Why do bad things happen to good people?
Sycamore Creek Church
Easter Sunday – March 31, 2013
Easter Monday – April 1, 2013
God is good,
All the time!
All the time,
God is good!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
The answer to the question, Why do bad things happen to good people, hinges on these two truths:
- God is good.
- God raised Jesus from the dead.
Today on Easter Sunday, we begin a new series called Why? We’re going to explore the questions that keep you up at night, the questions that you lay in bed thinking about, the deep and hard questions of life. Today we’re beginning with the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?
There are lots of Why? questions like this that are out there. For example:
- Why did children die at Sandy Hook?
- Why did Katrina have to kill so many people?
- Why do people die from hunger every day?
- Why are so many people out of work?
Then there are lots of Why? questions that are not just out there but have to do with me, with each one of us. For example:
- Why am I so lonely?
- Why did I lose my job?
- Why did my spouse leave me?
- Why don’t I have enough money at the end of the month?
- Why is my family so messed up?
- Why was I abused?
- Why am I suffering mental illness?
Taylor Swift sings a powerful song asking the question: Why do bad things happen to good people. It’s called Ronan, and it’s about a little boy who died too early. One of the verses says:
I remember the drive home
When the blind hope turned to crying and screaming “Why?”
Flowers pile up in the worst way, no one knows what to say
About a beautiful boy who died
So why do bad things happen to good people? I can’t in any way pretend that I can answer every possible question along these lines, and what I’d like to share today won’t cover every possible particular situation. But I’d like to share with you some ways that Christians have wrestled with this question and some answers they have found in the Bible. Each answer begins with the word “maybe” because, like I said, these are general ideas and may not fit your particular situation. But they are some “maybes” that will help us to find a handhold or hook to place an answer on. So let’s begin: Why do bad things happen to good people?
A Broken Sin-Stained World
Maybe bad things happen to good people because we live in a broken sin-stained world. What is sin? Most of have an innate sense that the world is not quite right. Most of us have a longing that the world would be more just, more loving, more right than it is. “Sin” is the term Christians use to describe the world as it. God created the world and called it good. But the world misses the mark of what God intended. Sometimes this is intentional, and other times it’s unintentional. Sin is like a train that has run off the tracks. Sin is like a weight that burdens us down. Sin is like an overwhelming debt that can never be repaid.
While God created the world and all that is in it good, including humanity, we rebelled against God. We fell away. The results of this running away from God were a broken world, a world that didn’t work the way God intended or created it to work. And so we live in a broken sin-stained world.
Jesus had a sense of the trials that we would face in this broken sin-stained world. He said:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
John 16:33 NLT
Did you catch that? Jesus said we’ll have many trials and sorrows. We can expect it in this world. This isn’t always because you sinned. Sometimes it’s because you’re the victim of someone else’s sin. My wife occasionally says that she’s married to a thirteen-year-old-boy. Exhibit A took place on one of our first vacations as husband and wife. Sarah was driving us down the highway, and I was navigating with the map in the passenger side seat. I don’t really remember what caused the argument, but pretty soon I was ripping up the map into little shreds and throwing it out the window! This did not help us get where we wanted to go, and it did not help our marriage either. Now why did this bad thing happen to a wonderfully good person like my wife? Why did she end up marrying a thirteen-year-old trapped in an adult’s body? Because she married a broken sin-stained man. And if you ask her, she’ll tell you that I married a broken sin-stained woman. Maybe bad things happen to good people because we live in a broken sin-stained world.
Reap What You Sow
Maybe bad things happen to good people because you brought it on yourself. There are some natural consequences to our actions when we don’t act as God intended us to act. There are some direct consequences. If you have an affair, it will hurt your marriage. If you lie to your boss and he or she finds out, it will not go well with you at work. If you hit your child, you will have a lot of hard work to do to regain a lot of people’s trust.
St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.
Galatians 6:7 NRSV
You reap what you sow. I recently came across a set of pictures on the internet titled, Why Men Die First. When you look at them, you see that the men in these pictures are putting themselves in some pretty precarious situations. I can imagine the tragic end of their decisions meeting with the pronouncement: “He chose poorly.”
Maybe bad things happen to good people because they chose poorly and brought it upon themselves.
Maybe bad things happen to good people because God wants to do something big in your life. Now let me be very careful here. I do not intend to say that everything that happens happens for a reason. I have preached against that way of thinking. When we say that everything happens for a reason, I think we end up making God a monster. We end up saying that God wanted Sandy Hook to happen so that something else would happen. I think that is about as far from the truth as is possible. God cried with us on the day those children and teachers lost their lives. And yet, I do think that sometimes God allows things to happen in our lives because God wants to do something big in your life. Not all bad things happen for this reason, but maybe sometimes they do.
Let me give you an example from the Bible. Jesus and his followers were walking along the road one day when they came across a blind man. Jesus’ followers asked Jesus if this man was blind because of something his parents did (something bad happened to him because we live in a broken sin-stained world) or because of something he did (he brought it upon himself). Jesus didn’t like either of those options.
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
John 9:3 NRSV
Maybe it happened because he was the victim of someone else? No. Maybe it happened because he reaped what he sowed? No. It happened to bring God glory. Then Jesus healed him of his blindness.
God often uses the lowest parts of our life to work the biggest work in our life. Why? Because it is at the lowest moments that we are willing to give up trust in ourselves and put our trust in God. James, Jesus’ brother gets at this very hard truth when he writes:
My brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4 NRSV
After twenty-four hours of labor, Micah, our son, just wouldn’t come out. I’ll never forget our doctor, Amanda Shoemaker saying to Sarah, “I love you and I have to hurt you.” Sometimes God loves us and has to hurt us, or at least allow us to get hurt.
One of the most amazing stories I’ve heard of something like this is the story of Beck Weathers. Beck was part of what became known as the Mount Everest Disaster of 1996. That year eight people died trying to scale the highest mountain in the world. A freak snow storm moved in and guides and climbers made some very bad decisions. In the midst of this was a doctor from Texas who was so badly hurt in the “death zone” (the altitude at which it is impossible to rescue someone) that he was left for dead…twice. Here’s a brief clip from the Imax movie Everest to tell the story.
Beck had his “right arm amputated halfway between the elbow and wrist. All four fingers and the thumb on his left hand were removed, as well as parts of both feet. His nose was amputated and reconstructed with tissue from his ear and forehead.” In his book Left for Dead, Beck answers an interesting question: Would he do it again? Here’s what he says:
“The other most common thing people ask me is whether I’d do it again. At first I’d think, What a stupid question! But as I considered at length, I realized that this is one of the deeper questions to be asked. The answer is: Even if I knew exactly everything that was going to happen to me on Mount Everest, I would do it again. That day on the mountain I traded my hands for my family and my future. It is a bargain I readily accept.”
Beck had been a workaholic. His marriage was in tatters. He was on a course of losing his family. Losing several parts of his body on Mt.Everest shocked him in to reflecting on what was really important in life. It not only shocked him, but it also gave him the motivation to make some real changes. He now looks back on those tragic moments as a moment when big changes in his life happened. Maybe bad things happen to good people because God wants to do something big in your life.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with the question. Here’s the problem with the question from a Christian perspective. There are no “good” people. If you’re not a Christian, and you’re reading me saying this, you may not be used to thinking in these terms. Christians believe that we’re all broken. We’ve all got a will bent in on itself. We’re all fundamentally selfish.
Maybe “bad” isn’t quite the right word, but “sinful.” We miss the mark as I said earlier. This is the case even from birth. Just hang out with a toddler for any amount of time and you’ll see that selfish inward bent of all humanity. St. Paul says:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:23 NRSV
It takes being honest with yourself to get to this conclusion. Ask yourself: What are my interior motives? How do I manipulate language to make myself look a little bit better than I am? Psychologists call this the self-serving bias. When asked, “90% of business managers and more than 90% of college professors rated their performance as superior to that of their average peer.” Something doesn’t add up. About half of us do not have a very accurate (humble) self picture. For example, my own tendency is to sit on the couch and let my wife handle the fussy kid, meanwhile internally criticizing her for how she’s doing it! We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Maybe the right question should be: Why do good things happen to bad people? This past Thursday our church gathered for a celebration of Maundy Thursday (the day when we remember Jesus washing his disciples’ feet) in the local QD Laundromat to hand out free quarters to whoever showed up. Why did a bunch of sinful people get together to hand out free money to other sinful people? Why did sinful people do good stuff to sinful people?
Christians believe that there was only one time when something bad happened to a good person. It was the day that the world encountered perfect love in Jesus and ended up killing him. Why did that happen? Here’s why.
We were created in the image of God to be in friendship with God. That image was corrupted by sin (missing the mark of God’s plan for us), the friendship with God was broken, and one result was that death (literal but especially spiritual) entered the world. The only one who could restore the image and thus, the friendship, was the one who fashioned and created the image to begin with, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the perfect image of God the Father. Like a portrait that has been corrupted, the artist did not throw away the painting (for he loved his creation), but had the perfect model of the image, Jesus, sit again for the portrait to be renewed. So Jesus became human to restore the image of God within each of us. But the power of death needed to be broken for that image to be completely restored, so when the sin in the world demanded that he die, he willingly gave his life. And yet, he overcame death when God raised him from the dead!
When we read earlier that Jesus promised us trials and sorrows, we didn’t finish the verse. Here’s what the rest of it says:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
John 16:33 NLT
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!
There are two extremes that people go to in responding to this Good News. The first is to say, “I am a good person. Why do I need Jesus?” Until you realize your own responsibility in contributing to a broken world, you will never fully understand God’s love. Open your heart to the conviction of God and confess your own brokenness, your own willful sin to God.
The second extreme in responding to the Good News of Jesus is to say, “I have sinned too much. Why would God love me?” Hear in your heart today that God’s love is given freely, that Jesus gave himself willingly for you, that he loved you so much that he was willing to conquer even death, so that no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done God loves you and desires a friendship with you. Why? Because God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it!
God, help me to recognize my need for your Son, Jesus, today. Help me to see how my own sin contributes to this broken sin-stained world. Forgive me. God, help me to receive the love that you have shown me in your Son, Jesus. Help me to know that you love me unconditionally. Restore in me our friendship that you desire and created me for so that I might be a healing presence in this broken sin-stained world. In the name of Jesus and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.