SERMON from 5-27-12: “Questions My Neighbor Asked Me: If God is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen?”

Proverbs 3:5-8

 

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not rely on your own insight.

6 In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

8 It will be a healing for your flesh

and a refreshment for your body.

 

Questions My Neighbor Asked Me: If God Is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen?

 

If God is good, why do bad things happen?

 

Most likely, when you hear that question, you hear it put in a different way.

 

“If God is good, why did I lose my job–without which I almost certainly will need help just to feed my children?”

 

“If God is good, why is there war?”

 

“If God is good, why did my child have to die?”

 

Those are the questions that people ask us that really show where the spiritual rubber meets the religious road. That’s theological practicum. Nurses and teachers know what I mean there. Where is God when it hurts? Why does evil exist?

 

Have you ever been asked that type of question? How do you answer it? I’m not sure I have that great an answer for it. It’s one of those questions where your answer begins three or four different ways:

 

“Well, ya’ know I…”

 

“Uh, yeah, that’s a good, uh…”

 

“Actually, it’s like…

 

It’s at about that point that you’re thinking to yourself, “I just don’t know.”

 

I know you have had conversations with people about your answer to this question–probably heated ones. This is one of those questions that seems to come out of your kid’s mouths when you’re driving home from soccer practice. You stammer for a second, you think of something to say, then you reach for a juice box in hopes of distracting them from their question.

 

We can’t hand our neighbors juice boxes. Our answers to these questions matter. If we give them platitudes about God’s love–or wrath–how can we expect them to take us seriously?

 

While it wasn’t a platitude about God’s love or wrath, I saw an answer to this question that is equally unsettling.

 

I Googled this question. Typically, when you Google something, you get a variety of results. Sometimes, you get pictures, links to websites or videos. One of the video results I got featured a guy by the name of Voddie Baucham. Voddie Baucham is a Christian apologist–which isn’t what is sounds like. Apologists–rather than being someone who apologizes for the wrongs that Christians have perpetrated over the millennia–are people to study how to defend the Christian faith. It’s a bit of a paradox, but that’s what he does.

 

He was speaking to a large crowd of Christians about this question. He talked about his work in traveling around to colleges and universities, speaking to students about the Christian faith. He recounted that he gets these types of questions from students who have taken philosophy. They ask him “how can you believe in an all-powerful God when there is evil in the world?” His joke was that you shouldn’t be able to talk about philosophy if you’ve only had a semester of philosophy–because it messes you up. Having taken philosophy on the college level, I have to say that I kind of agree with him. What I didn’t agree with him on was his answer to this question.

 

He says that when someone asks this question, he replies, “I will answer your question when you ask it properly.” That seemed like a cop-out to me, until I heard his actual reply. He tells these students that the proper way to ask this question is to ask, “How can a righteous and all-powerful God–who saw what I thought and did yesterday–not kill me as I slept?”

 

If you’re in shock or disbelief, you are not alone. I thought the exact-same thing. He continued by saying that to ask the question “if God is good, why do bad things happen” is to say, “how dare an all-powerful God not intercede on behalf of almighty man.”

 

So, let’s play this out for a second. Imagine you are a young, Mexican student. You illegally crossed the border between Mexico and the US with a distant cousin so you could work. You had to do this at such a young age because your parents were killed in the crossfire of rivaling drug cartels. Your younger siblings were taken in by your aunt, but she refused to let you stay–because she can barely feed her own kids. After your crossing, you go to school during the day and and work at night. Most of your wages go back to Mexico to help support your sibings, and you continue to work and go to school. While your illegal status makes it difficult in school, you work hard and are noticed by the right people. You are able to stay in the country on a student visa, but face the prospects of going back once you finish school. You may not get a job and may still have to take care of your siblings.

 

After your first philosophy class, you go to hear Mr. Baucham speak about God. You ask him, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?” His reply? You should ask why God hasn’t killed you for the sins you have committed.

 

How do you not walk away and never give the god he is talking about another thought?

 

Let me stop to tell you…there is not a sufficient-enough answer to this question. Someone will be able to come along and poke all sorts of holes in my sermon this morning. And, to be fair to our friend Voddie, anyone who has ever preached on this issue would just as easily have their argument filleted like a fish. There’s something you can count on as being completely honest.

 

If I am being honest, my faith has hinged upon this question as recently as five years ago. You might not think that’s bad, until you think I’ve been in the pastorate for seven. The bigger testament is that I’m still in the pastorate. It can be answered enough for us to continue in faith.

 

We all struggle with this question. We may still struggle with this question. Our neighbors will always struggle with this question. How do we go about answering it?

 

The favorite place for pastors to begin answering this is to begin in the book of Job. The man who stayed faithful to God through all the ruin that could be put to him. Death of family. Disease. Despondency. Job faced it all. His response?

 

“God gives and takes away, praise him.”

 

“So you want me to curse God when things are bad and only praise him when things are good?”

 

“I will always be faithful.”

 

Have you really taken time to consider how you might have reacted to things if you were Job? I think that we too often think of Job as this other-worldly saint who must just be made of tougher stuff than us. But let’s consider things for a moment. Job went through the same emotions we do when things go catastrophically wrong for us–when bad things happen. We all face these circumstances and all feel feelings as a result.

 

So, instead of reframing the question to ask why God hasn’t struck us dead for our sins, maybe we should reframe our understanding.

 

Remember those platitudes I was talking about earlier? The verses from Proverbs are exactly the kind of thing that you might expect to see plastered on the front of a greeting card that was sent to you from your Sunday School class, because they have been praying for you in the midst of some sort of crisis. “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Just trust him and things will be alright.

 

Think back to the last time you faced a trial. Isn’t that the kind of thing you would give a smile back to, and secretly want to smack them upside the head for saying?

 

A platitude is a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound. In other words, someone who isn’t going through something–or has never gone through something truly challenging–is trying to make themselves feel better by spouting something they remember in Sunday School. Maybe it was their idea to send you the greeting card?

 

It can be tough to understand the actions of others when we are going through something. In fact, that’s the problem with our whole understanding of why do bad things happen.

 

The Proverb goes on to say that we can’t count on our wisdom. We should fear the Lord, and that will bring us the refreshment we in our darkest and driest times.

 

Now, when you run into the phrase “fear the Lord,” do not go to that OT place. When we think about God and the OT, we see the God of wrath who killed the Egyptians and struck down armies. When we think about fearing God–while we understood that God could snuff us out at any time–we are better served to respect God for who God is. To fear God is to understand and respect God–not to be terrified of him.

 

That being said, when we respect God and his infinite power and creation, we should also understand that our own understanding is flawed (at best) and clueless (at worst, and most probable). How could we begin to understand how things within God’s creation work, when we can barely understand the idea of God.

 

What can we know? Bad things have always, continue to and will always happen. Does God cause them? Well, is it God who pulls the triggers? Is it God makes the choices? Is it God who drops the bombs? Is it God who throws the punches? It’s others. Sometimes, it’s us.

 

If God is good, why do bad things happen? I think the answer to that is God is good in spite of the bad things that happen. When we face those times that force us to ask those questions, we should know that it’s okay for us to ask that question. God’s a big boy, he can handle it. What we should know is that there are going to be some things that are so hideously egregious, that we can so easily fail to see where God is the midst of it. However, if we remember that we don’t always have to rely on our own selves in those times–not just our understanding, but our everything–maybe we will realize that God is there for us in those times.

 

Even if we don’t understand, God is still here.

 

And thanks be to him for that.

 

AMEN

 

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