We live in an age where we believe almost anything can be fixed. After every disaster, every issue, “lessons must be learnt”. Of course, there may be some lessons to learn. There may be some things we could do better next time. But quite often, there really isn’t. Sometimes, bad things happen and we are powerless to do anything much about them at all.
I was reminded of this just yesterday. A visit to my doctor – having been referred by my GP who could not resolve the issue – did not worry me. After all, what can’t be fixed or mitigated somehow. Well, it turns out, what I have cannot be. I’m sorry, the doctor said, but there is nothing we can do. The infamous words “this is something you will have to live with” and “your pain threshold over time will hopefully adjust” were uttered. Great(!)
As it happens, my issue is not especially serious. It isn’t acute though it is apparently “chronic”. It is painful, but not agonisingly so. But the sigh from the doctor, the fact that I just have a thing to live with forever now, was a bit of a bummer if I’m being honest. Apparently there really is next to nothing that can be done. The illusion of everything being fixable, nothing being beyond our ability to solve, flitted away. It is a mirage.
Perhaps this is particularly in my mind because, in our community group on Tuesday, we were looking at Joel 1. One of the points in that passage – or, at least, the sermon that was preached on the Sunday to us – was that when disaster strikes, it so often reveals what we really value. Our response when something is taken away from us. Not just our reaction to losing the thing itself (in Joel 1, it was crops due to a locust infestation) but our expectation about how, or even if, disaster could be mitigated. As we considered this in our community group, we thought about how Western society at large is always surprised by disaster, always assumes human error or lack of human preparedness is the cause and if we could only learn the lessons of why things went wrong this time, we’ll be able to sort it out should it roll around again. But this is a mirage. There are plenty of things that are simply beyond our control. Whatever lessons might be learnt, none of them could stop the thing itself.
Sometimes, as Joel 1 wants to remind us, things happen that only the Lord himself can control. It seems – as per Jesus’ comments in Luke 13:1-4 – he sometimes allows these things to wake us up to the greater and more terrible reality of final judgement. Jesus’ response to the disaster at the tower of Siloam was to call the people he was speaking with to repentance. Not specifically to repent of what happened at the tower – they had nothing to do with that – but to repent of their own sin.
Disaster may strike at any time, it is likely altogether out of our control, and it should cause us to remember there is a greater disaster to come on those who have not turned to Christ. Our response to disaster is to recognise our finitude, our helplessness and realise we need to repent before the greater disaster of the Day of Judgement is upon us. One disaster from which we are spared should cause us to consider the greater disaster coming upon those who are outside of Christ and to respond properly to it by believing in the Lord Jesus and going out to warn others of what awaits them if they do not repent and turn to Christ.