Bad things, Good people

Hi. I’m back. Did you miss me?

I know it’s been a while since I posted in this space but I feel like it’s been a long time since I had anything particularly worthwhile to say. Since my niece stopped swearing, stories worth telling have been few and far between. Or I just haven’t felt much like telling them. I have been enduring a period of enforced quiet. Something like that anyway.

Hopefully that period is behind me now and I can start writing again. I have thought about it several times but could never muster the energy or the time, at least not together. I have been thinking about it more lately and would like to tackle some more Christian themes, I think.

One of those themes is the age-old question of why God allows “bad” things to happen to “good” people. I got to thinking about it after I read a post over at Stuff Christians Like this morning, a post about why “bad” things happen to “good” people.

I use quotation marks there because I believe, as humans, we do not have the capacity to distinguish good from bad.* Typically, we perceive circumstances to be good or bad. But those circumstances that we perceive as bad or negative frequently have long-term effects that are neither. Being limited in our perception of time and space, we don’t have the ability to foresee outcomes, as much as we would like to believe otherwise. We fret and worry and try to control everything around us, whether those things be circumstances or people, in order to achieve certain outcomes we deem to be “good” or, at least, good for us.

When the outcomes are not what we thought or hoped they would be, we’re bewildered, wondering why pulling lever “a” didn’t shift pulley “b”. Rather than realizing that life is much more complex than that and giving up control to God, we run around looking for other levers to pulls, hoping to achieve the outcome we desire. Unfortunately, or fortunately, neither life nor God is that simple.

The whole debate reminds me of two different passages of scripture that I’d like to share. The first is from the book of Job, a must-read for anyone interested in the whole debate of why bad things happen to good people. Job, for those unfamiliar with the tale, is a “good” or righteous man that God allows Satan to torment. There has been much, much debate on why God would ever allow Satan to torment a righteous man. I’m not going to touch that here. But this is what Job has to say about it:

…But how can a mortal be righteous before God?

3 Though one wished to dispute with him,
he could not answer him one time out of a thousand.

4 His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

5 He moves mountains without their knowing it
and overturns them in his anger.

6 He shakes the earth from its place
and makes its pillars tremble.

7 He speaks to the sun and it does not shine;
he seals off the light of the stars.

8 He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.

9 He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.

10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.

11When he passes me, I cannot see him;
when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.

12 If he snatches away, who can stop him?
Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’

13 God does not restrain his anger;
even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet.

14 “How then can I dispute with him?
How can I find words to argue with him?

15 Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.” – Job 9:2-15

Who can understand the purposes of God? No one. Who can dispute the will of God? No one. Even if we’re innocent, Job says, we could not give answer to God. Even if we were innocent.

But are we? I know that I, in my pride, have told myself I was righteous, innocent or good but it was a lie. My pride was in and of itself a sin and perhaps the greatest sin or all. It kept me from examining my own behavior more thoroughly and acknowledging my own sins and shortcomings. 1st John 1:8 says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

So, no, we aren’t innocent. If we could not answer God in our innocence, how are we to answer him in our guilt? How are we to proclaim to him what is good and what is ill? We simply cannot.

Lastly, we are none of us “good”. We say things like “I’m a good person” or “I try to be good” but it just isn’t true. It’s incredibly humbling to think that not even Jesus, who was without sin, considered himself good. (Mark 10:17-18.) If even Jesus did not consider himself good, how can we ever consider ourselves so?

And if we cannot consider ourselves to be good, how can we even begin to consider whether the situations we face are good are bad? They may be painful and difficult to face in the moment but there may be outcomes that we would consider good that we never get to see. We all know it to be true but it is very difficult to remember when you see or experience pain and suffering in the world.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there isn’t evil in the world or that pain and suffering are good. I only suggest that we, as humans, cannot see all the connections and how good might come out of the heartache. We, like Job, cannot fathom God’s purposes. But we can rest in what Jesus affirms in Mark 10:18. God is good. Always.

* (Please note that I did not use the words “good” and “evil”. I do believe we have the capacity to distinguish between those two. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so, inherently, we must, assuming you believe the tale. If you don’t, pretend it’s a metaphor about man’s relationship with God. Maybe I’ll discuss that whole topic here another time.)

Anniversary Gifts

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”. I don’t know exactly where I got it but it has occupied a space on my bookshelf for several years now. I suspect I pulled it out of a box of books someone was throwing away at my previous residence. However it came into my possession, I have yet to read it and most of the time I don’t even remember that it sits there unread.

Yesterday, scrounging around for a book to occupy a few quiet moments, I came across it again and decided to give it a read.  I got through a few pages and then dropped it on the floor for later consumption.

I came back to it today and decided to do away with the burdensome dust cover.  As I opened it to continue reading, I was struck by a dedication that had been hidden by the dust jacket.

May 31, 1977

Bill —

With all my

Love Always-

Ann–

Obviously, the first thing that struck me was the date. Today being May 31st, the inscription was written on this day 32 years ago. Given that this book has been on my shelf for a number of years, I find it an added coincidence to pick it up at just this time. I always remove dust jackets when I read a book too so it’s interesting that I left it on for the first days reading.

This all set me to wondering what occasion might’ve been celebrated 32 years ago.  I guess it must’ve been some kind of anniversary or birthday gift.  Which makes the cosmic coincidence all the more interesting. Had I not gotten divorced, today would have been my 12th anniversary.

As it stands, today marks the 10th anniversary of what was essentially my last day as a married man. My divorce was not official until 2000 but, ten years ago today, my then-wife and I celebrated our second anniversary together. We had a nice dinner and exchanged gifts and she left for an internship in Atlanta the very next day.  I didn’t know it then but it was the last day we’d have together as a married couple. One year later, nine years ago tomorrow, our separation became a divorce.

Naturally, I’ve been thinking of all the things that this day has meant to me over the years.

Five years ago, in 2004, Tiger was getting married. We had a tortured relationship from 2000 to 2002 but had managed to become friends by the time she tied the knot. All things considered, that one definitely turned out for the best. (You know I love you, T. Happy Anniversary weekend.)

Four years ago, C spent this day moving to Atlanta. I spent the time hiking around the Yucatan Peninsula trying not to think about it. I’m sure I was unsuccessful.

Three years ago, I watched my good friend Cathy marry. I read 1st Corinthians 13 at her wedding.  I am sure someone read the same passage at my wedding. A few months later, I would find myself following C’s footsteps to Atlanta, having learned the truth of the passage. “…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Two years ago, I was in Hilton Head celebrating Memorial Day. That was the weekend C and I rekindled our relationship for the umpteenth time. This day kicked off a great Summer, one of my favorites so far.

One year ago, I was in Destin, Florida, celebrating Memorial Day again, pondering the end of my relationship with C and the sparks that might’ve marked the beginning of another.

Today, I spent the better part of my day looking back at the last ten years with a mixture of sadness and regret. I have come a long way in ten years and I’m so much more happy and content with who I am now than who I was then. It took divorce to make me examine who I really was and what was really important to me. It took divorce to make me realize how selfish and uncommunicative I really was. Without divorce as a catalyst, I would not have been forced to address my own shortcomings, something which I hope I have done and something which I still strive to do.

But it’s been hard. Life hasn’t exactly worked out the way I wanted.  I never thought I’d still be single. I always planned on marrying again and still hold out hope for it some day. Though I’m a better person, relationships have not proven to be any simpler since my divorce.

I also assumed I’ve have kids by now.  I have a lot of great nieces and nephews though. I love those guys. They let me get my kid fix when I need it. They also serve to help me realize that maybe I don’t want kids just yet. They can be a handful, that’s for sure.

The bottom line is that,  life may not be what I planned or hoped for over the last ten years but I am a better person that I ever imagined myself to be. I’m stronger by far.  I’m more confident and sure of myself and I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. Life isn’t without it’s abundant recompense.

My mind returns to a passage of scripture that has served as an inspiration to me many times over the last six years. Following the string of coincidences, it happens to be the passage of the day in one of my iGoogle widgets. The passage is Romans 5: 1-5 and it’s been a gift to me. It’s also the gift with which I’ll leave you. Goodnight, all, and happy anniversary.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

In The Order Of Melchizedek

The meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. (Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67)
The meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. (Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67)

Another late night here. I’m just getting in from bible study (a.k.a “small group”). I have to figure out a way to get home sooner most nights of the week. It seems that I get home in just enough time to unwind for half-an-hour before heading to bed. It’s not enough time to spend with myself, especially when I want to update the blog.

Tonight’s bible study topic was the book of Hebrews, covering chapters 6 and 7 in particular. It was interesting to me on several levels. Chapter 6  is an exhortation to the audience to keep the faith and deals specifically with apostasy, a subject covered in brief previously on this blog.

The big question, theologically speaking, is whether or not a true Christian can ever be truly lost or permanently separated from God. Is Christ’s sacrifice efficacious in the forgiveness of sins only once or is does that sacrifice cover a true repentant, even if they’ve fallen away from Christianity previously?

I’m sure these questions have been debated in greater and more philosophical ways than I’m prepared to delve in this space at this time so I’ll give you a link to an interesting article I found whilst preparing for the discussion. The gist is that, even while Christ’s sacrifice remains effective for those who repent and seek him in humility, the warning against “falling away” cannot be wholly discounted. If it could be wholly discounted, it need not have been made in the first place.

While I find that interesting, the more interesting part of the study to me dealt with Melchizedek.  Hebrews 6: 20 declares that Jesus “has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” and chapter 7 goes on to tell about Melchizedek and his relationship to Abram and the Aaronic priesthood.

Many people probably know little to nothing about Melchizedek and, if you don’t, the whole subject is fascinating. Melchizedek is the high priest of God in the time of Abraham an, according to various and sundry traditions, is either a.) Shem, son of Noah, aged 500 years, b.) the son of Noah’s brother (presumably equally aged), c.) without genealogy entirely  or d.) Jesus.

I read through the article on Wikipedia and can recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in biblical subject matter. You can see the various traditions grow from the relatively mundane to the almost wholly mystical. My personal favorite is the take from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

In this […] text Melchizedek is seen as a divine being and Hebrew titles [such] as Elohim are applied to him. According to this text Melchizedek will proclaim the “Day of Atonement” and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples.

Sounds a lot like Jesus to me.

You should go read the article. Even the Mormons have a take on Melchizedek. Who knew?

The other interesting point from tonight’s discussion revolved around the “certainty of God’s promise”. As any Christian will tell you, God is ever faithful and keeps His promises to us. The question becomes, then, what have we been promised? As heirs of the blessing of Abraham, what can we expect from God?

Obviously we can’t expect a life full of happiness and sunshine from beginning until end. What we can expect is that God’s son Jesus will be present in us and will share with us all life’s joys and sorrows. He will be our ready support through all that comes our way and, if we bear with Him faithfully, we will come to the place that He has prepared for us in His Father’s house.

Other than that, God’s promises to each of us are hard to discern. I do believe that God promises each of us things in this life and the next. We just have to take it as a matter of faith that God is active in our lives and that He can and will keep the promises made.

Until then, we lay hold to the hope set before us and, like Abraham, patiently endure

Poppa Says

I thought I would post my father’s reply to last night’s post. The question was whether or not apostates who denied Christ during a period of persecution could return to Christ and have his sacrifice be efficacious a second time. The Donatist said no, the Catholic church said yes. Dad says:

One strong point now. Peter himself denied Christ three times yet he was restored and became a great leader in the church. Where could the story of his denial have come from , except from Peter himself as all the other disciples had forsaken Christ. It says something about the great forgiveness of God and sends a great message to those, who in the face of persecution denied Jesus and were later restored.

The command to forgive seventy times seven is not literal, but limitless, and if we be commanded to do so, how unlimited must be the forgiveness of God? I go with greatness of he Grace of God.

For those of you who do not know, Dad is a retired Methodist minister who has taught religion and ethics for many years. He is no typist, however, so I did some light editing for him. Thanks for sharing, Pop.