Is human tragedy caused by sin?
The Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 is believed to be the deadliest tsunami in history which killed more than 230,000 people across 14 countries.
At the time, the Boxing Day tsunami sparked debate amongst religious leaders as to whether the terrible destruction and loss of life was an act of God.
The then Anglican Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, triggered a row after saying that disasters are part of God’s warning that judgement is coming.
One person, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald said, “Perhaps (Mr Jensen) can point out the horrendous type of sin that these communities have apparently been committing, not yet noticed by the rest of the human race, to deserve such extraordinary judgement and punishment.”
Another person said, “I am no biblical scholar, but if Jensen’s God wantonly and cruelly kills tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children, the vast majority of whom are poor, then my God is a different one!”
Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus' disciples struggled with this same problem: Is human tragedy caused by sin?
One day they met a man who had been blind since birth. They asked Jesus, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
In the first century, most people believed that all suffering was the result of sin. A person who was disabled, blind, deaf or sick would be seen as the result of overt or covert sin.
The disciples wanted to know where to lay the blame for the blind man’s suffering – was it his fault or his parents' fault?
Jesus responded by correcting their theology. He said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."
We learn in Sunday’s Gospel reading – John 9:1-41 – that God does not wish suffering on people, but that God can use situations of suffering and trial to reveal his glory and bring about a positive result.
Certainly some of our suffering does come from our own choices and actions. It would be hard to say a person who had chain smoked for fifty years was not in some way responsible for his or her own bout with lung cancer.
There are things we do to bring pain and suffering upon ourselves. But Jesus helped the disciples to see that it's not always the case. Sometimes it's better to watch what God can do with a terrible situation than it is to sit around and analyse who is to blame.