Unfortunately, terrorism is nothing new. Neither is our confusion over a proper response to terrorism. Throughout history, people have looked to religious leaders – presumably speaking for God – to make sense of things like terrorism. But what happens when we ask God directly to make sense of terrorism? Is that even possible?
In Luke 13:1-5, that’s exactly what a group of people asked of Jesus, the Son of God. Apparently, Pilate (the Roman ruler of Judea at the time) had murdered some Galileans while they were worshipping. Aware of this terrorist attack, a crowd went to Jesus looking for answers. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2).
At first hearing, Jesus’ answer seems cold and, well, un-Jesus-like. “What kind of answer is that, Jesus?! What about some tears for the victims and their families? What about some outrage toward Pilate? Why are you pointing the finger at us?!”
If we look a little deeper, we find that Jesus’ answer is probably the most compassionate one possible. It’s not that Jesus is unmoved by the fate of the murdered Galileans (or, for that matter, the eighteen people killed in the collapse of a building, see verse 4). It’s that He’s more deeply moved, and wants us to be more deeply moved, by the immeasurably graver peril awaiting all who refuse to repent of their sins and turn to Him for forgiveness.
The word “perish” holds the key to understanding Jesus’ response to the crowd’s question about terrorism in this text. That word describes all that will certainly come upon every person who does not turn from their sins (i.e., repent). The horror of this fate is detailed in Revelation 14:9-13 as God’s completely righteous and just, furious, fiery rage served full strength by Him to unrepentant people for eternity without any hope of escape.
Yes, terrorism is bad. It’s very bad. Yes, falling buildings that kill people are bad, no matter why they fall (compare Jerusalem’s Tower of Siloam in Luke 13:4 with New York’s Trade Towers). Yes, very bad. But an eternity drinking the cup of God’s righteous wrath because of a refusal to admit one’s sins and receive Jesus’ offer of forgiveness is immeasurably worse. By His grace, mercy, and love, Jesus wants us to see our greater peril (God’s wrath) through the lens of a lesser peril (terrorism) so we repent.
This is, indeed, the most life-affirming message Jesus could ever give to the question of terrorism.* Yet, given our culture’s (along with many church’s) neutering and declawing of the Lion of Judah (i.e., the God of the Bible) into a purring lap kitty, it’s likely that Jesus’ response exposed above will hit many people sideways. So, before we land this blog, please allow me to humbly suggest a few questions and ideas for further consideration:
* Although Luke 13:1-5 is an extremely helpful in discerning Jesus’ response to terrorism, it is not His only word on this matter. A complete portrait of Jesus’ response would require tens of thousands of words, for sure! I focused on this text for two reasons (1) its direct application to modern terrorism, and (2) its corrective teaching over against our present culture’s concept of God/Jesus as a namby-pamby, milk toast, zippity-doo-dah god who does not have (or at least never bears) any claws or fangs toward us in response to our own sin.
A NOTE ABOUT REPENTENCE: In the bible, to “repent” basically means to turn from our sin toward Christ as He is offered in the gospel. The repentance Jesus advises in Luke 13 is holistic and multi-layered and is beyond the scope of this blog. A good start, however, is a prayer of repentance which might look something like this, “Jesus, I admit that I sin. That is, I admit that I do things you tell me not to do, and I don’t do things you tell me to do. I acknowledge that my sin merits me Your completely right and appropriate judgment. I see now that unless I admit this, and turn from my sin to You, I will bear Your righteous wrath for all eternity. So I DO admit it! I admit that I’m a sinner. And I turn from my sin to receive the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on my behalf. That is, I believe that Jesus lived the perfect life I’ll never be able to live, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty I deserve for my sin, and that He rose from the dead to give me the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. I turn from sin to you You, Jesus, and ask You to forgive me and help me to enjoy and follow you all my days, one day at a time. Amen.” Of course, there is nothing magical about this or any other prayer. Repentance is, at its core, about the orientation of our hearts. If you’ve prayed this prayer for the first time, I’d love to hear about it.