14–20 May 2017.
The people on Malta must have looked at Paul with a mixture of compassion and shock. Paul’s ship had just gone through a terrible storm, and then struck a reef and was destroyed. The travelers all miraculously made it to shore, but then just as the danger seemed to be past suddenly Paul is badly bitten on the hand by a snake. Knowing that these men were prisoners, the Maltese locals guessed that Paul must have been a terrible murderer to suffer so much. In their minds, the storm, the shipwreck, and the snakebite were all attempts by the gods to finally get revenge on Paul for what must have been his evil crimes.
But we know that’s not true at all. Paul wasn’t a violent killer; he wasn’t guilty of anything. But it’s hard for people – even modern people like us – to break this habit of thinking that bad things only happen to bad people.
Back in 1873, an American lawyer and Presbyterian Church elder Horatio Spafford bought tickets for his wife and 4 daughters to travel to England. But along the way, disaster struck. The ship sank, and while Spafford’s wife survived, their four little girls all drowned. When Spafford heard the news he rushed to join his wife. On his journey, as he passed by the place where his daughters died, he wrote the moving hymn: “It Is Well With My Soul.” But when Spafford’s church heard what had happened to his family, instead of supporting him they rejected him, thinking God must be punishing his family for some secret sin. What a terrible way to behave!
Acts 28 tells us that after the shipwreck, Paul still worked to serve and heal the people of Malta. As for Spafford and his wife, they too didn’t let their shipwreck tragedy stop them. They left America behind them, and spent the rest of their lives serving the needy in Jerusalem.
Today, when we see bad things happen in the lives of others, we really must reject the temptation to criticize those people as sinners. Not only is such thinking very wrong, it gives people extra pain at a time when they are already suffering. Both Paul and Horatio Spafford stayed strong in their faith despite their shipwreck disasters. But we know that not everyone can be that strong. That’s why when we see others struggling, it’s so important for us not to stand back and criticize, but to reach out to them in love and lend a hand.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis