, an act of callous disdain for the worship of God.
The second results from natural disaster: a tower under construction at Siloam collapsed and killed eighteen people. Instead of offering an abstract hypothesis on the problem of suffering, Jesus asks a question designed to unmask our faulty assumptions: ”Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?” (Luke 13:2). Or regarding those killed when the tower fell, ”Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:5). Too quickly we conclude that when bad things happen, it must be because we deserved it. How easy it is to find a mechanical, one-to-one relationship between sin and suffering. But listen to Jesus’ answer. Did they suffer because they sinned? ”No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).
It is never safe to deduce the degree of sin in someone’s life from the severity of suffering they endure. The latter is not inevitably caused by the former. But we ought also to make use of suffering when it breaks in upon us. There will be one place where we can say with certainty that sin and suffering are related as a crime is to its punishment: the Bible calls it hell. How then should we use our sufferings? We must hear in them the warning of God never to sign a truce with sin, to move us afresh to repent, and to cling to Christ alone in faith.