I don’t often do this, but given the depth and controversial nature of tonight’s subject matter, I’m posting my full manuscript for tonight’s LOFT. Everything discussed tonight will revolve around one simple question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I will put forth a couple of theories using the book of Job and Paul’s letters, but at the end of the day, my answer may still leave some of you uncomfortable: I don’t know. This is one that we’re going to be discussing and debating right up until the end of time, but I can at least put forth a few theories that have helped me sleep at night…
Also, youth, if you’re reading this before 7pm on August 27th, SPOILER WARNING.
Psalm 33:6-9 states…
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
Even though God is intimately familiar with His creation and even calls it good repeatedly in Genesis 1, there’s a lot of bad here too. There’s a lot of suffering. There’s a lot of pain. Let’s take a moment to pray for the people in our lives who need God’s love and mercy and for ourselves as we enter into this time of worship.
–time of prayer and worship–
–Band will lead “Furious”, “God With Us”, and the chorus of “By Your Side”–
Why do people suffer? You see it almost every night on the news: some new blight in a country that’s only come to our attention because of tragedy. Kony 2012, #bringbackourgirls, we are Ferguson, ALS– bad things all over the place. Or maybe it’s more personal: Why is this thing happening to my friend, and what can I say to him/her? Or even the next question that I’m sure we’ve all asked at some point: Why is this happening to me?
There’s a whole book of the Bible on just this topic. It’s called Job, and most of the book is a 40-chapter debate between one miserable guy, his three confused friends, and God. You’ve probably heard a shortened version of the story before– probably something like this:
There was a man in the land of Uz by the name of Job [bring out Jome the Gnome]. He was blameless and righteous, but the devil bet God that Job would curse God’s name if his life fell apart. So God allowed the devil to kill Job’s family and ruin his health and his business and everything [smash Jome the Gnome with baseball bat], but Job never cursed God, and in the end, God gave him everything back [try to piece Jome the Gnome back together again].
Here’s the part people never mention though: Job never finds out about the bet, so from Job’s point of view, none of what I’ve just told you matters. Let’s look at this story again from Job’s perspective…
Things were going pretty good for Job. He had a profitable business, an awesome wife, ten great kids, and more wealth and respect than he knew what to do with, but he was fully aware that it all came from God, so he constantly offered sacrifices to express his thanks and ask God’s forgiveness for any mistakes he and his family might make.
Then one day, out of nowhere, the Sabeans attacked and took all Job’s sheep and killed several of his servants; only one escaped to tell Job the news. Job was dumbfounded. Just as this news arrived, a second servant showed up and informed Job that fire had fallen from heaven and killed his sheep and all the servants tending them. And then another messenger arrived and told Job that the Chaldeans had stolen all his camels. And worst of all, before he had even finished talking, another servant arrived to tell Job that all his sons and daughters had been killed when a house collapsed on them.
Before long, Job’s health gave out too, and he was covered in painful sores, and his wife began to criticize him, telling him to “curse God and die.” Even though Job told her no and that she was being foolish, he was starting to wonder if she might be right. Why was God letting this happen? He had been faithful! Job sat among the ashes, picking and scratching at his sores with a broken piece of pottery [use shards of Jome the Gnome], and that’s when three of his oldest friends arrived. Out of respect and love for Job, the three of them sat with him silently for seven days, weeping and tearing at their clothes as they mourned.
Finally, Job spoke up and voiced his sorrow and confusion to the friends, but their response wasn’t so loving: All of this must have happened because of something you did wrong. You see, back in those days, everyone assumed that suffering was the result of sin; they didn’t have a concept of stuff just happening to you, so the friends asked Job what he had done to deserve this. When he answered that he had done nothing, they did not believe him, and so they sat there and argued back and forth, to the point that even a young man passing by felt like he had to jump in and argue some more. Sometimes they were eloquent. Sometimes they were angry. But the arguments were always the same: the three friends stating that suffering like Job’s doesn’t just happen, and Job replying that it was happening to him! Though Job never cursed God’s name, he made it clear that he was angry, and he felt like he deserved an answer. (Wouldn’t you?) And then maybe he went just a little too far: he demanded that God come and explain His actions.
And that’s exactly what happened. God Himself showed up in a whirlwind and said something to the effect of, “Okay, hot shot, since you’re so smart, hitch up your big boy pants, and let’s go! After all, I’m sure you completely understand the inner workings of the universe. Why don’t you go ahead and explain DNA to me, Einstein?” And for four of the most beautiful, lyrical chapters in Scripture, God Himself described His universe to an awestruck man who happened to live there. Realizing that he was out of his depth, Job repented. He apologized for thinking he could understand, but here comes the most important part of the book:
God’s words to Job, even though they’re funny and sarcastic and majestic and poetic, can ultimately be summed up in two words: “Trust me.” It ain’t all about you, kid; just trust that I’m looking out for you, and we’re going to fix this, okay?
Job never gets his answer. What he gets instead is a promise: “God hasn’t forgotten you, and He never will.”
The most famous story ever about why bad things happen to good people offers no answer. That should say something to us. I am convinced that the person who wrote down Job was the smartest human being ever –seriously, just try reading this sucker sometime; it’s dense!– and yet this brilliant person didn’t try to make us understand; he just wanted us to trust.
Now, I did promise you at least one theory, so here it is: I need a volunteer. If you could please just come up and stand here. [Tom walks back, grabs pool noodle, and hits volunteer upside the head.] Okay, so, important question: Are you mad at God because I hit you with a pool noodle, or are you mad at me?
Sure, it’s a silly example, but we’re faced with this very question every single day:
Are you mad at God or at the faulty lock on your locker?
Are you mad at God or at the brutal warlord who’s starving his own people?
Are you mad at God or at the bacteria in your body?
And I know what you’re thinking: “But God is in control”, so here’s a real shocker for you: nowhere in the Bible do we see the words “God is in control,” so what if (dangerous thought in 3…2…1…) maybe He’s not. The Bible tells us that God is sovereign over creation; that means that He is the undefeatable ruler of it, not the micromanager of it. It’s clear from His speech in Job that God loves His creation and knows it intimately and seeks to prosper it, but because He’s given us free will, every fiber of creation always has the option to rebel, and that’s the nature of the world we live in today. C.S. Lewis said that you and I were born into a great civil war where the universe is rebelling against its Creator, and you and I have made the decision to side with God and pray for others to do the same for the good of all people.
As Christians, we submit ourselves to God’s will and ask for His direction, but do demons do that? Do bacteria do that? Do brutal warlords do that? Do banks and schools and companies and governments do that? No. They’re doing things their own way, and it’s causing pain. In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul refers to those forces as “the powers and principalities of this age”, and as long as they’re working in opposition to God, the world is going to continue to be like this. Why does God allow that rebellion to continue? Honestly, I have no clue.
But what I do have is some good news: God is with us in our suffering. He didn’t cause it, but He’s there to help us through it. Romans 5 and 8 are all about how He takes the broken pieces of our lives [pick up more Gnome shards] and molds them into something beautiful. I’m going to ask the band to come back up here because we’re going to sing another song before small groups that talks about this. You may remember it from camp. Aaron Keyes wrote it for the express purpose of answering this question; it’s called “Sovereign Over Us.”
“Sovereign Over Us” by Aaron Keyes
There is strength within the sorrow,
There is beauty in our tears
You meet us in our mourning,
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting,
When beyond our understanding,
You’re teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper,
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
Faithful forever, Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us
You are wisdom unimagined,
Who could understand your ways
Reigning high above the heavens,
Reaching down in endless grace
You’re the Lifter of the lowly,
Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me,
Your promises are my delight
Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good,
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley You are faithful
You’re working for our good,
You’re working for our good and for your glory
God isn’t causing your pain. The forces of this world (including you and me) have rebelled against Him, and our pain comes from that. But God is here working with us, supporting us, and calling us back to Him. Let’s talk more in small groups.
[break for small groups]
Small Group discussion questions:
Talk a little about the idea that other forces in this world besides God cause bad things to happen. Is this a new idea to you?
How does this idea affect your view of God?
How does it affect your view of the world?
How will you live differently knowing that God is not causing your suffering but is meeting you in it?
[Depart with singing of “Oceans” by Hillsong United.]