Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Tough question.

But for this five-week series, tough questions are what we’re about here at CrossWay Church. Yesterday’s question was: Why do bad things happen to good people?

A disclaimer I made up front in the message yesterday: This question is not only tough, but also quite complicated. I refuse to pretend that I’ve got it all figured out, and spoon-feed people some kind of pat answer and send them on their way. But I do believe we can gain a better understanding of this question and its answer if we spend some time wrestling with it.

One of the things that makes this question so complicated is that it’s loaded with assumptions. For instance, it assumes that some things that happen to us are categorically good, while others are bad. It also assumes that people can be divided into two classes: good and bad. Both of these assumptions are highly suspect. For example, if I find twenty bucks, that seems good, right? But what if it was lost by a single mom and it was all she had to buy groceries for her children? If I break my leg, that seems bad. But what if I meet someone in the hospital who’s contemplating suicide, and I manage to talk them out of it? One more example: If God takes on flesh and becomes a man, but then dies on a cross, that’s bad, right? But what if He comes back to life and, because of His death and resurrection, billions of people are given the gift of eternal life?

Another assumption concerns values. What we value affects whether two people interpret the same event as good or bad. Suppose Hank’s goal in life is to be comfortable, pain-free, and live in luxury. Then his wife writes a large check to feed starving children in Africa. To Hank, a this is a bad thing. But Carl’s goal in life is to make a difference in the lives of suffering people by helping them. If his wife writes a large check for the same amount as Hank’s wife, then this is a good thing. The question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” assumes that we have certain values and can interpret whether something is good or bad. Since we can’t see the chain of events that begin with one single event, it would be difficult for us to know whether more good or bad ultimately resulted from an event.

What causes bad stuff to happen? In a nutshell: bad decisions, sin, and accidents.

What might God be up to when He allows these things to happen?

First, He might be working out our greater good. The Bible says in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is working for our good, but for His purpose. Sometimes something might seem bad to us, like not getting what appears to be the perfect job, when really God’s purpose is to give us an even better job.

Second, God might be working out the greater good for other people. In the Bible, young Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. And from there it only got worse! But through a God-orchestrated chain of events, he ended up rising to a position of world leadership. He was then able to use his authority to save millions of lives by wisely leading them through a severe famine. When his brothers feared Joseph’s retribution years later, he assured them with these insightful words: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Third, sometimes God is drawing us or others closer to Himself. The highest, greatest purpose in life is knowing and loving God. Sometimes things that seem bad actually draw us closer to God. When the apostle Paul was thrown into prison for his ministry, he could have sulked, whined, and questioned God. Instead he celebrated because he saw God’s purpose in it–lots of people around Paul saw that he was incarcerated for the sake of Christ; it convinced them that Jesus was the real deal, and they committed their lives to Him.

Life can be painful. God knows that from personal experience. But He has proven His love for us, and we can be sure that God can take the things that hurt us and turn them around to do great things. It’s His area of expertise. We know that bad things will happen. The key is to decide ahead of time that we will trust God when they come.

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Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Ethnicity

Today I had to fill out a form that asked my ethnicity.  Sometimes these kinds of forms give you options, usually consisting of things like: African-American, Latino or Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American, or White.  Why don’t white people get a cool ethnic designation?  Some forms even offer the designation of “Non-Hispanic White.”  Any description that begins with “Non-” is probably not going to hit the target.

In high school I had a friend who an Amanspanidadian.  He was an American citizen who grew up in Canada.  His mom was from Trinidad and his father was from Spain.  He got tired of being an “Other” when it came to marking his ethnicity on forms, so he made up his own label.  As far as I know he might be the only Amanspanidadian.

Anyway, today I decided to be European-American.  My ancestors haven’t lived in Europe since the Rutherford B. Hayes administration, but I was feeling kinda left out.

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 10:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Drumming

Yesterday the worship band practiced again. It’s only week two, and I’ve already hit the ceiling for my skill level! I simply couldn’t keep up. We’re doing several upbeat songs this week, and I was slowing them all down by the time we were halfway through it. I definitely need some training!  And LOTS of prayer!!!

Published in: on March 29, 2008 at 5:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Slacking Blogger

In the week or so leading up to Easter, I was simply too busy to blog much.  Now that Easter has come and gone, I’ve just lacked the energy.  I guess it’s like someone who trains for a marathon.  After the race is over, all the adrenaline is gone!  I’ve never run a marathon (yeah, now there’s a thought), but I’d imagine it would be a little difficult to get up and going again to train for the next race.  So anyway, that’s why I haven’t been blogging much lately.  Hopefully I’ll get back in the hang of it soon.

Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 5:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Stuff

Last night turned into a kind of spontaneous midweek date night.  When Carolyn got home we went to Panera Bread for dinner, then came back and watched a dumb old movie called Baby Boom.  While it was really stupid, at least it was one of those movies that’s so dumb you can laugh at it.  Then we sat around swapping the day’s funny little kid stories and laughing.  It’s nice to have a wife that’s fun to hang out with.

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

WOO HOO!!!!!!

The new sign is up!  YES!!!!  (Okay, so we need to fix the panel inside–but who cares?  It’s up!)

Here’s John taking the plastic off the top of the sign.  Either that, or he’s just playing.

Here’s the spot in the grass where the sign was lying (or laying or whatever) for three months:

Published in: on March 26, 2008 at 2:44 pm  Comments (5)  

Easter Weekend Review

(Warning to reader: I haven’t blogged much these past few days, but I’m more than making up for it today!)

Work hard.  Play hard.  That’s the way to live, and that’s how it’s been this past week.

A review of events since last week’s Maundy Thursday service:

On Friday morning I got a call from Terri, the director of the Training Station Preschool, informing me that the fierce winds that’d hit the area had knocked over our sign.  So Carolyn and I went to check it out.  The two beams holding the sign had snapped right in half and the whole shebang had fallen right on top of the wooden shell that some CrossWay guys had built for pouring the concrete for the new sign.  Fortunately it didn’t seem to damage anything.

From there we went to the zoo in Salisbury.  Every time we go there we see something weird and funny.  This time it was a peacock that kept following a goose in the bison habitat.  The goose kept calmly walking in various patterns, and the peacock hung with him, staying a couple feet behind.  No matter where the goose went, the peacock followed.  When the goose stopped, the peacock stopped.  When the goose got going again, so did the peacock.  It was pretty funny to watch.  People were coming up with various theories to try to explain the peacock’s behavior.  The most plausible explanation I heard was that the goose was the peacock’s personal trainer.

It was nice to see that the zoo is making significant progress with the red wolves exhibit.  They’ve built a nice walkway with a kind of observatory building.  Hopefully the wolves will be here soon!  They’re keeping them right next to the deer, which seems a little bit odd.  It’s like the cheetahs at the National Zoo in D.C., which are right next to the zebras.  Carolyn took a great picture one time of a cheetah standing a few feet away from a zebra, hungrily staring at it.  I’ll try to find it to post on here.
On the way back from the zoo we stopped at Station 7.  Bring on the nachos!  Oh yeah!

Saturday was our Easter outreach at church.  We had an egg hunt for kids, along with games and a creative telling of the Easter story.  There was a pretty decent turnout, especially considering that our sign which was promoting the event had been blown over the day before.  I found it impossible to try to count the people, but I’m pretty sure it was somewhere between 50 and 100.  Probably somewhere in the middle, about 75.  There were nearly as many adults as children!  It was a short event, but a lot of fun.  I was very proud of the CrossWay team that pulled it off!

After the Easter egg hunt our praise band practiced.  Oh yeah, I don’t think I’ve mentioned on here that the Timmons family very generously bought a new drum set for the church last week.  When the worship team practiced on Saturday, they wanted me to try playing along on the drums.  That was fine with me, even though I was reluctant at first, because I was sure I’d be horrible and they’d excuse me from further participation until I’d practiced for a looooooooong time.  But it didn’t quite go that way.

On Easter morning I got up at 4:35 a.m., got ready, and headed to North Division Street (where Rt. 50 ends at the boardwalk) for the Ocean City Easter Sunrise Service.  The wind was blowing and it was about 25 degrees–without the wind.  It was really surprising to me that several hundred people still turned out at that time and in that kind of weather!  Only the miraculous grace of God can explain how the instrumentalists played their guitars and keyboard and sax, and how Diana from CrossWay signed the whole service.  I was afraid her bare hands would get frostbite!  She and her daughter Anna were such troopers to come out for that!

Right before I got up to preach, I was shivering badly.  I had no idea how I could preach when I was trembling–more like shaking–so much.  But it worked.  It also ensured a brief sermon!  It’s kind of funny how sometimes when I’m preaching, I can prepare a message well ahead of time but feel like God’s leading me to make changes right before I preach or even while I’m preaching.  I’d written this sermon two or three weeks ahead of time, but at 5:59 (the service started at 6:00), new ideas popped into my head for the opening and the closing.  I’ll podcast the message this week.

After the sunrise service, which to my surprise I really enjoyed, I went home to take a short nap.  When I woke up an hour later, I hadn’t yet thawed out!  But I had unfrozen by the time we got to CrossWay.

Josh, our worship leader, had talked me into playing drums during the service.  I still couldn’t believe that was happening.  I was as nervous, if not more nervous, about playing the drums at CrossWay as I was about preaching to hundreds of strangers at the sunrise service!  I just can’t believe that he and the others in the band thought my drumming was unbad enough to actually be a part of the service on Easter, of all days.  But Josh takes his ministry seriously so I decided to trust his judgment.  However, I still can’t believe I made my drumming debut on Easter Sunday, and with one day’s notice.  But hey–God can use anybody to do anything.

Actually, the music overall was great yesterday!  Josh’s wife Christi helped with the vocals and played that little shaky egg thing.  Terri’s sister played the keys and Diana was on the bass.  Terri’s daughter, Kelsy, played the flute in one of the songs and that was a great touch.  At Saturday’s practice we’d had John playing guitar, but he wasn’t there yesterday.  If he had been, we’d have had a seven-member band!  For all I know there might have even been more people doing stuff.  Not only was I off to the side where I couldn’t see, but I was also scared!

The attendance at church yesterday was by far the largest we’ve had the past year.  It was twice our average attendance!  Carolyn taught Children’s Church and planned for three times as many as she usually had–and she had as many kids as she planned for!

Something in the service that was planned last minute and really blew me away was Josh signing the Ray Boltz song “Watch the Lamb.”  It was an interpretive signing–not just sign language, but also drama.  It was excellent!  When I got up to preach after he finished, I saw tears in people’s eyes.  Very moving.

It’s been almost a year since I came to CrossWay.  In all that time we’ve never had the fire alarm go off.  Naturally that would happen on Easter Sunday during the sermon with a packed house and a bunch of first-time guests.  You’ll be able to hear it on the podcast.  As I was transitioning out of the sermon intro, the alarm started screaming.  Fortunately no one panicked or anything.  In fact, they were all kind of staring at me, almost as if they were wondering: Is that part of the message or something?  Terri got it turned off pretty quickly, and the building burned down.  Sike.  Something I learned this Easter Sunday: our fire alarm goes off by itself sometimes.  Nice.  At least Carolyn had the kids all lined up and ready to evacuate!

After church we went to Carolyn’s parents’ house.  Her whole family was there.  On the way I called my parents’ house, where all my family was gathered.  I got to talk with my little niece, Jazlyn, which was awesome!  She’s the best kid ever.  Everybody should have the privilege and joy of knowing Jazlyn.

At the Dohertys’ house we ate some delicious lasagna and the most unbelievable strawberry shortcake.  Linda makes the best cake, but she added a special touch to this one: it was a two-layer cake with frosting in the middle (normal for regular cake, but not strawberry shortcake).  And the strawberries were fresh ones that she’d grown.  If the second-best strawberry shortcake in the history of humanity registered a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, this cake would register about 28.  It awakened senses in taste buds that I didn’t even know I had.  An amazing experience.

The cake was in honor of Michael turning 30.  Michael and Kristen (Carolyn’s sister and her husband) are turning 30 soon–Michael in April and Kristen in May.  It’s very exciting for me because they always make old man jokes about me because I’m in my thirties.  Ordinarily, over-the-hill parties are reserved for 40th birthdays.  But when Kristen’s 30th rolls around in a few weeks, I think we’ll need to throw a major over-the-hill bash and target both Michael and Kristen!

Steve and Linda are a lot of fun to hang out with, so we hung around and talked with them for awhile after Michael and Kristen left.  (Her brother Christopher, of course, was camped out at the computer, only leaving long enough to prepare various dishes buried in whipped cream.)  He leaves for college today and we didn’t even get to have lunch at La Tolteca!  Oh well, we’ll have to make up for it in the summer.

On the drive back from their house we saw an albino deer.  That was so cool!  We really wished we had Carolyn’s camera in the car.

After a busy and tiring week, and an especially exhausting weekend, I slept 9 hours and 20 minutes last night.  It was great!!!!

If you’ve read this far, thanks… but don’t you have stuff to do?

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 11:38 am  Comments (2)  

Easter Happenings at CrossWay

Today we’re having an Easter egg hunt at church for kids in the community.

Tomorrow we launch the “Tough Questions About God” series.  The question for Easter: Why should I believe Jesus rose from the dead?

Looking forward to it!

Published in: on March 22, 2008 at 5:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Remembering the Last Supper

Last night we had a special communion service at Buckingham Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Berlin.  Such a beautiful sanctuary!  It was the perfect place for it.

Churches of several denominations came together to remember and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Different pastors shared a short devotional thought while communion was served to eleven people at a time sitting around a table up front.  It was a nice way to usher in the Easter season together with other churches in the community.

Published in: on March 21, 2008 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Dumb Sign

Dumb signs make me laugh.  Check out this one I saw in the grocery store a couple days ago:

Don’t get me wrong, I like Food Lion and shop there regularly.  But since when is $5.29 a “Great Price” for a 12-pack of soda?!?  Shouldn’t they be trying to hide the fact that their Coke products are ridiculously expensive, rather than highlighting it?  Why does this sign even exist?  I won’t pay much more than $5.29 for a whole case (24 cans) of Coke!

Speaking of which, this makes it even worse: Right nearby this sign was another one pitching whole cases (“cubes) of Pepsi products for only 70 cents more.  I’m sure the Coke people appreciated that.

Published in: on March 19, 2008 at 5:09 am  Comments (3)