The death toll in the latest earthquake in Nepal has now reached over 100, and a recent strong aftershock of over 7 on the Richter scale has only worsened the crisis. Painstakingly slow rescue efforts to bring people out of remote mountainous regions are still underway, along with relief efforts to bring food and shelter to those in greatest need. A great many Christian relief organizations have moved in, providing help where possible. The Canadian government has recently agreed it will match, dollar-for-dollar, all eligible donations for earthquake relief. Christians, the time to step forward is now!

Behind these efforts is always the question of “why”? I recently had a conversation with a believer who told me he thought the major disasters in Nepal reminded him of the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, the one in South East Asia and so forth. Since all of these great disasters seemed to happen in what he deemed to be particularly non-Christian countries, he thought this was a sign of God’s judgment.

I immediately interjected, reminding him of Jesus’ plain teaching on the issue. Luke 13:4-5 states, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” One can only imagine the scene here. Eighteen people died on a day that a certain tower fell over, instantly killing them. Perhaps there were people nearby, who just barely missed death by a few feet. But these eighteen died. And so naturally we ask why. Some might have said they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that it was a freak accident. But Jesus’ comment on this matter rules out that response. Others assumed that these people had it coming, that those who died were more deserving of this fate than those who were spared. But Jesus rules this out as well.

Instead, Jesus seems to indicate that natural disasters are a kind of awakening for all of us. When the disaster in Haiti so devastated that country, it is not that they were worse sinners than us; rather, it was a divine sign that disaster awaits the entire human race. If we will not repent, a great disaster awaits us as well. In fact, God has placed into this world a foretaste of both heaven and hell. This earth can offer exquisite beauty and pleasure, as well as nightmarish horror. Either can break very suddenly upon us. It is a reminder that God is both gracious and a righteous judge. Those of us who are spared a present horror must never feel superior, but rather need to wonder why we were spared. Furthermore, we need to remember that an eternal horror awaits all who reject God’s purposes. And we must repent.

What does it mean to repent? At the very least, it means to cast ourselves unreservedly on the mercy of God expressed in the cross of Christ. But it also means that we accept the mandate that we are our brother’s keeper, and repent of our callous disregard for others.

Christian relief efforts are, for us, a sacred obligation to provide grace, mercy and relief to those who suffer.