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A simple twist of fate or something more?

Two old men walk into the corner shop to pick up their morning papers. Casually, one of them makes a comment: “So you’ve come to pick up the bad news?” “Yes, it’s terrible. But it’s just fate, I suppose,” the other replies. “Well, everything happens for a purpose, but it’s hard sometimes to figure out what that purpose is,” says the first man. Like millions of people across the world these two men are trying to come to terms with the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. On the one hand it all seems so random. The rebel separatists apparently mistook Flight MH17 for a Ukrainian military aircraft and triumphed at the success of their marksmanship. The hapless victims would have known nothing as the plane exploded and their earthly lives were cut short in an instant.

But was this fate? Do these things just happen?

If you think like that, then you are left with a world which is both scary and hopeless. This attitude can breed a callous indifference to the suffering of others – “Well, these things just happen” or a feverish investigation and action plan to ensure that “these things never happen again.” What is the alternative view? Could there after all be an ultimate purpose in this world-shattering event? The Bible teaches that “God works all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians chapter 1 verse 11). God is absolutely sovereign in everything that takes place in the world, from the grandeur of creation to the falling of a leaf. He did not simply wind up the world like a clock and then abandon it to its own devices. He is very much involved in our day-to-day affairs and is working out His manifold purposes for His own glory and the good of His people. “All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans chapter 8 verse 28). This is a great mystery. We know that God is against the wilful or reckless destruction of human life because He teaches us in the Ten Commandments: “You shalt not murder”. Indeed these perpetrators will be brought to justice in this life or in the next for what our Prime Minister has rightly described as a “shocking crime against humanity”. By the way, they will have no excuse that they were bringing God’s purposes to pass because their actions were motivated not by His will but by their own wickedness. How then do we unravel this mystery and so understand God’s purposes and the lessons to be learned from this event? We cannot pretend to fully know the secret purposes of God, but we can glean some answers from the Bible which is the only revelation He has given us to cope with this life and prepare us for heaven.

1. Who is my neighbour? It is easy for us who live in a peaceful, prosperous nation to turn our minds away from the sufferings of others in what we call “the trouble spots “ of the world. Places like Syria, Iraq and Southern Sudan can seem so far away that we can become indifferent to the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the daily horror of war at their door steps. But when a missile strikes down a civilian airliner taking 298 innocent lives we are suddenly reminded that we are our brother’s keeper. The demands for a full investigation so that all those involved are brought to justice are quite appropriate. We ought to fully support our leaders who have been calling on Russia to stop stoking the fires of civil war in the Ukraine. We ought to support and pray for millions across the world suffering at the hands of despots, because they are our brothers in the family of man. We cannot be indifferent. We cannot be silent. They are our neighbours.

2. The brevity of life. Flying high above the clouds – some dozing, some musing on the highlights of their summer holidays in Europe, some filled with the excitement of being reunited with loved ones, many without a care in the world as they enjoyed the exhilaration of flight – one thing is for sure. Not a single one of them thought their earthly lives would be so cruelly extinguished. Over 80 of them were teenagers and children whose lives had barely started. Some were in the prime of life expecting to see out their days in ease. Some were prominent professionals at the top of their careers. All were cut down in a split second without warning. The salutary lesson we learn at this point is reinforced in Scripture. The prophet Job teaches us that “our days on the earth are like a shadow” which soon vanishes. King David says his “days are as a handbreadth”; they are so short. James asks: “For what is your life? It is like a vapour that appears for a little time and vanishes away” (James chapter 4 verse 14). Why do we give so much attention to our life and wealth and happiness on the earth and so little attention to our final destination in eternal life? As a friend of mine says: “This life here is the short bit, eternal life is the long bit.” Indeed it lasts forever! Why then do we all face death? The Bible makes it clear that the “penalty of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans chapter 6: verse 23). We all have sinned and need forgiveness through Jesus Christ Who died on the cross to pay that death penalty for all who would believe on Him.

3. The reality of eternal life. What, then, will we say to those who are now grieving the loss of loved ones? Their bodies strewn among the sunflowers and wheat fields are even now being recovered and forensically examined before being sent home for burial. What will we say? Are there words of comfort? The consistent teaching throughout the Bible is that eternal life is a reality. The conversation between Jesus Christ and one of His disciples, Martha, makes the issue very plain. Martha’s brother, Lazarus, had died and Jesus came to the gathering around the tomb and spoke with Martha. John’s gospel records the conversation as follows:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world

It is interesting that Martha already understood that the dead will be raised at the last day. What Jesus wanted to make clear to her was that her resurrection and eternal life depended on her relationship to Him. If we are united to Him by faith then we have a part in His resurrection and His eternal life.

Let me hasten to add that this applies to you too, and to all who were killed in the destruction of MH17 and who were trusting in Christ as their Lord and Saviour. How can we be sure that these are not just empty words trying to comfort a grieving sister? Two stunning events prove these things are absolutely true.

  1. That same day when Jesus spoke to Martha, He raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, proving that He was indeed “the resurrection and the life.”

  2. When Jesus had been crucified, God raised Him from the dead to prove that He was His Son and our Saviour and the fountain of everlasting life.

You cannot deny these events. There were just too many witnesses. Read the gospels and see for yourself.

Please take these things seriously and ask yourself: “Where will I spend eternity?”

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