Romans 8. 26-39
We were made for each other!
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? You may recognize that as the title of a book from back in the early Eighties. It was written by a conservative rabbi. Harold Kushner. (no relation to Jared) Why – if the universe was created by a good god … Why – if the universe is governed by a loving god … is three so much pain and so much suffering? The book makes the argument that god is, indeed, good and loving, but not necessarily all powerful. Some things, Rabbi Kushner writes, are simply beyond god’s control. But the question remains. Why do bad things happen? That’s the $64,000 question. The question of the ages. And the book – along with its particular answer – was a New York Time’s bestseller for months. It’s been nearly forty years, since then, but we keep asking the question. After each disaster. After every crisis. Why? Why?
Second day I was officially installed as pastor here in Midland, three commercial jets full of innocents became weapons and casualties, at the same moment. The fourth ended up in a field in Western PA. And we asked why …
Two decades of warfare followed. Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Killed, wounded, missing, later, the question is still being asked.
Hurricanes. Infernos. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. And now, a pandemic. And it, ricochets through our thoughts. Why do bad things happen to good people? For that matter, why do bad things happen, at all?
Spoiler alert: If you have guessed it by now, there is no answer. Not one that satisfies, anyway. Not one that makes sense. Not one that eases the suffering. Not one that lightens the pain. No answers, not even here, in the church, among god’s people. Maybe not even especially here. The most we can hope for is something to make peace with it all. We’ll never find anything that will make it all go away. The blood. The sweat. The tears. Maybe we can find something to get us through to whatever lies on the other side.
I guess the first thing is to realize, it’s nothing personal. It’s not about us. When the crying time comes, we need to understand … it’s all unearned. Undeserved. Popular preachers, of course, would have us believe there’s a reason, a cause for it all. Like back in the old days when we were told HIV, Aids, was a response to sin. Why do bad things happen to good people? They don’t! They happen only to people that deserve them. It’s Job and his friends, redux! People may look good! Sound good! Act good! But they’re not! God’s punishment is just! Even today, there’s some who try convincing us that COVID-19 is god’s verdict concerning abortion, same-sex marriage. But none of that works. None of that’s helpful.
The most we can hope for is to find meaning, purpose, even in the midst of all the bad things. And for me, it’s the love. It’s the love. NOT the love that doesn’t allow them to happen, in the first place. NOT the love that makes it all go away. Rather, it’s the love that’s right there in the middle of it all! The love that doesn’t close its eyes! The love that doesn’t bury its head. The love that doesn’t turn and walk away! And the love that doesn’t stand back. Pointing fingers. Laying blame. Why do bad things happen? So that we can discover that we need each other! So that we discover we need each other! Need the sympathy and need the compassion! Need the commitment and need the devotion! We can’t make it through life all alone! And bad things serve as reminders! Certain! Sure! It’s not an answer. At least, not to the why? But it is a way of dealing, a way of coping, with the things we all go through. The things we all endure.
People get lost – figuratively, literally – so that someone can find them! People die so that others can be comforted! People are hungry so that someone else can feed them! Thirsty so that someone can give them a cold drink of water! That’s what the beatitudes are about! That’s what the parable of the great judgment points to! You don’t need a savior, if you don’t need saved! You don’t need a cross, if you’re still in Eden! The only place you need a savior – especially a crucified one – is here … east of Eden … living in exile … outside the garden … We don’t need anyone, anything, if we have it all! Love – if it’s love, at all – requires sacrifice. It requires suffering. A body is broken. Blood is shed. But all that happens only when there’s a need to be saved! No need. No sacrifice. No love.
Why do bad things happen to good people? There will never be one answer that will satisfy everyone. One answer that will convince. One answer that will keep bad things from happening. One answer that will make everything better. An answer isn’t what’s needed in the midst of suffering and pain. What’s needed is purpose! What’s needed is direction! To get us through! To get us beyond! That purpose, that direction, is to love! It seems so impractical. So improbable. But that’s what Paul means when he speaks of all things working together for good! It’s not a coal-into-diamonds, a lemon-into-lemonade kind of thing. He’s not telling us that everything turns out for the best. That all we have to do is look on the brighter side. That’s not believing; it’s wishful thinking. That’s not love. It’s not, even, like.
We’re called to pick up crosses! Not our own! Not the crosses we have to carry! We’re called to pick up and carry the ones we don’t have to carry! Our neighbors’ crosses! Take their yoke onto our shoulders! Lighten their load! That is love! And to do that, we don’t, first, have to know why. But then, maybe that’s why we do ask. To distract. To confuse. To make us feel like we’re doing something, accomplishing something, when truth be told, we’re doing nothing, at all.
Contrary to popular opinion, we weren’t made for Eden! And contrary to popular opinion, we weren’t made for heaven, either! For heaven or for hell! We weren’t created to lying in green pastures … or to be led beside still waters … We were created, we were made, for walking through the valley of the shadow! For walking through the valley of the shadow … together! With the people who have nothing else! With the people who have no one else! That’s why bad things happen! And it has nothing to do with what god can or can’t do! We were made for each other! And bad times, bad things, give us the chance to practice what we preach! Bad things happen so we can become the people we were made to be! Bad things happen so we can love … Just! Like! Jesus!
My friends, as the church – especially as a gospel church – we are, simply, looking for a loving god! And those good people around us? The ones to whom bad things happen? That’s all they’re looking for, as well! Not answers. Not reasons. But love! Love to believe in! Love to stake their lives on! And even more, love … love to become!