SPidge Tales

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People...Part 1

Why do bad things happen to good people? This question has been asked ever since the ancient Hebrew people came to realize that there is one God who is all powerful and all good. People have written books on this subject since time immemorial. One of the more famous, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner, written by a man whose son suffered from a tragic disease, is full of heart, emotion, and wrestling with God, however his argument is flawed since his answer attributes a lack of power to God, i.e. God allows bad things to happen because He is incapable of stopping it. Two better books to grapple with the problem of evil are The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis, and Making Sense of Suffering, by Peter Kreeft.

Why do bad things happen to good people? As much as we grapple with this question, it is a rather new question. Ancient cultures before the Jews discovered monotheism never faced this question. For them, there was not just one God, who is all powerful and all good. There were many gods, with varying degrees of powers, and varying degrees of virtue. The religious and the ethical were separate. Ancient cultures were not unethical or immoral, they just believed that good or bad behavior solely had to do with our relationship to others in society. Ethical behavior was not of concern to the gods. One’s responsibility to the gods was to perform the proper religious rituals. When the ancients saw some people suffer and others prosper, their initial thoughts were not, “those who suffer must be bad people and those who prosper must be doing good.” Instead, they thought along the lines of, “those who suffer are not honoring the gods properly, while those who prosper are performing the right rituals.”

When Yahweh revealed Himself to the Jews, they came to know that there is just one God, a God who created us and loves us. Early on, the people of Israel believed that when they suffered, when other nations defeated them in war, it was because they were somehow unfaithful. When Israel prospered, they believed that they were faithful to God. However, when the Jews lost their homeland, and were deported in the Babylonian Exile, they needed a new understanding. Either God had completely abandoned them, maybe they had destroyed their relationship with God beyond repair, like a husband who has been unfaithful to his wife, or they needed to come up with a new understanding of their relationship with God.

The book of Job symbolizes this new understanding. Job is a faithful servant of God. As such, he has been rewarded with land, property, prosperity, a beautiful wife, and many children. Meanwhile, up in Heaven, a mysterious figure known as the Advocate (often interpreted by readers to be the Devil) makes a wager with God. The Advocate points out to God that it is easy for people to follow Him when things are going good. If people really had faith, they would stick by God even when they suffered. God told the Advocate that he could cause suffering to Job, and see if Job would remain faithful.

Job’s fortunes began to change. His livestock died, he lost his land and property, his wife and children died of diseases, and he was left with boils all over his body, sitting on a dung heap. If that wasn’t bad enough, his three best friends mocked him, and accused him of being a bad person, since they thought God only punished bad people. Despite all this, Job remained faithful to God. To be sure, he wrestled with God and struggled with his understanding of God, but he kept his faith. The message of the book of Job is that God, even though he created us and loves us, and is all powerful and all good, never causes but sometimes allows bad things to happen to good people. Evil and suffering began because of Original Sin, because the first humans, whoever they were, chose to put themselves before God. God may not take away all of our sufferings, but he is always there with us. And, in the person of Jesus Christ, God is fully present in our sufferings, taken them all on Himself to bring us to a final redemption back to what we were originally intended to be.

Maybe the better question is not, “why does God allow us to suffer?” but rather, “what is it like for God to constantly be rejected by those who He loves and gave life to?” Books of the Bible such as Hosea explore this theme. More on this in a later blog…


Anonymous bernie said...

holy cow i just preached about that on monday! the hosea and god being hurt thing.

9:39 AM  

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