This is the second in a series of sermons “by request” from our “You Asked for it” series. Someone asked: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Short answer: Sin. Sin affects everything. The world is exposed to tragedy and evil because of sin. The whole of creation we are told is affected by sin. Creation is subjected to futility. Says Paul:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now (Romans 8:19-22).
The thing about sin is that it doesn’t just affect the person doing the sin. Sin has this way of having a negative impact on a whole host of people. Sin creates a huge mass of “Collateral Damage”. My sin hurts countless others. Which begs the question, why does sin exist, and why does it continue?
God, because of his great love has given people free will. This means rebellion and evil is a possibility. Bad things happen because mankind is marred by sin and we are intertwined with other people and the rest of creation. Our choices have a broad impact. So we need to be wise and careful.
God gave free will that we might choose to love and be faithful to him. If we did not have a choice or a decision, it would not be love. Love requires an act of will. Unfortunately so many have chosen to abuse or exploit free will, and so our world is broken, and bad things happen.
Why does God continue to allow this? Why would God continue to allow people to suffer in ways which are undeserved? Is that not unjust? If God is just, why does injustice continue? How come “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45)? Why continue to allow sin to infect earth, and put God’s people at risk?
In Exodus 34:6, God reveals his name/character:
“God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Humourously, the phrase “Slow to anger” is litterally translated “long of nostrils”, a Hebrew figure of speech to describe having a “long fuse” if you will. God has a long nose, which is to say he does not reach the point of anger and wrath quickly or easily.
God will repay the wicked for their evil, and will vindicate the innocent. Those who have been wronged will receive recompense from God. Those who have been unjust will be repaid for it.
But he will do so in his time, according to his judgement.
In a recent book, Michael Knowles writes, “Justice delayed, is not justice denied” (Michael P. Knowles, The Unfolding Mystery of the Divine Name, Downer’s Grover: IVP Academic, 2012. Much of this section is indebted to this work and in particular chapter 3: “A God Slow to Anger”)
Why delay justice?
As we read in the apocryphal literature: “For in this, O Lord, your righteousness and goodness will be declared, when you are merciful to those who have no store of good works” (4 Ezra 8:36)
Or in Peter: “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)
And in Paul: “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13:4)
God, in his abundant mercy and slowness to anger, has left opportunity for people to repent and be reconciled. Injustice persists because God is eager to see the unjust turn away from their ways and be reconciled.
Bad things happen because God does not want to see those who are lost destroyed by wrath and not repent and be delivered.
In the Babylonian Talmud we read:
“When Moses went up on high and ascended Mount Sinai, he saw the Holy One, blessed be He, sitting and writing the word ‘long-suffering’ among His attributes, and he said to Him: “Master of the Universe, surely you mean that You are long-suffering only for the righteous.” God said to him, “No, I am long-suffering even for the wicked.” (b. Sanh. 111a).
God is patient and merciful, even to those who may not deserve it. God shows patience and endures our injustice, and restrains his wrath so that we might have opportunity to mend our ways, to repent, to turn to him, and be reconciled.
The prophet Habakkuk was bold enough to pray “in wrath, remember to show mercy” (Hab. 3:2). Even when you reach the point of anger and wrath, restrain that with mercy. God does get angry, but his anger is restrained by his compassion and mercy- even to those who are unjust.
So what do we do with this in the mean time? How do we live in a world where justice has been delayed? How do we sustain hope when we are subject to injustice? For this, I propose we turn to the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12):
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Those who look to God and do not rely on their own spiritual wealth belong to the Kingdom. The kingdom is “already but not yet.” If we are “poor in spirit, our reward is sure, but it hasn’t come in its fullness. But it will. We are to live this life storing up treasures in heaven. This means we may lack treasures (financial or spiritual) now. But we trust in God to provide our reward.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
God’s comfort will come. When bad things happen it is not because God has removed himself. He will work through the bad things to bring his comfort to his people. The Psalmist writes, ”
You have turned my mourning into dancing” Ps. 30:11 (yes, a baptist pastor did just say that God will inspire us to dance!). Mourning is unpleasant at the time, but ultimately it will be temporary.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Meek does not mean weak or quiet or passive. It means humble, gentle, not aggressive. It is those who humbly “plug along” without bitterness and resentment, but chose to press on against adversity, whom God will reward. How we respond to our circumstances speaks to our character, and our character should be like that of God- slow to anger.
When faced with the hatred of the mob, Jesus continued to pray for them, and show compassion. Ranting about our circumstances is not righteousness. We may be tempted to cry foul when things go wrong. But Jesus never promised things would go well for us.
But we are to remain “completely humble and gentle” whether things are going well or not so well. This doesn’t mean we passively accept all things, and become doormats. It means we try to change the things we can, and remain faithful to God as best we can in spite of the things we can’t control.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Do you hunger for personal gain or righteousness. Bad things happening to us should not cause us to give up on living well. Think of Job, who had all his children and his wealth, and his home taken from him. And his response was this (Job 1:20-22):
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
Then, when Job’s health was taken away and he was in physical agony,
his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9-10)
On a side note, ever notice how Satan supposedly takes away everything Job holds dear, but Job still has his wife?
If everything in your life went wrong, would you still praise God?
When the bad things happen, can you say “blessed be the name of the LORD”.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Do good to those who persecute you. Love your enemies. Do not take revenge. Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Lk. 6:36 God is gracious and merciful. We are not in a position to dole out wrath. We are called to show mercy not hatred, compassion not condemnation, kindness not judgement.
Our call to love our neighbour extends to the unjust neighbour as well, to seek his/her benefit and reconciliation.
Luke 6:32-35: ”If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.'”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The bad things which come our way must not lead us away from God. Seek God in the trials so that you will not only be sustained, but even built up. Peter, Paul and James all tell us to see trials as an opportunity to draw closer to God, to learn, and to develop our character. Seek God in the trials instead of complaining. That bitterness is toxic, and will affect your character. But chase God with purity of heart and you will find him. Keep you conscience clear and heart pure by focusing on the task at hand- Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself. Then, you will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Not peacekeepers, but peacemakers- people who bring peace into conflict. We have opportunity to speak into conflict; to lead by example, to speak out against injustice. To open peoples eyes to the damage they are causing. Not in a malicious way, or with condemnation, but in a restorative way. We are ministers of reconciliation.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed are the persecuted. Hard to swallow sometimes. But God will vindicate those who have suffered, and reward them for staying faithful. The bad things now will produce endurance, and endurance will be rewarded.
James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
By suffering in innocence we share the experience of Christ- the righteous one who died for the unrighteous. This is not to say if we become martyrs we make salvation possible through our blood being shed.
But Jesus did not shy away from suffering. Though he deserved honour and glory and praise, he accepted hatred, slander, abuse, violence, and even death.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
It is a blessing to share in Christ’s sufferings… why? Because after Christ’s suffering God exalted him. So we can know that enduring sufferings will lead to God’s redemptive work and he will lift us up.
So, yes, bad things happen. We all experience pain, sadness, grief. But this does not mean that God does not care or is distant. Quite the opposite. Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need not fear any evil, for he is with you. He will walk with you through it. He wipe every tear from our eyes, and for eternity, we will be with him. But his grace and kindness extends beyond us. He is pursuing those who seek to exploit and hate us, and his is gracious to those who reject or ignore him. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.