Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People (Part 2).

One of the most difficult things for children to figure out, is that they are not the centre of the Universe. Though we learn to share our toys, we adults continue to struggle with a “me” centered perspective on the world and my circumstances in it. What if their was a larger reality? The question is “Why Do Bad Thinks Happen to Good People?”, which really asks, “Is God Good?”. Link to (intro), (part one).

Job, was clearly a “good person” (See Job 1:1). He didn’t deserve what happened to him. There can be no doubt that many nice people who suffer in this world, don’t “deserve” their pain.  But a little contemplation into the subject of suffering begins to open up a whole new world. This new revelation calls us to ‘man up’. We have some heavy thinking and big decisions to make. There are two Realms at war.

Understanding this bigger picture of reality, our insight into the way the world works will change. We all live in a sin cursed world. When Adam and Eve were created, it was as Kings of the Universe. They were given “dominion” over everything God created (Genesis 1:30-31). The Psalmist reflects that in Creation, God “crowned him [mankind] with glory and honor” He “put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8).

Rebelling against God, these Presidents led their Dominion into war with God. All of Creation became the enemy of the Creator. We see the very same kind of representation in our modern nations. If President Obama declares war in North Africa, America is at war in North Africa:

Now, God in his mercy, has brought the war to his Creation, not to crush it, but to redeem it. God showed his power, in the way the UN might show power by an embargo. Rather than invade, an embargo seeks to deprive the nation of the means to rebel, or the resources they desire. This becomes the incentive to bring the nation back into conformity with the world community. In the same sort of way, God placed a curse on the world (Genesis 3), under which Paul states, “the whole creation groans”. Romans 8:20 clarifies, “creation was made subject to futility, not willingly, but by him who subjected it in hope” (emphasis added). The hope of the “Curse” embargo, is that it will make us aware of the fact that something is wrong in our relation to the Creator. And recognizing something is wrong, that we will cry out to him. If we call upon the Lord, he will answer: “all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved through Jesus Christ (Joel 2:32 and Romans 10:13).

The Christmas Carroll Joy to the World states that the Saviour’s rule will result in a total redemption. When Christ completes his work, he will “no more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow far as curse is found” (see Revelation 21:4 and 22:3).

Contemplating this joyful expectation, we are still aware that our present expectations ought to include suffering. We continue under the embargo of Sin. Sin leads to suffering. Even good people are hurt by an embargo.  Unlike the worldly example I illustrated, in God’s plan, we who suffer, but trust Him are not “truly” harmed. God, the creator of life, has the power to grant the life eterna (John 3:16)l! Death is not the end for believers, but the beginning of an eternal life which Newton describes: “when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace”.

So, here is the key question now. If our nation has declared war, and we contact the enemy who has embargoed us, and we take up his cause, what does that make us? The answer to this explains much of the world’s animosity to Christians. But behind that, and even behind Adam and Eve, is the great being who engineered the Fall of Man, and the rebellion against God–our enemy the Adversary. Job reveals how “good” people are sometimes caught up in the conflict. Watch for Part Three of this series of posts to explore the conflict.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People (Part One)?

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” so begin the tribulations of the children’s classic hero, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?

The book has a positively puritan title (check out the length and descriptive nature in all its glory!). But it also captures a great truth. This little boys struggles have enchanted generations of readers, because every one of us has terrible, horible, bad days. The 19thCentury American Poet H. W. Longfellow who has penned: “Into each life some rain must fall, / Some days must be dark and dreary.” Someone has said, their are three states people are in in life. They are either in the midst of troubles, just emerging from troubles, or about to enter into trouble. But beyond this common place there is something more.

“There comes into all souls, at least once in life, a severe test. It is known as the Dark Night of the Soul. It is when we are beleaguered by darkness: spiritual and mental and where no hope seems to be near and everything we try to do it thwarted. It is where the soul is forced to persist and enter into the glorious Golden Dawn of Illumination and kinship with God, or relax into  the dull slumber of a mediocre physical existence. You cannot avoid it. If this test has not already come into your life-it will. How you deal with it is as important as life itself.” (From the preface to the poem The Dark Night of the Soul by 16th century theologian John Cross).

The Biblical Book of Job sets out to answer the often difficult quandary: “Is God Good?”. But it answers it from the classic question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”. The Author of the Biblical book notes of the story’s central character, “that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Notice that this description identifies four things about Job:

* blameless: This word in Hebrew, the language Job was written in, speaks of perfection in the sense of wholeness or integrity. It means simplicity of morality, what you see is what you get. Job was a “good old boy”. You could trust Job with any secret. He would always be on your side.

* upright: This word means, that as a reflection of his integrity, Job was a “straight arrow”. His integrity was an integrity of moral goodness. He was one of those people you could just count on to do the right thing. He helped the orphan and the widow. He upheld justice.

* fearing God: This idea means he was a man of faith. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It is also a great measure of morality. Even in secret Job would maintain his integrity and uprightness, because he knew that God saw even in the secret place. Job followed God’s commandments, and was  a great person to be around. He gave practical counsel to everyone leading to their success in life.

*Turning away from evil: This means when temptation came Job’s way, he went in the other direction. Sometimes a person is afraid to do evil themselves. But they will watch evil. Vicarious evil is the fundamental principle of the Hollywood industry. Job would not even consider evil, but turned wholly from it. He would never cheat, or hurt you.

Why did bad things happen to Job? Why did he enter a “dark night of the soul”? Is there injustice with God?

Is God Good?

Is God good? For the New Atheists, like Christopher Hitchens, the answer is a decided “no”. For billions of believers the answer is a resounding “yes”. One would assume, that those who are Biblical Theists, would have very little trouble joining the faithful throng. In the view of many, the Bible presents a safe and benevolent deity, who responds so positively that a bumper sticker reading, “God Bless America” is at once a both a prayer that one assumes will be answered and a statement of the perceived message of the Bible. It may surprise the reader of this blog, then, to hear that the Bible’s perspective if far less clear cut.

God is Great and Awesome

The Bible presents God, not as a simple safe and benevolent old man longing for the company of his creation, but rather as the awesome and unparalleled power behind all that is great: “What is man,” the Psalmist asks, “that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).

This reflection follows the statement: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,” (Psalm 8:3). The question asked in verse four brings to mind the insignificance of a mere man, when compared to the awesome majesty of the Cosmos, and the Ultimate reality that lies behind it. The Sun, a single star puts forth every minute about 10,000 times the energy the whole of the human race has ever produced, and it is but one of trillions. The beauty of the cosmos, with its nebula and sparkling orbs, puts to shame every speck of human art. How could He who made those stars even notice, let alone care about you or me?

Great minds in philosophy have grappled with this perspective, as have many ordinary folks who have a moment to behold at a spectacular range of mountains, or peer over the precipice of the grand canyon, or gaze upon the Milky Way on a clear winters night. Does the Creator notice the Creature? Is the Unmoved mover affected by man’s acts? A mere glance at the universe tells us he is both great and awesome. Careful reflection should bring a tremor to the human heart and a reverence that is shocked when we read, “because of the great love with which he loved us”, God visited humanity with mercy and gave us life immortal with which to enjoy all of his blessings (Ephesians 2:4-7). But that is not the total picture.

God is Great and Awful

The simple awe of the Psalmist, at the realization that God has spoken in mercy and cares for His people is contrasted by the darker tones of a much more sober work. Patient Job, who beholds not mountains and canyons and cosmic displays, is confronted instead with the trauma of psychological, emotional and physical suffering the likes of which few have ever conceived, let alone seen. In that day, God was not “awesome”, but “awful”.

His beloved children, all dead, have left this father in mourning. Job’s life’s work, all gone, has left this proud man in poverty. His beloved companion and partner in life, his wife, has asked him to go to a quiet place and end his misery. His closest friends have assailed him with the un-compassionate refrain, that he brought all this upon his own head, “I have seen” one noted, “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble, reap the same” (Job 4:8).

In the “bitterness of [his] soul” (Job 7:11), the sufferer reflects in the Creator, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (Job 7:17-18). While Psalm 8 has been the beloved memorized refrain of generations of believers, Job seven reads like a dark mirror, reflecting the joy of the Psalmist into darkened tones. Rather than a cause for praise, Job sees a cause for fear.  Rather than care, Job sees trouble. For the Psalmist the visit of God is a cause for rejoicing, for Job it is a cause for grief.

This book, described by some as the ultimate expression of Biblical Humanism, demonstrates the balance and brilliance of the Bible. It is not a “pie in the sky” document for dreamers dis-associated with the pain of life. It is a book for the psychologically complex, intellectual agile and pragmatically surviving people who inhabit this world. Job deals very specifically with the question, “Is God good”, not from the perspective of quiet reflection, or from theological academia, but from the perspective of a man in a crises. From the depths of despair it presents both a sufferer reaching out and a Creator reaching down to deal with this really important question.

If God is not good, then it would be right and even heroic when facing such a Being to cry out in the words Milton put in the fallen angel’s mouth, “better to rule in hell then to serve in heaven”. Yet, if God is good, then only a fool would say in his heart through day to day life, “there is no God” (Psalm 51:1). As I reflect on the book of Job myself in the coming weeks, I would invite you to join me in reading this book, and follow along as I share my own reflections in this blog.