I have a friend who is going through a very distressing period in her life. Some of the things she made pillars of her livelihood have come crashing down. She spent so much time putting it all together, and just like that: gone. Through no fault whatsoever of her own, they disappeared in a puff of smoke. She is, as you can imagine, devastated.
She is angry with God. She has been a Christian for a long time, but she feels no comfort.
I hurt for her. I grieve with her. I think God does too.
I am, most of the time, completely unable to give her words to assuage her grief. I don’t try, really. My wife and I decided that we would talk about that stuff if she wanted to, but mostly what we do is show her all the love we have capacity for. It’s really what people of faith should do for one another, but more than that: she is our friend, and that means we stand in the gap when she doesn’t feel whole.
For Christians, there is more to the equation. It’s not enough to be nice to someone. If we are going to show love, the absolute end of that is always Jesus.
that old question
Any preacher who’s been talking for more than 30 seconds is eventually going to have their, “Why do bad things happen to good people” sermon. It’s the question that’s been asked so many times, it feels like a part of us. I think it’s totally a fair question, but I think we’re misdirecting a little.
Now hold on. If you’re reading this and you’re currently in a state of pain, you might not like what I just said. “Misdirected? I am a good person! I didn’t deserve this!” Hang with me a minute, though. I promise there’s comfort in here.
Remember that story from Daniel 3 about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Three guys who love and worshiped God, and got thrown into a burning furnace for their trouble? It’s probably a safe assumption that they identify with being in pain in spite of being a good person. I’m pretty sure that all my horrible situations put together don’t equal that.
It might be easy to picture them marching happily into the fire, just knowing that God was going to show up any minute.
16 O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.
I don’t think they giggled and shouted that at King Nebuchadnezzar. The way the verse goes, they’re confident at first, but at the end, they do this, “but even if he doesn’t” thing. I don’t picture confident, cocky teens. I picture guys who were following God, and just knew he was going to come through at first. “He will rescue os from your power, Your Majesty!!!!!” Then they think about it. Then they look at the 10-foot flames leaping out of the furnace. After this pause, one of them, far less confidently than before, steps forward and says, “but even if he doesn’t…”
Verse 18 is no longer confident in anything but God’s abiding presence.
Really, that’s all we were ever assured. And nothing has changed. Well… actually something has.
I know people read things in the Old Testament and wonder why God doesn’t make dramatic entrances anymore. He parted seas, wooshed prophets away in fiery chariots, blazed down fire from Heaven, made food fall from the sky, and made fortresses fall… why can’t he show up and fix my thing? Doesn’t he care any more?
When my daughter misbehaves, we punish her. Sometimes that punishment means we don’t do something fun that we were going to do before. When that happens, she’s not the only one who doesn’t get to go have fun… we were going to go with her. We don’t get to go either.
When she breaks something of mine, it’s not just her that doesn’t get to use it anymore. If she were to drop my phone in the toilet, she would be really, really sad because she couldn’t watch Wild Kratts in the van anymore. But me? I can’t check my work or personal e-mail. I may have lost video that I shot which is irreplaceable. Not to mention my password program that I can’t remember the last time I may have backed up. I’m right there with her, feeling a sense of loss and grief.
When our actions lead us down a bad path, God was there with us. When we did nothing wrong and still face disaster, God has never left our side. Yes, he could have rained down fire on our enemies and sent angels to carry us far away from danger. Do you notice, though.. that doesn’t happen much in the New Testament? Why is that?
Because things have changed.
change of address
(hang with me, this seems random but I promise it’s connected.) In the Old Testament, a High Priest would make a blood sacrifice, an atonement for the sins of the people. This happened once a year. The priest would enter into a place in the temple called the Holy of Holies, a place only he could go.
Then Jesus died. And everything: every single thing. Changed.
That veil in the temple that was ripped from the top to the bottom when Jesus died? That veil is what covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies. It was symbolic of something that had just happened: the Spirit of God was taking up residence somewhere else.
In you. In me.
This is important to hurting people, because God is not a cosmic blob floating in space, spitting down the occasional random blessing. The Spirit of God — a part of God — lives inside us. That’s a much bigger deal than we probably realize.
It’s a big deal because it means God is close enough to us to feel our pain. All those radical, dramatic displays God did in the Old Testament? Those don’t happen in nature now. They happen in people.
Because the Spirit lives in us, it participates in our lives. When tragedy strikes us, it strikes God. So why doesn’t he do something about it if He goes through it with us?
Two words: free will. God doesn’t force anything in the world. He gives us the choice to love Him or not. He gives us the choice to live in a house or in a tree. He beckons, but he does not take hold of us and force things on us. If he did that, he would not be a being of pure love.
That has consequences. To allow your most beloved creation the freedom to love you, you must allow all the consequences of their bad choices to be in play as well. Even if you see the wave coming and it will break your heart to allow it to hit your child, the full expression of free will is expressed in that moment. So what do you do? You stand with them in the waves. It breaks on them, but it breaks on you too.
Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Because God lets things happen, good and bad. But God stays close beside us when they do. Is there anyone greater to have close by? Is there anyone who understands the sorrows of mankind more than the God who made us to start with?
And on that note: we should stay close beside one another as well. God did give us one another for comfort.
A song to close. As usual, I could have probably just posted this… but you know, I’m a talker.