When Rotten Things Happen to Good People
Scripture: John 9:1-11
Have you ever reached that desperate stage in life when everything seems to have tumbled in on you and you stare at heaven and angrily say "Why me God?" It is a fact of life that occasionally rotten things happen to good people.
On average, every person goes through a life wrenching crisis once every five years. Sometimes we seem to avoid rotten things for ten or fifteen years, but then, crunch! - a series of rotten things happen. It can start in childhood with parents parting, with a broken home, an abusive upbringing, unexpected accidents, illnesses, death of parents, brother, sister or a child, the ravages of fire or flood, unexpected termination of employment, a miscarriage, stoke, death of a partner. War parts a family. A car accident takes a wonderful person. The list is endless. Suddenly, inexplicably, undeservedly, some rotten thing happens to a good person. And we cry out: "Why me God? Why me?"
Last November, one of the godliest women among us, finished her voluntary work which she did in Wesley Mission counselling troubled people, and headed home. In George Street by a bus stop, a teenage thief pushed her to the ground and snatched her hand-bag. Amazingly she got up and continued to her home. But she was found to have a broken shoulder and a broken hip. Hospitalised, she recovered well despite terrible double pain and infection. She was able to return to her counselling here at the end of April. But the deep infection in her wound, troubled her. Grace returned to hospital two weeks ago. Grace died Monday of the infection. We held her memorial service yesterday.
One stupid kid doing such a rotten thing to a godly women which caused her so much pain and eventually death. If I could get my hands on that young punk I would lose control in anger! Why do rotten things happen to good people? Why couldn't the bag-snatcher run onto the road and be hit by a bus instead? Why Grace? Could it not have been some menace to our society instead of someone so sweet and happy, who always went about praising God and attending our services? Why does God allow bad things happen to good people?
1. THE ATHEIST ANSWER CHILLS.
The atheist and agnostic have no invisible means of support. They have no answer to the mysteries of life. Everything rotten that happens is merely bad luck. Tough cheddar. Result of random selection. It is simply the survival of the fittest. It is result of genetic and environmental factors. It is just the law of the jungle. It is the nature of the beast. Everything in nature is red in tooth and claw. Too bad. So sad. I'm sorry.
That is all the atheist and smart agnostic can say. The smug graduate who sneers at religious belief has answers for everything but no answer for the problem of pain, of suffering and of why rotten things happen to good people. He can say sorry and feel for you, but he has no answer. He can offer comfort and some cold facts, but either way it is cold comfort for the hurting person.
2. THE JEWISH ANSWER STILLS.
A great deal better is the Jewish answer to the question. The American Rabbi Harold Kushner, wrote a book in 1981 which sold a million copies.
It had the very good title of "WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE." In it he seeks to confront some of the wrong answers given by people. He also seeks to explain free will, and the role of natural law. He also rejects such statements as "You must have done something bad to deserve this." and "You obviously haven't been pleasing God or else this would not have happened." These views are quiet insights from The Old Testament.
The Book of Job is centred round Job, who was a good man but upon whom came the worst calamities and suffering imaginable. Job is a study in undeserved suffering. The unhelpful comments of his three friends are typical of people we meet today. They say that God rewards those who are faithful and punishes those who are not. Therefore, if a person suffers greatly it must be because of some unacknowledged and unconfessed sin. They tell Job that God makes good men prosper and evil men to stumble. But Job rejects that. He is not a bad man. God is not punishing him for what he has done. He trusts God and will continue to trust God even though God were to slay him. It's just that rotten things do happen to good people.
The book of Job stills the heart by assuring us of God's presence. It shows how many bad things can happen to a good person, and states strongly that the suffering was not due to any sin of Job. The well-meaning advice of his three friends is as useless as Eau d' Cologne beneath a wharfie's armpit! Job's greatest insight was that even though God does not explain, Job will still trust Him. Rabbi Kushner gives the best of Jewish answers. It quietens the troubled mind but doesn't give an answer.
For these answers are unsatisfactory. The Rabbi is forced to say that "even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check" as if God was not all powerful. The Rabbi also says that God is "a God of justice and not of power" indicating there are many things that God cannot do. This includes caring for those He loves. Consequently God is as frustrated and powerless as any of us, when faced with the rotten things that happen to good people.
The issue that was faced by Job, and by Jews ever since, and especially by Jews when they faced the horrors of the Holocaust, is "Where is God when we hurt?" The Jewish answer is to trust God regardless, for there are some things that even God cannot prevent. That view is better than that of the atheist and the agnostic, but it is not good enough.
3. THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER IS THRILLING!
Does God send suffering as a punishment for sins? Ask anybody suffering unjustly and they will tell you they have considered that. Others suggest that. Jesus was faced with the issue of undeserved suffering when His disciples pointed to a miserable blind beggar. They said John 9:1-11 "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Replied Jesus, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Jesus strongly affirmed that neither this man nor his parents were to be blamed for his wretched condition. Rather this wretched condition was going to be an opportunity for the work of God to be seen. "6 Having said this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7 "Go ," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam."
"So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man." 10 "How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. 11 He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."
Jesus was giving another answer. Suffering can be used for good. There can be a redemptive purpose in pain. Whenever Jesus met undeserved pain and suffering, He responded with care for the person and with deep compassion. He suffered with the person. Frequently He healed the condition causing the pain. But there is more. For Jesus does something no-one else in history or in any other religion does: He takes upon Himself our pain.
He could have avoided suffering, the suffering of the Cross. He said He could have called upon God's almighty power to relieve Him of it. But instead, He willingly took it upon Himself and died for sinners. His suffering was the price of our forgiveness. By His stripes we are healed. Jesus is the suffering servant predicted by Isaiah. Chapter 53 He bears our diseases, takes our pains, is wounded for our transgressions, and through the rotten things that happened to this good man, we are redeemed. The heart of Christianity, is the conception of bearing the pain of others, so that they might live. That is the deep meaning of the Cross of Jesus. The real pain of undeserved suffering lies in the seeming injustice of it all. It is just not fair!
But God Himself suffered injustice upon the Cross. God is not a spectator of our suffering. God is a participant in it. God who suffers, shares in our suffering that we might share in His overcoming of it and transform any hideous situation into something that can be used for good. God suffers with His people that He might strengthen them and enable them to cope no matter what might come.
Do you remember that great Scots athlete, Eric Liddell? The film of his great Olympic achievement "Chariots of Fire" has been seen by millions. His commitment to God was seen in his decision not to compete in an Olympic final on a Sabbath because that would mean he could not worship God. That decision cost him an Olympic Gold Medal. However in another event he won gold setting a world record that stood for 23 years.
Eric Liddell then became a missionary to China. He was interred by the Japanese when they invaded China. In a stinking, over-crowded prison camp, Eric Liddell set about devising programs of entertainment, supervising dances, playing games, offering science and language lessons. The young people were particularly aggressive couped up and confined. But as Langdon Gilkey, who was there, said: Liddell "poured all of himself into this effort to capture the minds and imagination of those pennedup youths. This man was overflowing with good humour and love of life. He was the closest to a saint of any man or woman I have ever known." Upon arrival in the prison camp, the prisoners discovered there was only four toilet seats for more than 2000 people. Within days the toilets were blocked and overflowing.
Immediately some missionaries with clothes tied round their faces, waded in and cleaned up the mess. As the years went by, it was these missionaries that were the ones who comforted the dying, did the laundry and cared for the children of sick adults. It became a common expression, spoken by the interred prisoners: "No-one but a missionary would have taken on that job!" Eric Liddell and his fellow missionaries had an inner power the others lacked. It came from their commitment to Christ.
On June 9th 1991 a memorial stone was unveiled in Weifan City in Northern China marking the place where Eric Liddell died just before the end of the war - still a prisoner, but a man at peace and in control. In Chinese and English it declares: "Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." He demonstrated God's inner power to overcome suffering! It marks the spot where a great Christian showed the Spirit which could not be crushed by rotten things happening to good people.
That same inner power from the spirit of God is available for each one who believes. Even in the most unjust of situations, in the most painful of circumstances, when rotten things happen undeservedly, the Christian answer is not some theory or philosophy of suffering. It is the presence of Jesus Christ to strengthen and uphold you in your suffering. It is the capacity of God to take your suffering and turn it into something helpful for other people. Christianity does not become an escape from reality. It is the spiritual power that enables you to see it through triumphantly, and still be good!
Gordon Moyes 1999
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