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.)