This morning, I am going to be honest with you. This is not an easy sermon.
Today’s question does not offer an easy text to interpret or key point to take home with us. This is because our question is too painful. The doubt it produces is too real. Its application is too serious and impacts each of us.
Our question is one each of us have likely thought about. In the asking, we have struggled to come up with an answer that is true to Scripture, deep in theology, and applicable to the hope of the Gospel. Many questions of faith are difficult, but this one has stumped theologians for centuries. The question is this: Why do bad things happen to good people?
The question is asked during difficult times. It is most commonly asked when we face personal trials, when something happens to someone close to us, or when tragedy impacts our nation and world. This is a painful question. It involves deep hurts. It is filled with frustrations. Today’s question reminds us that this world is not how it should be.
For many, this question is an obstacle that prevents a relationship with Christ. It creates a boundary that keeps some from hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ. As well, it is a question that has led many people to struggle with or even abandon their faith in Christ. We all look out in the world and struggle with what we see. We see a world filled with violence, disaster, and pain. Some see this world and question why a gracious God would allow evil to exist.
We are going to focus our attention on that struggle. To answer why bad things happen to good people, we must consider why God would allow evil to continue. The two questions are similar, and their answers are connected. We may not come to a satisfactory answer. However, in looking for an answer, we will humbly seek to walk with Jesus in order to discern God’s desire.
First, we must ask: Was our world capable of evil in God’s original plan? As we look in Genesis 1, which is our way of understanding how the world was created, we are told that God considered his creation to be good. It was perfect. There were no flaws or disruptions. Everything was as God intended. Eden, which is where humanity first lived, represented the perfection that came out of God’s creation.
There was no evil in God’s creation. Something, or someone, brought sin and evil into the world. Sin and evil came into the world through our acts of disobedience.
How did this happen? To understand how this happened, we must look at one of the key gifts God has given each of us. That gift is our free will.
God created each of us with an element of free will, which, in the simplest of terms, is the ability to make choices. There are many choices we can make – from the simple (what will I eat for lunch) to the complex (what will I do with my life). These choices can impact our faith. One of the key choices for each of us is whether we will accept that God’s promises are real and that Jesus died for us on the cross. Free will is important in understanding our Old Testament passage from Genesis 3:1-7.
In this narrative of how creation was damaged, the narrator tells us how a serpent challenged the woman’s understanding of God’s desires. The challenge centered on if they could eat fruit from the tree of knowledge. In Genesis 2:17, God told the man and woman they were free to eat any fruit in the Garden “except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The woman, Eve, responds to the serpent’s challenge by saying they could not eat from it or touch it. In her desire to defend God, she added more to God’s word.
The serpent had already tempted Eve into disobeying God’s word by adding more to God’s desire. He will now get her to continue in her disobedience. The snake challenged Eve’s weakness and tempted her to eat the fruit by saying that God’s word is unbelievable. The serpent places doubt in the women’s mind and she accepts the serpent’s understanding of God’s word. In response, she eats the fruit and gets her husband, Adam, to do so as well.
Their disobedience to God’s known will allowed sin to enter the creation. They made the choice not to follow God’s will. This act damaged creation. It altered what God made perfect. By living for their own desires and allowing temptation to control them, Adam and Eve altered the course of human events and creation itself. We continue in their heritage by deciding to live by our desires instead of what God wants for us.
Augustine called Adam and Eve’s disobedience the “Original Sin.” It was his way of understanding of how the world is what it is today. Sin and evil was not intended, but it is caused by humanity’s choice to live for itself instead of for God.
Some suggest that this act produced two types of sin or evils: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evils are the actions we are held accountable for. These are the things we do to ourselves and each other. This includes murder, abuse, fostering injustice, lying, greed, idolatry, racism, and so on. Natural evils are the consequence of a fallen creation. It is disruptions to creation’s natural intent. These include death, diseases, hurricanes, fires, floods, famines, and so on. All of this is the result of a choice to turn away from what was created perfect.
If we have been in the church long enough, we would have heard this explanation before. However, we cannot help but feel that it is unsatisfactory to our question. If we are a good person, shouldn’t we be protected from these evils and sins? Doesn’t God protect his children from pain and suffering?
This is a view many of us, myself included, have held at some point in our faith journey. It is a belief similar to how we treat Santa Claus. At Christmas, we tell our children if they are good, then Santa will bring them a gift. We apply this “gift giving” belief to our relationship with God. If we are a good person, then God will give us something in return. That gift is a good life, happiness, or eternal life.
This view is prominent in the work of Joel Osteen and others. More formally, this theology is called the “prosperity gospel.” It says God blesses those who are faithful. While this is true, for Osteen and others the blessings are typically attributed to material pursuits and physical well being. This is an inadequate view of God. God’s blessings cannot be simply associated with a “good” life free of distress. No where in Scripture does God promise us an easy life free of bad things.
Indeed, God does desire to bless his children, but these blessings come in many ways. For instance, it comes as grace in times of difficulty, provisions in time of need, hope in times of struggle, or salvation as a response to faith. We buy into the prosperity gospel’s promise of a life free of burdens, because we want to be protected from the world we live in. As well, we want to experience all the rewards of heaven now.
Bad things do not happen because we are not good enough. They do not happen because we do not have enough faith. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen creation. Jesus and Paul give us a great example of this. Jesus, the only perfect person to ever live faced the most heinous form of capital punishment ever devised. It was a death that he did not deserve. Paul writes of his constant sufferings. He considered them something to boast in. Bad thing happen because we live in a world that is not as it was intended. Bad things will continue to happen until Christ returns and the fullness of the Kingdom of God is revealed.
This leads to a possible push back. Why would God allow this to continue? Wouldn’t a gracious and loving God have a reason to stop evil from taking place? If God is so good and great, then why is there evil in the world? Many have struggled with this and I can understand why. I think there has to be a moral reason why God allows evil to exist. That moral reason is so the Living Presence of Jesus Christ can be felt, experienced, and become transformative in our lives and the lives of our communities.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God provides a way out of our temptations and evil we experience. The way out is through the grace of Jesus Christ. It is the faith that comes from believing that Jesus died for our sin and our contributions to this evil world. The grace of Jesus Christ breaks into the world’s darkness and shows us something greater. The incarnation, Christmas itself, speaks to the world and says God’s love is shinning a new light in the darkness. Jesus’ life and ministry teach us what it means to be faithful followers who seek a deep relationship with God. The cross is God’s answer to humanity’s disobedience. It is on the cross where Christ died for our sin and evil. His resurrection on Easter morning gives us a hope that is true, lasting, life-giving, and powerful.
It is possible that without the world as it is, we would not be able to see Christ. In the midst of the bad things that happen to us, we are called to experience Christ’s grace. Even when we are dealing with the deepest pains, the foulest of violence, or the biggest of hurts, Christ’s grace breaks through and shows us the Father’s love.
When bad things happen to those we love or terrible things happen in our world, this is the hope we must share. When people struggling with their faith in times of trial, this is the message that will transform. We are not alone in bad things happening to us, but together, united by our faith in Christ, we can experience a greater hope.
Friends, evil exists in our world. We cannot deny this. It is the consequence of a fallen creation and will remain so until Christ returns. Until that day comes, we must cling to our hope of our salvation. Do not fall into a false belief that we are protected from suffering, but in our suffering, rejoice! Christ is here and will bring us out of these pains and into a deeper reality of Christ’s love and truth.