A few days ago, 30 people were killed when insurgents in Afghanistan shot down a helicopter carrying American troops belonging to the unit that killed Osama bin Laden. Sadly, many religious people in the region will be praising God for his justice. Last year, the prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens was struck down with esophageal cancer. Sadly, Hitchens has been inundated with hate mail from supposed Christians who claim that the disease is a manifestation of God’s judgment. Recently, I heard a sermon in which the speaker, a talented and knowledgeable man, suggested that Britain lost its empire as a result of backtracking on the Balfour Declaration. When a nation turns against Israel, so the explanation goes, it faces the curse of God.
Is the world really as black and white as this? Does God guarantee worldly success to the faithful and misfortune to the faithless? Was Jesus naive to suggest to his Jewish audience that they help a despised Samaritan when he is beaten and left half dead by bandits? After all, the Samaritans had worked to prevent the rebuilding of Jerusalem; they had actively opposed the Jews in Jerusalem during the time of Alexander; they had even encouraged Jews to worship at their rival temple. Wasn’t the downfall of the Samaritan traveler an obvious example of God’s judgment? Why help such a renegade and waste on him two silver coins?
If the downfall of nations, and of people, is a result of God’s judgment on them, then why did the deadly attacks against America on September 11, 2001 occur when a strongly pro-Israel regime was in power? Why did the British evangelist David Watson die so young of cancer while so many of the world’s despots live long and healthy lives? Some claim that America’s economic woes are a sign of God’s judgment against a US administration that is less than friendly to Israel, but could it be the result of America’s costly decision, in violation of Biblical teaching, to topple and execute a foreign leader? Or could financial hardship, like the sufferings of Job, be a test of our faithfulness to God?
How should we react when our perceived enemies suffer? Should we gloat about the perceived judgment of God, or should we pray for them and offer practical help? The Christian physician and scientist Francis Collins, for example, was dismayed when he learned of Hitchens’ cancer and has gone out of his way to help him. His gift of “two silver coins” is an experimental cancer treatment that matches the prescribed drug to characteristics of the individual tumor. Despite sharp differences over matters of faith, Collins has chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus and display love and compassion to someone who is supposed, by the general public, to be his “enemy.”
The rain falls on the just and the unjust, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, and any of us, at any time, may be found to suffer from a terminal illness. Nations that love Israel suffer the effects of natural disasters as much as those that seek to destroy Israel. There are many explanations of world events, and it serves no purpose to portray them in terms of God’s judgment. Only at a personal level can we reveal the true nature of God – by loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us. We should not withhold our help from even our most implacable opponents but, instead, willingly offer to them our “two silver coins.”