On Tuesday June 26 five teenage girls were on their way to a vacation home when they passed a van on a two-lane highway, swerved back into oncoming traffic and collided with a tractor trailer. The girls, all recent graduates of Fairport High School in Rochester, NY, were all killed in the fiery crash. Jeff Pearlman of ESPN wrote a story about the tragedy, closing the story with the kind of sympathetic sentiments that you would expect from such an awful, seemingly senseless tragedy. He writes: These girls “deserve to be heading off to their respective colleges. They deserve to travel the world and fall in love and raise children and spoil grandchildren and know a life beyond adolescence.”

While the shock and tragic humanity of the death of the young rightly brings thoughts similar to Pearlman’s to all of our minds and hearts, it is a colored perspective. It is not until we get God’s perspective from God’s Word that we can respond rightly to the horrible sting of death brought upon this grieving New York town. Our shrinking world brings tragedies such as this to our attention because we live in a culture of information, a world where we have access to every unfolding event on the globe. Here in the West it is far too easy to grow numb to the sheer despair, madness, and chaos around the world because we are so insulated from it. But we shouldn’t merely dismiss these tragedies as sad, sudden or unsettling, and then move on with our preoccupied lives, particularly those of us who hear of such events from the safe distances of our computer or television screens. May God use them to turn our attention towards Him.

I am reminded of a conversation Jesus had in Luke 13. Some people were pressing Jesus on the root cause of a recent tragedy. They thought, “Perhaps these people had suffered such cruel fates because they had done something to deserve premature death.” Jesus, when talking about the 18 people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them and killed them said, “…do you think that they are worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4).

This would certainly be an insensitive message to share with the grieving friends and family of these five girls right now, when the sense of loss is so great, grief so deep, and wound so fresh. It would take a cold-hearted, unwise follower of Jesus to say, “I know you miss your girls, but unless you repent you will suffer a similar fate.” However, this message does not need to be forgotten, not matter how painful the loss. While it is a matter of God’s timing as to when it should be shared, it must be shared. It is a message that once compassionately shared – including to the grieving families in Rochester, NY – I pray is received and heeded.

As Pearlman unknowingly points out, tragedy has a way of coloring what we think we deserve from this life. When sudden suffering or a bitter providence comes such as the one shared above, we have a tendency to falsely believe we don’t deserve such a fate. And in some sense it is tragic that five beautiful girls have had the flickering flame of their lives snuffed out to quickly. However, Jesus brings the real issue to the surface in tragedy. Again, don’t misunderstand me: the deaths of these girls is an awful, unspeakable tragedy. It is a suffering that I would not wish on anyone. Nor do I believe that God is unaffected by the grief of these families. He is present in this situation and is not silent. But, according to Jesus, it would be unbiblical to suggest that anyone who dies – whether prematurely or in old age – deserves better.

Jesus tells us that people don’t experience horrible fates because they are greater sinners than others, but simply because they are sinners like all others. And the warning is real: unless we repent from our sins and turn to Jesus as our Hero, we will all suffer a similar fate. It may be a fiery car crash with our friends or terminal cancer or a massive heart attack or the pull of an undercurrent that causes us to drown. Because of the curse of sin we will all die. Some will die young. Others will die quietly in their old age in their beds. But all will die, and all need to heed the message of Luke 13.

When I read the story about these girls I was reminded of why we should hate sin and its damning curse – and that is just what it is apart from faith in Jesus – a damning curse. Sin and death will have their way with us unless we look to Christ for rescue. It is my prayer that the grace of God will begin to shine through the tears and sorrow of these sober days in Rochester, NY, and that the glory of Jesus would be revealed as the only hope for sinners. May the heavy-hearts of the shattered families be lifted by the grace, mercy and compassion of Jesus during these dark days.