Monday, 11 July 2011

Only Once.

A difficult question

There is a really old question that keeps on coming up: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It would be completely impossible to address this question fully in just one short post.  There are whole libraries of material written about the topic of suffering and pain which are written by far more experienced and more qualified people on this topic.  We will only attempt to unpack a few small things here which will hopefully be somewhat helpful.

As we endeavour to scratch the surface of this big question we will consider it in two parts.

Why do bad things happen?

Suffering and death have been around since the beginning and so it is to the beginning that we have to go if we want to find some answers.  As we do so we discover that actually death and evil haven’t been around since the very beginning:

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Genesis 1:31

So God made the world perfect, humanity living in harmony with its creator, peace and life for everyone.  Paradise!  But then we messed it up, rejecting the one command God gave us (Genesis 3) and going our own way.  We rejected our creator and the life that He gave.  The result?

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”
Romans 5:12

“And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

From this point onwards, nothing is as it should be.  Humanity is broken, our close relationship with God is lost, even the very ground is cursed to grow weeds and thorns.  Everything is messed up and all seems hopeless.  Paradise lost.

But is that really the end?  Are we truly condemned to live life futilely working to eke out our existence in this miserable life, hoping only to prolong death and the inevitable confrontation with an angry God?  What can we possibly look to when we’re overwhelmed with suffering and pain?

To answer that we must move on to the second part of our question.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do bad things happen to good people?  They don’t.  You see the simple truth is that bad things happen to bad people.  People like you.  People like me.

“For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Romans 3:22B-23

Maybe you should be asking why so many good things happen to bad people?  Why do so many of us get to draw breath each day, enjoy love, happiness, wealth and prosperity?  We’ve rejected our Father’s offer of life, spat in His face and ran away from Him.  We were given life and we left it behind because we wanted things our way.  It seems that we deserve so much worse than anything we get in this world.  And yet we have the cheek to complain when something goes wrong?

So we’re back where we started.  Messed up people messing up in a messed up world.  It’s not really an encouraging picture.  But that’s not it, surely?  Surely there is some hope for our world?  Some hope for us?

That verse up there is one of the best known verses in the Bible.  But not so many people quote the verse that comes right after it.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
Romans 3:23-25 ESV

You see one in history; some 2000 years ago the unthinkable happened!  A good man walked this earth.  A man who stood as a pillar of incorruptibility amidst the ruins of our morality.  A man who, like us, didn’t get what He deserved.  We get a measure of life, when all we deserve is death – He deserved nothing but life and glory and He got pain and death.  Jesus was His name, and in return for his moral uprightness in a morally twisted world he was shunned, beaten, flogged and nailed to a cross to die in agony.

Tragedy, right?  It sounds like one, a brutal travesty of justice, a complete inversion of what should have happened.  But when we look at those verses in Romans again we find that it was entirely expected.  “Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood”.  What does that mean?  Propitiation means turning away God’s wrath, and reconciling people to Him.  So God put Jesus there, as an atoning sacrifice for our sin, to turn away His wrath, satisfy His justice and bring us back home.  He couldn’t ‘just forgive’ because that would be a denial of His justice and holiness.  And so instead of destroying us He made the ultimate sacrifice, giving His son.  Jesus was no ordinary man, He was God made man.  Fully man and Fully God.  He offered Himself for us, God dying for man.

So when we are confronted with suffering and overwhelmed with pain our answer is to lift up our eyes and look to a hill.  When we do we will see three crosses standing there.  On one of those crosses hangs our God.  We see Him there, the blood dripping from His pierced limbs, the breath coming in ragged gasps, the cry of agony as He is separated from His Father for the first time in eternity.  We lift up our eyes and we see that our God is no impersonal force that doesn’t care.  We list up our eyes and we see that He too suffered.  We see a God who cares.

Are you in pain?  He went through far greater pain to bring you home.  Are you suffering?  He suffered more.  Have you lost much in His name?  He freely gave far more for you.  Do you hurt to see your friends, your family in pain?  He bled and died for us His enemies, to make us His children once more.  There is nothing we can go through that He does not understand.

Amidst the pain and confusion of life in a broken world remember the cross my friends and know this:  God cares.  Let that be your comfort.  Let that be your hope.  Not some vague idea of better things to come, or some pious statement that “it’s all for the best” when you don’t really believe it.  Let this one thought be your comfort: God cares.  He knows what it’s like to suffer, He suffered for you.  That is something concrete we can grasp throughout the storms of life: God hung on a cross for us, God bled and died for us.

Remember the cross – and remembering it come, bow and worship Him.

“And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am

and every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm”

"Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once and He volunteered."

Thanks be to God that He did.

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