WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
One of the most frequently asked question is also one of the most difficult to answer. Why do bad things happen to good people? Or to put that question into a religious context; how could a loving God let his children suffer?
When confronted by those questions we have a choice. We can do one of two things. We can either run away – which is something that all of us are tempted to do from time to time. Or we can attempt to provide honest answers to these honest questions. May I suggest that the latter option is the better one. As Christians, we need to be able to respond to people’s honest questions. We need to be able to defend what we believe to be true and present faith as a viable option within the storms of life.
We need to understand something else as well. These questions are not new. They are as old as faith itself. We even see them in the Bible. Job wondered why he had to suffer. He had done nothing wrong to deserve what happened to him. And yet he suffered greatly. He lost almost everything and it cause him great pain. Why?
The book of Revelation was written by John to people who, despite their best efforts to remain faithful to God, continued to face persecution, ridicule and even death for their faith. In Revelation 7:14 (NIV) John describes the great multitude that is standing before the throne of God. He writes, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation.” They are the martyrs for the faith. And in Revelation 6:10 (NIV) the question is asked, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Even Jesus, as he hung on the cross, wonders why some things happened as they do. In Matthew 27:46 (NIV), he says these famous words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Those are important words because if the perfect, sinless Messiah could come to the point where he felt forsaken by God, surely we have to accept that sinful people can feel the same way.
So, how do we respond to these questions? How do we get into a meaningful dialogue that will help others to get past their questions? As in all things we turn to Scripture.
The book of 1 Peter, like the book of Revelation, was written to Christians in Asia Minor who were experiencing persecution. It is addressed to persecuted Christians living in five regions of Asia Minor and encourages the readers to emulate the suffering Christ in their distress, remembering that after his Passion and death Jesus rose from the dead and is now in glory. The five churches mentioned in 1 Peter are different than the seven churches in Revelation but the wave of persecution seems to be the same on.
Today’s reading is 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV) and it says this:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
I want to focus on 1 Peter 1:6 (NIV) which says this: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” In this verse, Peter is talking about the coming kingdom where every sin will vanish and every tear shall be wiped away. He is encouraging the Christians to live with hope for that coming day. But he also recognizes that even though they can look to the future with hope, they still have to face the struggles of life until God’s kingdom is fulfilled. He tells them to rejoice even though now for a little while they might have to suffer grief in all kinds of trails.
Peter acknowledges that suffering is inevitable in the life of the early Christians. He isn’t going to skirt around the issue. He wants to address it. That’s the very first thing that we need to do when people ask us how a God of love can let innocent people suffer. We have to understand that those questions come out of their experience. They probably are asking them because they themselves have gone through tough times when they felt that God should have been there for them but didn’t seem to be.
Too often our response is to say that God doesn’t make people suffer but God does allow it. When someone is hurting do you think they wants to hear that? I think I can say with some degree of assurance that they probably don’t want to hear that. Rather what they want to know is that you have heard them. Don’t dismiss their pain. Don’t try to explain it away. Like Peter, just accept it for what it is. Peter says that he knows the Christians are going through a period of hardship. He hears it. He accepts it and he uses their pain as a teachable moment. People who are hurting don’t need a well thought out and presented theological discourse on why good people sometimes suffer. All they really want to know is that someone has heard their pain and accepts them for who they are. If you begin there, you may open doors that will allow the Holy Spirit to begin working on that person’s heart.
After accepting the reality of the pain that the people are suffering, what does Peter do next? Only after acknowledging their pain does Peter begin to offer an explanation. We see this in 1 Peter 1:7 (NIV): “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
It is interesting that Peter’s explanation for the suffering of life is that it can provide a great benefit. What is that benefit? The benefit of suffering is that it strengthens our faith. The illustration that Peter uses makes some sense. He talks about gold that is refined by fire. When ore containing gold is melted down it separates into different elements. Because gold is so heavy it sinks to the bottom and most impurities float to the top where they can be scooped off. By getting the impurities out it becomes more pure and precious. That means that putting gold through the fire makes it better.
Another example is steel. It becomes stronger when it is heated. It’s called tempering. Do you what else can be tempered? Chocolate can be tempered. It’s also done by heating. When chocolate is initially made, the cocoa butter is very granular which means that natural chocolate is actually quite crumbly. To get that nice uniform snap to a bite of chocolate bar it requires that the cocoa butter be heated to exactly 34 C or 93 F. Any lower and the chocolate will be too soft. Any higher and it will be too hard. So even chocolate is made better when passed through the fire.
In Peter’s day there are many people who feel like they are passing through fires of persecution. His point is that while from our perspectives that suffering may seem pointless, from God’s viewpoint, it may well make us more faithful.
Isn’t that true? If most of us are going to be honest with ourselves, when you look back at your walk with God, the times when you have grown the most were the tough times. There’s a good reason for that. When life is good and life is easy, you can pretty well handle things on your own. In those times you don’t need God and so you don’t rely on him. But when tough times come – the fires of life – that’s when so many people decide that they need God. Lots of people who never pray all of a sudden become prayerful when faced with a serious illness or a difficult situation. People who never give a second thought to the things of God suddenly want some assurance of where their loved one is during a funeral.
No one likes to go through tough times but those tough times become teachable moments because it is often during those times that we are most open to a word from God.
But now comes the most challenging part of what Peter writes. We might have some sense of how we can grow in faith through times of struggle but where do those struggles come from? Traditionally, we say that while God allows suffering, God is not the author or cause of suffering. We get that from the story of Job where Satan approaches God and requests that he be allowed to cause suffering to Job. God gives permission, saying that Satan can do anything as long as he spares Job’s life. In this situation, God only allows the suffering. It is Satan who causes it.
My question to you is this: is that true of all suffering? Does suffering always have its source in Satan or maybe, just maybe, is it possible that God not only allows suffering but that God in some situations actually causes it to happen? That’s a challenging question because it goes against the grain of the way that we want to see God. But let’s for a moment step out of what we think God should be like and instead look at how the Bible describes God.
Here’s the question that we need to consider: Can we find examples in the Bible where God not just allows suffering but actually causes it to happen?
Daniel 1:1-2 (NIV) says this: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim into his hand along with some of the articles from the temple of God.” Did you get that? God not only allowed Babylon to defeat Judah, Daniel wrote that God delivered Judah into their hands. What that says to me is that God wanted it to happen; in fact, God caused it to happen.
Jonah 1:4 (NIV) says this: “Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god.” Did you catch that? God did not only allow the storm to happen. It says that God actually sent it. Later on, after Jonah had been tossed overboard, God also provided a big fish to swallow him. The point is that God made these things happen.
Let’s look at one more. Let’s look at Jesus. Easter Sunday was just last week. On Good Friday we remember how an innocent man was brutally nailed to a cross. We remember how Jesus died and how devastated were his friends by those events. Here’s the question. Did God allow that to happen or did God cause it to happen? I think it’s pretty clear that the crucifiction happened because God wanted it to happen. God needed a blood sacrifice to pay the price of our sins. And so God sent Jesus, the perfect sinless sacrifice to be the sacrificial Lamb. The long and the short of it is that Jesus suffered and died on the cross because God ordained it to happen.
Those are three examples where God not only allowed suffering to take place. God caused it to happen. I could point to many more examples in the Bible. So maybe we should rethink our attitudes towards suffering. For it seems that, biblically, human suffering has its origin in two places. It can originate with Satan or it can originate with God.
So what’s the difference? On the surface there is none because pain is pain and suffering is suffering. Whether God caused Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians or whether Satan did it, Judah still was defeated. Whether God caused the storm in the book of Jonah or whether Satan caused it, Jonah was still thrown overboard to be swallowed by a fish. And whether it was God or Satan that sent Jesus to the cross, an innocent man still died. It doesn’t matter who causes suffering, suffering is still suffering. It still hurts.
So what’s the difference? The difference is in the purpose of suffering. Suffering caused by Satan is intended to draw us away from God. Go back to the book of Job. In Job 1:11 it says that Satan wanted to make Job suffer so that Job would blame God and fall away. When Satan causes suffering, it is draw people away from God.
So what’s God’s purpose in suffering? We discover in 2 Kings 24 that the reason why God turned away from Jehoiakim was because he did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He had even gone as far as to practice human sacrifice. From our perspective it appears that God abandoned Judah but from God’s perspective it becomes clear that the reason why God caused Babylon to defeat Jerusalem was to stop these evil practices and to bring Judah back to faithfulness.
Why did God cause Jonah to suffer? It was because God had to get Jonah’s life back on track. God wanted him to go to Nineveh to tell that great city to repent but Jonah chose to disobey God and go in the other direction. God still wanted to save Nineveh but if he was going to do that, it had to be through Jonah. Causing the storm at sea and having Jonah sit in the belly of the fish for three days merely gave him some time to think about it. In the end Jonah returned to God and Ninevah repented saving thousands of lives. Once again, God’s purpose was to bring people back to faithfulness.
Finally, let’s look at Jesus. Why did he have to die on the cross? Because God is cruel and inhumane? No. It was because God needed a sinless sacrifice to bring us back to him. Jesus willingly suffered for us so that we could be right with God. God’s greater purpose is again fulfilled because we are reconciled to God once more.
Satan may use suffering to try to lure away from God but when God causes the suffering, it is bring us back to faithfulness and abundant living.
OUR FINAL HOPE
Peter acknowledges the people’s pain. Then he tries to help them to understand it and see the benefits of it, that their faith will be strengthened. The final thing that Peter does is this; he gives them a reason to hope. 1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV) says this: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
What that is saying to us is that while we have to live with suffering in this mortal life, it is minimal compared to the inexpressible and glorious joy that we will know in God’s kingdom. That is the place that John talked about in Revelation 7:16-17 (NRSV): “They shall hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun shall not strike them, not any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the thrown will be their shepherd and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That is God’s promise to all those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.
This is our hope. Until that day comes, we continue to live with the ups and downs of life knowing that God is there in our joys and our sorrows, in our laughter and our tears. No matter what life brings our way, his love is unconditional and he is always calling us home.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, in the full assurance of your presence with us. You have said that where two or three gather together in your name, you are in their midst. We thank you that you are faithful even now to hold us in your love. Your compassion is endless. Your mercy extends to the bounds of eternity. How awesome you are in tenderness and power.
There is so much for which we can be thankful. We offer our thanks for the power of the Cross and the reconciliation that you provide in Jesus Christ. We pray for those who need to experience the power of the resurrection. Many people still do not know Jesus as their Saviour. Many still live under the illusion that they can discover their salvation through careers, education, relationships or the things of this world. In fact, all women and men need to turn their lives over to Christ so that they can be set free from the burdens that bind them.
We lift up those who are sick at home or in hospital. Lift them up, O God of Love, above their confines of their conditions so that they may life to the fullest as each new moment arrives.
Heavenly Father, we pray for those who are caught in a never ending stream of violence and suffering. Our hearts cry out for the people of the Ukraine, the Middle East and other areas of the world that are plunged into violence. We know that violence only hampers the process of peace. We ask for peace and justice for every region of your creation. We also pray your blessing upon Canadian military personnel wherever they are serving at home or abroad. Thank you for their service.
Help us every day to live the resurrected life of Christ that others may see the difference that it makes. Open doors of faith through which we can walk. Open hearts for Christ that all may come to saving faith and be made right with God. These prayers are lifted in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 16, 2023 / Easter 2
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
CALL TO WORSHIP
We love you God because you hear our prayers.
We love you God because you see us as we are.
We love you God because you touch our souls
and save us by your grace and compassion.
Holy and Merciful God, the flowers of spring poke their brave heads above the frozen ground reminding us of the hope that we have in you. When all seems bleak, you are there. When all seems cold, you give us warmth. When all seems dark and forbidding, you shine your light upon us. How wonderful are your paths, how magnificent your visions, how awesome you handiwork. Inspire us, anew, in our time of worship. Enliven our hearts to live in your way, the way of Jesus. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come proclaiming that Jesus is risen but we sometimes live as if his body were still in the tomb. Darkness creeps into our souls and blinds us to your way. Forgive us when we forget to walk the road of the cross. Forgive us when we struggle to believe and are filled with doubt. Thank you God that, even in the midst of our fear, you are there with compassion and hope. Hear our confessions and heal our wounds.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The early Christians walked the road with our Risen Lord. They touched him and spoke to him. They shared the things of life and of eternity. Though we do not see him, we know him. Though we can not touch his wounds, we are able to come before him as whole and forgiven people by the blood of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Jesus walks with us along the way of life. He gives us bread and drink, hope and healing. We offer in return our lives represented by what we have gathered in these brass plates. Fill us with, O God, with your inexplicable love that all of our lives may be dedicated to your holy service. Amen.
The blessings of the Father of Glory be with you.
The blessings of the Son of Light be with you.
The blessings of the Spirit of Life be with you.
The blessings of the Three carry you through life