Torchbearers for Christ
Thursday, July 18, 2024
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February 21st, 2009 was declared a day of national mourning in the State of Victoria, Australia, for the more than two hundred who died in the worst bush fires in the nation’s history. Thousands of people gathered to express their condolences to those who had been bereaved, their concern for the injured, and to express their appreciation for the work of hundreds of fire fighters, both voluntary and career. Numbers of these men and women have come from interstate and overseas to help. The police and other welfare agencies have laboured selflessly and tirelessly during this terrible time. Many of the fires continue to burn, threatening homes, property, wildlife and huge areas of forest. 
The fires that began on February 7th have shocked the nation. Graphic pictures have been shown on television and in newspapers all around the world. Thousands of people have been left homeless, many having lost everything. Parents have lost children, children have lost parents and friends are mourning the loss of friends. In some cases, whole families have perished. The general public has responded to the tragedy with overwhelming generosity.
Many questions arise as a result of all this. Where was God in all this? Was He punishing these people? Is God vindictive? Were these people so wicked and sinful that they incurred God’s anger? Questions like these may often be asked when we consider the appalling loss of life occurring in tsunamis, floods and earthquakes and other calamities where thousands of men, women and children perish.
Does the Bible, God’s Word, give us an answer to these questions? Yes, I believe it does. In Luke 13:1-5, the Lord Jesus throws some light on two tragic incidents. First, we read of a group of people telling Jesus of some Galilean people who had been offering sacrifices to God, when some of Pilate’s men had killed them, their own blood being mixed with the blood from their sacrifices. In His reply Jesus said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were more sinful than other Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, No, but except you repent you will all likewise perish”. Did Jesus mean that His hearers would be killed in the same way as these worshippers if they did not repent? No. The point He was making was that men and women must repent if they are to be saved from the wrath of God that is to come. Men and women must repent or perish. The second question that was asked of Jesus concerned the death of eighteen people when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Once again, the Saviour assured His hearers that these people were not worse sinners than all who dwelt in Jerusalem, but that their tragic experience should be a “wake up call” to His enquirers that they should repent or perish.
It appears that tragic experiences such as we have mentioned are part of life. We have all known of sudden, shocking calamities. Do such experiences have a message for us?   Yes, I believe they do. First of all, God asks us to weep with those who weep, to pray, to show compassion and to help as we are able. We are to remember those who suffer adversity as though we were in a similar position ourselves (Hebrews 13:3). It is a sad fact of life that tragedies are experienced by godly and ungodly people alike. These incidents show us the frailty and the uncertainty of life.
Even when we sorrow over the death of a loved one, God says there is an important lesson to be learned. In Ecclesiastes 7:2 we read, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men and the living will lay it to heart”. Think of it. God is saying that more is to be gained from going to a funeral than to a banquet. Why would that be? Funerals challenge us to consider our own mortality. The prophet Amos has a timely warning for us all - “prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12). 
Let us finish on a positive, happy note. Although we live in a world where there is weeping, pain and loss, we have a God of comfort and love who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus and find eternal life in a new heavens and a new earth where the things we do not understand here and now will all be made plain. Hallelujah!
This article was written by Pastor Geoffrey Davies. He is a frequent contributor to this column. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, where he pastored a church for over twenty-five years.  For many years, he has travelled widely, continuing his ministry of encouragement and Bible teaching.