Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

That's the gist of my sermon title for Sunday's Easter sermon. It may end up being the title to a series of sermons - it's not like I can communicate all that is relevant about the question in one sermon.

A man reveals to me that his father died too soon, while the son was yet a young elementary student. That absence, that pain is still felt after forty plus years. If God is so good, why would he take his father away - his father was a good man. He was loved, he was needed. Why would God take him and not some dope pusher, some rapist, some warmonger?

The real question is: why does God let bad things happen to good people. If God is so good, why would he let something bad happen to someone, something bad that he could prevent. Since God is all-powerful and only good, you would think that God would intervene more often, keeping really bad things from happening to undeserving people.

Do young girls ever deserved to be raped? Do boys ever deserve to be forced into horrid slave labor? You get the point.

So why does God let bad things happen to good people?

Well, what is God supposed to do? Intervene every-time somebody does something bad to an undeserving person? If not every time, how often? Which conditions should be automatic-interventions? God can't intervene every time, and even if he could, he wouldn't. God does miracles, but a miracle by definition makes it a rarity. That God does intervene at times is something to be thankful for, though often it prompts resentment by those who wish it for themselves in their own plight and not for another.

So God can't win. If he lets people abide by the free-will he grants them, then he gets unfairly blamed for not over-riding free-will more often when it is abused. If God has not granted man free-will, then we can fairly blame God for letting bad things happen to good people, because God is directing all of our thoughts and actions, since we have no free-will.

Does God "let" bad things happen to good people? Is it as if God is standing by a river watching a child fall in, doing nothing when he could do something to save the drowning, screaming boy? Is that the implication? That God watches atrocities happen, letting them happen when he could flick his finger and kill the perpetrators and save the innocent victims? Is God able but not willing?

This is all very philosophical and at this point not very Christian. A Christian reflection on this topic must include the story of Jesus Christ. It doesn't do us much good to ask hypothetical questions about what God can and cannot do if we do not focus on what Jesus Christ does and says. Scripture teaches us that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh; when we see Jesus we see the Father. Jesus Christ is the one who creates, sustains, redeems and restores Creation and all within it.

Thus, the real question: Does Jesus Christ let bad things happen to good people?

Well, what do the Gospels tell us about Jesus responding to the bad things that happen to good people? Take for example, Jesus Christ himself. Could we agree that he is the ideal "good person"? If anyone was undeserving of an unjust "bad thing", Jesus is the guy. And how did Jesus respond to the bad things that happened to him? Did he shake his fist at God? Did he wonder why God was letting this happen? No and No.

Jesus seems to assume that this world we abide in is bent, broken, corrupted, infected with evil. Bad things happen to people in this world. That's just the way the world has become. Jesus doesn't ask God why he lets bad things happen to innocent people. Jesus seeks to use the bad things that have happened to him as a platform to save the very ones who do the bad things to him.

In Jesus Christ, we don't see him questioning God, but rather our assumptions about God. Jesus tells us little about why bad things happen to specific people. He implies that if something bad happened to you, and you didn't deserve it, don't shake your fist at God, but rather seek to forgive the perpetrator, bring about justice if possible, establish peace, and overcome evil with good.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Because we live in a fallen world where evil has reached such a vast complexity, that the random bad things that happen baffle us. We attribute to God what is the result of our fallen condition. Bad people do bad things on purpose; good people do bad things on purpose; bad and good people do bad things by accident. You get six billion people doing bad things even just once in awhile, and you have a recipe for evil on a grandiose, horrific, painful level.

Does God afflict people with diseases and cancers randomly or out of his divine plan? Jesus says little about the source of the diseases, he points out through his words and actions that God is primarily focused on healing people from their afflictions. We wonder why God brings bad things upon us. But Jesus demonstrated again and again that God has come as a man to bring good things upon us. God is good, all that he creates is inherently good, he can only do what is good. He doesn't afflict us, he comes to restore us. We are already afflicted, he has come to heal us. Diseases, cancer, health related problems are not doled out by Jesus to people, they are a result of being human in our world.

Everybody has to die of something. It's how we die that Jesus is most concerned about. Jesus grieves when people die horrible deaths, he knows what it is like. He grieves when people die horrible deaths all alone, abandoned, tortured, mocked, and desecrated. He is opposed to it: the problem is that many of us are not. Jesus is the head, Christians are supposed to be his body. Jesus is supposed to be able to get more done in this world by having millions and millions of adherents continuing his work of good news: forgiveness of sins, restoration of the whole person, alignment with the good will of God, etc.

Jesus could probably stop more bad things happening to innocent people if more people were committed to the same cause.

The real question is not: why does God/Jesus let bad things happen to good people.

The real question is: why do we let bad things happen to good people?

People suffer and die on this earth. That's the way of this world. But it doesn't have to be the only part of the story we fixate on. My mother, while a young teenager, lost her mother to cancer. Then in college she lost her father to a heart attack. Then when I was in college she was diagnosed with cancer. And then diabetes. And then one of her sons died of a brain tumor. And then another one of her sons was killed by a drunk driver.

Why do some people have bad things happen to them, things they don't deserve, and yet they emerge from those experiences without shaking their fist at God. They just know that this is the way of the world. It's not that God made those things happen. It's that God is willing to help bring good out of those bad things. The world is so complex, we just can't know why things happen. If God could do something good, he would do it. So all the bad things that happen, if God could stop each one of them, he would. But he doesn't. Because he can't. He can't override our free-will. If he did, we wouldn't have free-will. This doesn't "limit" God, it just states the obvious: you can't have a square triangle, you can't have two plus two equalling five: it is not within the realm of reality.

What Jesus has proven God to be is One committed to the Reconciliation of all things, the Restoration of Creation, the Renewal of Humanity, the Rescue of Sinners, the Renovation of our Hearts. This is what God can do, and in doing so, he is helping good overcome evil with good.

There is soooo much more that could be said on this subject. That said, there is also so much more that I need to gain understanding on. Nonetheless, I have to start somewhere. These are my thoughts for now...

7 comments:

Câmera Digital said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I am not going to be original this time, so all I am going to say that your blog rocks, sad that I don't have suck a writing skills

Anonymous said...

This was really beneficial to me. I work with at risk youth and just spent a lot of time on the question of "why" with one of them. Wish I had read this beforehand.

Jenny said...

Your post helped me accept the reality of the fall out of God granting us free will and that it's truly not God's fault when we decide to use it for evil. Thanks for this post!!

Anonymous said...

Your post definitely helped to accept the reality of God granting us free will and how it's a black and white situation with sin abounding without it being God's fault. Really appreciated your thoughts!

Nate said...

What about Vesuvius? I don't think people brought that on themselves...

Tim Hallman said...

Nate:

With Vesuvius, or Katrina, or any other natural phenomenon that results in human death, I don't think it helps to see those as "acts of God", as acts of divine retribution, or God just randomly killing lots of people.

The earth is wild, it's a risk to live here. Wherever we live, there is some kind of natural disaster that threatens. Some places are more prone then others.

Sometimes people have a warning to escape and they refuse to listen; sometimes people have a warning to escape and they can't. Sometimes people have no warning. Whatever the circumstances, I don't think it can be proven that God is the one arbitrarily smiting masses of humanity.

It also doesn't help to ask: Why didn't God stop it? God obviously doesn't stop storms from coming. To pray for it is to ask for too much. People die. It's the way of the world. To ask God to always prevent every death in the face of a natural disaster is to ask for many, many, many miracles. And as we know, God is not in the miracle business.

What do you think about Vesuvius?