Friday, March 04, 2011

What To Do With The Bad Things That Happen To Good People

What's your initial reaction when something bad happens to someone who doesn't deserve it, someone you care about?

Anger is the appropriate response. Righteous anger is fueled by injustice, unfairness, oppression of the innocents. This kind of anger ought to move us to reflective and righteous action - respond to the cries of the wounded, intercede on behalf of the suffering.

Frustration is another response. We want to make sense of our world, to have adequate explanations for why stuff happens. We want a reason for what caused the long string of events that led up to the tragedy. And the simmering frustration can lead to bitterness, to despair, to giving up.

Job of Uz was afflicted by great tragedy. In the course of a week his possessions were stolen, his wealth wiped out, and all his children and their families murdered. The following week his body broke out in great  seeping sores. His wife in great rage and bitterness implored her husband to curse God and die. Job's friends sat with him in in consoling silence for the traditional mourning for seven days.

If only the friends would have left after that - instead they opened their mouth and tried to help Job accept his situation. They insisted that God is just and therefore Job deserved this tragedy. Job angrily resisted their insights, stubbornly maintaining his innocence:

I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer,
I stand up, but you merely look at me.
You turn on me ruthlessly
With the might of your hand you attack me.

As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,
The Almighty has made my life bitter.
I will never admit you are right,
Until I die, I will not deny my integrity.
I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it.

I rescued the poor who cried for help,
And the fatherless who had none to assist them.
Those who were dying blessed me,
I made the widows heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing,
Justice was my robe and turban.
I was the eyes of the blind, feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy, I took up the case of the stranger.

Job knew he was righteous before God. He knew God was righteous. His mind and soul were being torn apart by the seeming incongruity caused by the unexplainable suffering. And an explanation is never given. Even though God speaks to Job, He does not reveal the reasons for the excruciating pain.

And that's part of the lesson: God will not give us explanations for the suffering of the innocents. God does something else though - he blesses the righteous, and he blesses others through the righteous. Suffering will be part of life - whether you are righteous or unrighteous. Whether you are a good person or bad person, unexplainable hard times will come upon you.

We don't have the example of Job because we ought to imitate him. He have the story because it reflects what one man's experience was like. If we're going to imitate someone who suffered, we ought to consider the way of Jesus.

His story has many similar points as that of Job. Jesus, like Job, cries out: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? But unlike Job, at the end, Jesus also whispers: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

What will you do with the bad things that happen to you? The bad things you don't think you deserve? Obviously we are not talking about the bad things that happen to you which are consequences of your stupid, unthinking, selfish, stubborn choices. Those bad things are your own fault. We're talking about the hard times that come which someone else inflicts on you that is not connected to your choices. What will you do?

Like Job and Jesus, you can cry out to God and rage against the injustice of it - the seeming abandonment of God. Yet like Jesus, you remember that God is there, suffering with you, and he is the one hope you have for emerging from this painfulness. Your whisper of forgiveness, of letting go of the bitterness and rage, begins the process of what you ought to do next. Your desire for forgiveness, combined with your desire for justice, will keep you open towards God and his desire for bringing good and grace into the situation.

God has promised that he will right every wrong. God has promised that righteousness will prevail. God has promised that he will avenge. We must pursue justice. We must pursue truth. We must pursue righteousness. But in the end, if our pursuit results in us becoming bitter, jaded, and despairing, we lose. Our choice to forgive, to trust God, and to follow the way of Jesus in response to pain and suffering - this opens us up to new possibilities of healing and hope.

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