We tend to personify weather, speaking of Harvey’s fury or Irma’s wrath. These, however, are traits of personal beings, not impersonal weather phenomena. And that matters, for when we ascribe wrath to a storm we may deny wrath to the storm’s Creator.
In Luke 13 Jesus used a natural disaster—an earthquake that caused a tower to fall—in order to call men and women to repent. Jesus asked, “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” and He answered, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
That doesn’t sound very compassionate, does it? Certainly Jesus protected those whom the tower crushed from character assassination; He made clear that the tower did not fall on them to punish their sin. Those who died were not morally worse than those who lived. But Jesus did use their tragic deaths in a way that we find uncomfortable—to encourage those who lived to repent, promising them that unless they did so, they too would perish.
Jesus was not teaching that death by natural disaster will inevitably fall upon you in this life as a punishment for your sin. That wasn’t the case for those killed by the tower, and it likely won’t be the case for you either. He was teaching, however, that death will find us all, frequently in unlikely ways, and more often than not at a time when we do not expect it. Most of us plan for tomorrow, and we expect to wake in the morning, drink our coffee, navigate the day, and return home safely in the evening. Death nevertheless finds his prey each day.
Had the people of Jerusalem chosen to name earthquakes as we name hurricanes, they may have spoken of Reuben’s fury or Caleb’s wrath when the earth rattled and the tower fell. But Jesus gave no such credit to the earthquake itself. Instead, He ascribed wrath to His Father, urging those who heard Him to repent—that is, to turn away from a life of sin and self and toward a life of following and serving God—lest they too succumb to death unprepared.
Nobody on whom the Tower of Siloam fell woke that morning and said, “I think I’ll be crushed by a falling tower today.” And you likely will not wake knowing the day and hour of your death. That is why Jesus spoke as He did. He used this tragedy, not in order to exhort us to speculate about the relative holiness or sinfulness of the men and women who had died, but instead to exhort us to address our own sinfulness before a Holy God.
Falling towers and hurricanes tend to garner our attention, but people die every day, and none of them wake thinking, “I think I’ll die in a car accident this morning,” or “I think I’ll have a massive heart attack after lunch,” or “I think I’ll choke to death on a piece of hotdog on my deck tonight.”
Nevertheless, you also will die, and you cannot know when or where or how. Therefore, repent today, not because you fear the wrath of a hurricane, but because you fear Him who is its Creator and yours.
Jesus told you to repent, for He who has the power to exercise wrath also has the power—and the eager desire—to grant you life everlasting when you do so.