Driving conversations with my boss: Christmas eve, a friend made redundant, a hamper of groceries and chocolate scorched almonds. Followed by a hurried exit and a collision with a fence.
“Is the universe against me she asked? Because that story always reminds me not to do good deeds.”
“Well, the law of cause and effect isn’t always played out immediately” I fumbled. “ I suppose it’s the age old question – why do bad things happen to good people”
“Yeah”, she agreed, and twisted slightly in her seat. “So, do you have an answer to that one?”
‘Oh wise one’,I raged against myself ‘why dost thou always puttest thy foot in thy mouth, and speaketh before thy thinketh? Why dost your mouth questioneth what thou can’t answereth?’
You can! Screamed my brain – you do have an answer. Jesus is the answer. God! The Bible! You don’t screamed my heart! It just doesn’t make sense. When babies die, and children are killed, teenagers are raped, and young adults cut themselves so that they can feel something…anything. When mums get cancer, when cars crash, when fathers are made redundant, when governments are corrupt, when families starve. So long as there is depression and sickness and death and fear and abuse and despair in this world there are questions. You can’t have all the answers.
And so, I paused before I said “I don’t think that it was meant to be like this. But I think the world is in quite a mess”.
I wanted to say more. I wanted to end with a message of hope. I wanted to be able to explain why things happen and how to avoid it and reassure her that everything would be alright. But I couldn’t and I didn’t, and I spent the rest of the day thinking about what I could have said, and what I should have said, and what I truly think is the answer to that question.
I’ve solved it (not all of it. Just this one insy weensy tiny bit). Bad things don’t happen to good people. Because there are no good people. Usually we describe someone based on how they are the majority of the time. She’s nice – because she is polite, friendly and cheerful far more often than she is rude or angry. But no-one imagines that she is never rude or angry, it’s just not very often, so, she’s nice. He’s courageous – because whenever I see him he is standing up to the crowd, and fighting for his ideals, never backing down. But no-one imagines that he never had quiet lonely moments of fear, doubt and questioning himself, it’s just not very often. So, he’s courageous.
And so we think she’s a good person – she volunteers, she’s nice to others, she really cares, she doesn’t swear, she smiles. But no one imagines that she has never told a lie, never hated someone, never put someone down, or boosted herself at another’s expense. Because there isn’t anyone like that. So, by our definitions of ‘this outweighs that’, she is good.
Somehow, I think the definition needs to be different for good. It can’t be a ‘most of the time’ thing. Good has to be something pure – utterly and completely good. I mean, if we’re talking about our world being good, we don’t want to just be talking about a few days, or even most of the days. So long as there is some bad in the world, it’s not good! Right?
Bad things don’t happen to good people. They happen to people. Real, normal, a little bit messed up, people. But that’s not the bit we’re really wrestling with. I could pick 3 words out of that sentence. Why. Bad. Things.
The reason I struggled to articulate this part is that I couldn’t seem to do it without sounding like the start of a sci-fi movie. We, humankind, are in rebellion. There is a ‘way things are meant to be’, and it’s not this. I think we all know it. Somewhere within each person is a yearning for something more. More understanding. More compassion. More freedom. More beauty. More joy. More laughter. More healing. More kindness. More loyalty. More love. More—goodness. It’s interesting that in the Biblical account of creation, God stands there at the end of each day, looks at all that he has made, and sees that it is…good. Until the final day, the climax, the pinnacle where human beings are created in the image of God and God “saw all that he had made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31)
That is the word he uses – good. Not half-assed, ‘not too bad’, she’ll-be-right-good. But whole-hearted, completely amazing, there-is-nothing-wrong-with-this good. That is how we were created. That is how things were meant to be.
The story goes onward and downward to ‘the fall’. The day when Adam and Eve chose to go against God, to choose their own way of doing things, their own opinions, their own self appreciation instead of God’s good plan. ‘I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do’, may be right in the case of an over-bearing coach, or a domineering boss. But I think it has turned out not-so-right, when it comes to an all-loving, all-knowing Creator God. With rebellion entered chaos; death and disease, endings and pain, toil and trouble, double double.
Let me tell you where I’m headed. This world today, as we know it, is flawed. It is, as I so understatedly put it, ‘a bit of a mess’. The result of years and years of humanity choosing self above good. Of choosing short-term gain above good. Of choosing ‘what is best for me’ and ‘what feels right without regard for others’ above good. And so, in this world of mess, no matter who we are we are caught up in it. That’s the tough thing about a fallen world – it doesn’t discriminate. ‘It’s the world we live in, God help us all”(Coach Yoast, Remember the Titans)
If I left it here (as I kind of did this morning), it’s a pretty hopeless situation. and yet, in the same Bible that, to me, explains so clearly how we got into this predicament, lies a hope that this is not the end.
This is the bit where I was scared I might sound trite. Although I don’t know why becasue Jesus ddin’t swan in whistling, clap his hands and say ‘put on your glad rags folks because I am the answer!’. He didn’t dismiss or hide from pain – he stared it straight in the face. Jesus was poor, and humble in his beginnings. He was a friend of the dregs of society, was often tired, overworked. He was hounded by tiresome, aimless people, and was misunderstood by even his closest friends and family. Jesus was publicly criticised and challenged by the most influential Jewish leaders of the day. Eventually he was betrayed by one of his besties, subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and crucified on an ugly Roman cross between two thieves. THIS is the ultimate in bad things happening to a good person. And in doing this, Jesus took on himself the consequences of our (all humankind’s) wilful rebellion. In being fully eternal God, and yet fully mortal man – “Jesus took our sins on his body on the tree.” In his resurrection, God vindicated him as His son, and made a way so that Jesus life on earth is just the beginning of a restoration of this earth to the goodness it was intended to be.
Jesus brought sight for the blind, cleansing for the lepers, forgiveness for the sinners, freedom for the demon-possessed. These are foretastes of what is to come when one day God restores this world completely – and everything is good again. In that day, there will no longer be bad things happening to good people. There will no longer be bad things at all. Just God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and his people; flawed and imperfect, yet redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice, which, should they choose to accept it opens the door to life. Good life. Forever and ever and ever.
That. That is what I wanted to say. That is what I was trying to express. If I’d had half an hour, maybe I would have got there. I don’t want to minimise pain. There are things in this world which SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. There is evil and darkness, and sadness that can’t be described. But, in my life experience, age 24, this is what I have found to be true. I know that in the years ahead, this will be tested again and harder. But I believe with all my heart that no matter how much I doubt, and rage, cry and question, I will always find this to be true. God is good, and he is there when bad things happen to people. His goodness, his love, his faithfulness, his truth WILL be enough for whatever I face. This is the hope I cling to.