While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and has burned up the sheep…
Pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering, are elements of creaturely experience appointed by God. The right use of them makes life, the wrong use of them mars it. They are ordained, all of them, in equal degrees, to a good end; for all that God does is done in perfect love as well as in perfect justice. It is no more wonderful that a good man should suffer than that a bad man should suffer: for the good man, the man who believes in God and therefore in goodness, making a right use of suffering, will gain by it in the true sense; he will reach a deeper and a nobler life. It is no more wonderful that a bad man, one who disbelieves in God, and therefore in goodness, should be happy, than that a good man should be happy, the happiness being God's appointed means for both to reach a higher life. The main element of this higher life is vigour, but not of the body. The Divine purpose is spiritual evolution. That gratification of the sensuous side of our nature for which physical health and a well-knit organism are indispensable — paramount in the pleasure philosophy — is not neglected, but is made subordinate to the Divine culture of life. The grace of God aims at the life of the spirit — power to love, to follow righteousness, to dare for justice's sake, to seek and grasp the true, to sympathise with men and bear with them, to bless them that curse, to suffer and be strong. To promote this vitality, all that God appoints is fitted — pain as well as pleasure, adversity as well as prosperity, sorrow as well as joy, defeat as well as success. We wonder that suffering is so often the result of imprudence. On the ordinary theory the fact is inexplicable, for imprudence has no dark colour of ethical faultiness. He who by an error of judgment plunges himself and his family into what appears irretrievable disaster may, by all reckoning, be almost blameless in character. If suffering is held to be penal, no reference to the general sin of humanity will account for the result. But the reason is plain. The suffering is disciplinary. The nobler life at which Divine providence aims must be sagacious no less than pure, guided by sound reason no less than right feeling. And if it is asked how, from this point of view, we are to find the punishment of sin, the answer is, that happiness as well as suffering is punishment to him whose sin and the unbelief that accompanies it pervert his view of truth, and blind him to the spiritual life and to the will of God. The pleasures of a wrong-doer who persistently denies obligation to Divine authority and refuses obedience to the Divine law are no gain, but loss. They dissipate and attenuate his life. His sensuous or sensual enjoyment, his delight in selfish triumph and gratified ambition, are real, give at the time quite as much happiness as the good man has in his obedience and virtue, and perhaps a great deal more. But they are penal and retributive nevertheless, and the conviction that they are so becomes clear to the man whenever the light of truth is flashed upon his spiritual state. On the other hand, the pains and disasters which fall to the lot of evil men, intended for their correction, if in perversity or in blindness they are misunderstood, again become punishment, for they too dissipate and attenuate life. The real good of existence slips away while the mind is intent on the mere pain or vexation, and how it is to be got rid of.
(Robert A. Watson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
WEB: While he was still speaking, there also came another, and said, "The fire of God has fallen from the sky, and has burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you."