Questions from the Street: “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Us?”

Mark Wheeler

April 27, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Job 1:13-22

Questions from the Street: “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Us?”

Loving God, You hear Your peoples’ cry. We turn to You for understanding, comfort, and help. We praise and thank You for Your wisdom, Your strength, and Your unfailing love, made ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A long-awaited baby is born – with muscular dystrophy. A beloved spouse is rendered inactive by a stroke. A saintly Christian agonizes with bone cancer. An honest, hardworking merchant loses his business. A devoted spouse is left for another partner. A small nation fighting high poverty and unemployment is hit by a ruinous earthquake. A tiny child is orphaned by a drunk driver. A crack baby faces a very disadvantaged future.

You get the point. Your story is probably different from any of those – but not very different. The question we all ask is: Why do these kinds of bad things happen? Why do they happen to us? Why do they happen at all?

And the other side of the same coin is: Why do good things seem to happen for the already rich, already famous, already taken-care-of? Why do even wicked, evil people seem to experience more “blessing” than I do?

The underlying question, for believers, for Christians, is: How could a good, all-powerful, loving God allow life to be so unfair?!

Today is the first message is a series dealing with those kinds of questions. This particular question, in several different formats, came to me from several people – that’s why it is first to be addressed. Show of hands: Who here today has ever asked a question like this? Yep. I knew I wasn’t alone.

The book of Job, I believe, addresses this question – at least a little. So that is where we will start. How can a God who is both good and powerful let good people suffer and bad people prosper?

So, turn with me to Job 1. I actually read a piece of this yesterday at the memorial service for Judy – because she did not “deserve” to suffer; and neither does Gene. But today, allow me to read a little further from the text. Job 1:13-22…. —-

13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”                                                

                                                (KJV says, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away;

                                                                                Blessed be the name of the Lord.”)

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

We all know this story, right? For whom here is this one of your favorite Bible books to read? For those who don’t know it, and as a reminder for those who do – here’s a very quick recap:

Job is introduced as, like, the most righteous person on the face of the earth. And for those of you my age: “righteous” does not mean “far out” and “super cool” – it means that he lives a life of true integrity; he is faithful to God; he credits God with his prosperity and success; he raises his children to honor God; he lives in a healthy, open, honest relationship with his Maker.

And then a weird scene in heaven happens where Satan challenges God’s man, Job, by saying, “Of course he loves You, God. Look at all You have given him. But let me take it away and You will see that he only loves You for what You do for him, not for who You ARE to him.” And God says, essentially, “OK Satan. You’re on!

I wonder if I live a life worthy of Satan challenging God with my faithfulness. How would you do if you lost everything, everyone? Did you see how Job did? What does it say?

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,       and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;       may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

So, for Job, the suffering was a direct result, not of his sin, but of a world in which Satan has been allowed some measure of influence over us. That is why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Some translations read that as, “rescue us from the evil one.”

That is what happened in the Garden of Eden. Satan tempted Eve and Adam to choose to listen him instead of to God. And the result was suffering – for them and for every generation ever since. The perfect world of “no suffering” became a broken world “filled with suffering”. Have you experienced this brokenness?

Why do we suffer? There is no single answer which can address every occasion of suffering; but let me throw a few answers to you, and you can see if one fits your particular question.

1)   Many evils are caused by the misuse of human freedom. The mother of a crack baby – the result is suffering. The drunk driver hits the young father – the result is someone suffers. Sometimes the freedom is a little more innocent, but still leads to someone suffering: we choose to keep eating double bacon cheeseburgers, and the result is a heart attack; we stay up late watching TV, and the result is sleeping through a final exam the next morning; we think we have to get to work early on a slightly snowy day and the only available vehicle is our motorcycle, and the result is needing a ride to work every day (and surgery, and pain killers, and physical therapy, and the need for a little sympathy) for dozens of weeks! These sometimes sinful, sometimes mistaken actions of limited, fallible, self-centered, disadvantaged human beings cause much undeserved suffering.

2)   Some suffering is punishment(discipline is a better word) for sin. We choose to cohabitate without the covenant of marriage, and hearts are broken. We decide to fill our loneliness with someone other than our spouse, and a covenant bond is destroyed. We cannot violate God’s laws of nature and relationships without facing the consequences sooner or later.

3)   Suffering is good discipline! Hardships develop character, right? We might become better persons with deeper faith through dealing with loss, pain, handicap, and illness. Just before I typed this paragraph yesterday, I lost my “un-saved” sermon, and had to start over. And I realized – a test of faith through a pretty minor illustration of suffering like that might have been God’s way of reminding me that “a little pain” can call me back to Him. Remember CS Lewis’ claim that “Pain is God’s megaphone.” In the New Testament book of Hebrews we are told, “Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there for whom a parent does not discipline? … We had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject the Father of spirits and live? … He disciplines us for our good … Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:7-11). Discipline yields “righteousness” – there’s that description of Job again.

4)   Suffering is needed as a contrast to pleasure.This, in my humble opinion, is the weakest argument for why suffering happens – but it is true. Without a loss, we take for granted what we have. Have you ever given something to the Just-for-Fun Yard Sale because you never use that thing anyway – and then the week after it sold at the Yard Sale you find a need for it? Without suffering, we don’t really enjoy pleasure, because we don’t realize that it is pleasure. In the winter, most of us don’t even think about our furnace – until it goes out! Sometimes, I believe, God gives us hard times to help us be more grateful for life’s blessings.

5)   Suffering is a necessary prelude to new life and hope. This is the message of the cross. It takes suffering to produce new life. Only through the pains of childbirth can an infant be born. Spring would not be so joyous without the barrenness of winter. Jesus tells us, “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must take up his cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life must lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake … will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). There can be no resurrection without a crucifixion.

As one continues reading through the book of Job, what we discover is that Job wants his readers to understand that it is a living relationship with our living God that gets us through the hard times. In Job 19:25-27 he shouts out, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end of time He will stand upon the earth! … How my heart yearns within me!

Maybe our suffering is nothing more than God helping us know how much we need Him!

Job wants us to know that God is real – and accessible – to all who call upon Him – and that God is always present in our struggle to face and to overcome the suffering.

I don’t mean that we don’t already truly intellectually agree that God is real, that He is almighty, or that He loves us. We very well might totally agree with that. But understanding that academic truth does not mean we have a full-on, trusting, relationship with that God! And that’s what’s at stake.

Loving God, You hear Your peoples’ cry. We turn to You for understanding, comfort, and help. We praise and thank You for Your wisdom, Your strength, and Your unfailing love, made ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Resources:

Kaiser, Walter C. ; Hard Sayings of the Old Testament; InterVarsity Press; Downers Grove, IL; 1988; Pp. 149-151.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 374.

Wingeier, Douglas E., and Watson, David Lowes; Troublesome Bible Passages; Abingdon Press; Nashville, TN; 1994; Pp. 20-24.

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