Summary: We all ask it....why? And "why me"? Is there an answer?
Job was a man who lived in Uz. He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion. Job 1:1 (TMSG)
No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life. Job 3:26b (TMSG)
Why does bad stuff happen to good people? This question is such a complex issue that the more layers of this onion-like riddle you peel-back, the more questions you uncover (and, like peeling onions – the more you feel like crying!).
To ask the question opens an entire semester of study for anyone seriously desiring an answer! It could be the start of a lifetime of risky grappling with who God is, who I am, and just what the meaning of life might be – why am I here, anyway? A decade of sermons would merely dance around the edges of an answer to why bad stuff happens to good people. Perhaps the best I can hope for today is whetting your appetite to get in the wrestling match as an honest discipline of engagement with God.
And so, what I’d like to do is just introduce some of the onion layers in hopes of starting a conversation (not an argument). Here are seven of some of the next ISSUES that snap into focus when you begin to peel the layers off the onion.
1. God’s Existence
The very question, why does bad stuff happen to good people, is subjective at best – and, at worst, seditious for a member of God’s creation. It makes us a judge over God; it is the creation demanding an answer of the Creator. Just by asking the question we assert that we are the ones to define what and who is good or bad.
Collectively we know in an instinctive way, that people like Adolph Hitler do bad things. But, because we’re not God we cannot say with certainty that even the most heinous of actions are outside of God’s goodness. That may sound contradictory, but if God is truly God, and good – as His word declares, nothing escapes his view or his control:
And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Hebrews 4:13 (NRSV)
An objective approach, where the answers come from the revealed nature of God in His Word, is more respectful for the creature when approaching what is clearly in the Creator’s hand. Moses put it this way:
29The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29 (NRSV)
Moses was declaring that some things are God’s alone, but what God has revealed is what we should be teaching to those who come after us, so that they can live within His will.
2. Human Limitations
We are certainly limited as to making judgments about eternal things because we are hemmed-in by time and space. I have trouble understanding some things I’ve seen. For instance, why did an eight-year-old girl who used to live near my daughter in Thomasville die of cancer? I buried a little infant girl several years ago – she only made it about half a day in this world. Her birth mother was barely into her teens, and the father had to get special permission to be released from jail to attend the funeral.
My friend in Florida was an excellent homicide detective. He helped bring serial killer Danny Rolling to justice; my friend died last year of brain cancer, not even 60 years old. I cannot fathom the depth of suffering of the people in Haiti, or starving children in this world.
But all that notwithstanding, I cannot see what God sees. Rabbi Shraga Simmons tells the story of a farmer who owned a horse. And one day the horse ran away. All the people in the town came to console him because of the loss. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the horse returned to the farm accompanied by20 other horses. (Apparently he had found some wild horses and made friends!) All the townspeople came to congratulate him: “Now you have a stable full of horses!” “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a good thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the farmer’s son was out riding one of the new horses. The horse got wild and threw him off, breaking the son’s leg. So all the people in town came to console the farmer because of the accident. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”