Today, we start our “Elephant in the Pew” series, and our first topic is a heavy one – one that troubles many of us: Why do bad (horrible) things happen to good people, especially innocent children?
So, let’s start there – Why do you think bad things happen to good people?
Unfortunately, nowhere in scripture does God promise that we will NOT experience bad things, or be victims of horrible incidents. What God does promise to always be with us through it all.
Do bad things ever happen to bad people?
Maybe we need to think about how we define “good” and “bad”.
Our definition of good and bad is pretty subjective. It seems like it’s up to each person to decide for themselves. So what happens when something we perceive as “good” turns out to be “bad” for us and vice-versa?
That upsets our entire understanding of how things are supposed to be. I mean – do you think you could ever see cancer or murder as something good? No probably not, but good can come from it.
Our perception of “good” and “bad” is a moving target. And to make things worse, there are billions of people each determining what is good and what is bad (evil). And when our good and bad clashes with our neighbor’s, fights and argument ensue and even wars break out (Young, p135). The root of our problem is “judging” without truly knowing the other, the circumstance, and seeing things only as one way – good or bad – as an “either/or” situation rather than even holding onto the possibility of there being a “both/and” option.
Yet, we know that the “both/and” option already exists. Scientists say that red wine is “good” for your heart, yet we know that too much of it, is ultimately “bad” for your health. Or, losing a job/home is “bad,” yet it can force us to look for new opportunities, try something we never even thought of previously, and maybe even finding out that life is even better than what we had before.
When I saw this question on my list, my mind went directly to the book, and now movie, “The Shack” by William P. Young. Have you ever read the book or watched the movie?
It is thoughtfully written in a Jewish “midrash” kind of tradition where a person explores, and writes into the “gaps,” created by the scriptures and additional texts available, in order to “fill in the story.” As I was reading the book again, while preparing for this message, I was struck by the imagery of God and the words describing the Trinity, God’s actions and God’s purpose for us – humanity.
If you have never read the book or watched the movie, you should. It really makes you stop and think about how we perceive God and our response to God. It helped me realize that I still have a small perspective of God – try to keep God in a nice and tidy box, which is just ridiculous – and how much I am missing out on my relationship with God and in life because I have never fully explored who God is and what I was created to be. This story is definitely worth revisiting on a regular basis. It’s a great inroad for meditation. Through this story, God invites you to enter into a deeper knowing, a co-union with God’s self.
Another great reason to read this book, or watch the movie, is the core of the story itself. The story is about one man’s (Mack’s) deep struggle to come to terms with the loss of his 6-yr-old daughter, who was abducted and killed by a serial killer. Like so many of us, Mack’s story reveals how he “believed” in God, right up to the point that he felt God failed him and his daughter – because God didn’t stop something horrific from happening.
Mack’s relationship with God is very “broken,” and in his grief, he challenges God, accuses God of abandoning him and his daughter, and even goes so far as to judge God guilty and to blame for what happened.
Sound familiar? Has something like that ever happened to you or someone you know? When tragedy strikes, too often our faith is shaken, maybe even shattered rather than deepened. We turn away.
God’s response is to invite Mack to spend a weekend together, to get to know God deeply, to truly understand what really caused of all his pain, and to seek healing.
At the heart of this story is Mack’s – our – understanding of God.
This story and our question for today also stems from our understanding of “free will” – our ability to choose for ourselves what is right and wrong for us.
Sarayu (Spirit) tells Mack that our problems started when humanity chose independence (free will) over a relationship, co-union, with God. It all began when Eve pulled the apple from the tree and she and Adam ate of it, believing they knew better than God what was right for them. That choice to eat from the tree of knowledge tore the universe apart, divorcing the spiritual from the physical (Young, p135).
Since that fateful event, humanity has been on a path that has separated us from love, believing we could independently discern what was right or wrong, good or evil, attempting to play God – believing that we can prevent or control bad things from happening.
“When you chose independence over relationship, you became a danger to each other,” Sarayu says to Mack. “Others became objects to be manipulated or managed for your own happiness. Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want. In a self-centered world,” she says, “it is the excuse to inflict pain on others” (Young, p123).
“And with authority, there comes the need for rules/laws and someone to enforce them,” said Jesus. Thus creating an opportunity for abuse and the infliction of pain and suffering. “That’s one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you,” Jesus said (Young, p122).
As a result of our human experiences, our trust in the goodness of God has been set aside. Instead, we too often see God as either testing us, punishing us, or even worse, as unconcerned, uninterested, or even ambivalent to our pain and suffering, to our need.
At one point over that magical weekend, Mack is given the opportunity to judge God and humanity. He is told that he must decide who is responsible for all the pain and suffering in his life, in the world, and who should be punished for it. In that moment, Mack finally is able to vent some of his anger at God, but he also must face that his anger at God is the safer option than the blame he has placed on himself, the crushing guilt he wears as a heavy blanket for not being there to protect his daughter.
As the weekend visit with God unfolds, Mack discovers who God truly is. He realizes that his “image” or understanding of who God is wrong and needs to change. As often happens when we are face-to-face with those who have hurt us, or those whom we deem our “enemies,” we often learn that we have more in common than we thought; that they aren’t the evil we made them out to be in our heads. We must reframe our image of them. Yet, our pre-conceived notions run deep and are often hard to change – especially when we have been deeply hurt. In our pain, we too often assume the worst of God (Young, 176) and we place the blame of our hurt not only on the perpetrator, but on God for not preventing the event in the first place.
Mack finally sees and accepts that God is not to blame for what happened to his young daughter. In a conversation with Jesus, he asks the final and ultimate question….. “Why did this horrible act have to happen to my daughter?” Jesus replies that it didn’t have to happen. “Did she have to die so you could change me?” Mack asks Papa. “Whoa! That’s not how I do things” Papa quickly replies. “Stories about a person willing to exchange their life for another are a golden thread in your world, revealing both your need and my heart” Papa said. “But I wouldn’t be here now if she hadn’t died,” Mack states. “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That line of thinking only leads to false notions about me” Papa replied (Young, p183).
The death of Mack’s young daughter happened as a result of the choices – the independence – one human exercised. Choices that we all are faced with and make each and every day. Choices that too often can result in inflicting pain on others rather than seeking to help, uplift or love.
Then Jesus tells Mack that God was with his daughter through her horrible ordeal. That she was never alone, through any of it, and that she knew she wasn’t. She knew God’s peace and comfort (Young, p173).
My friends, this is what we all want to hear and believe – that no matter how badly we “mess up” or the bad choices we make, God will not abandon us, nor will God punish us for our actions. “Sin is punishment enough” said Papa (Young, p120). Rather, Papa tells Mack, “You (humanity) were created to be loved. So, to live as if you were unloved is a limitation. It’s like clipping a bird’s wings and removing it’s ability to fly. Pay has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. Pain, if left unresolved for very long, can almost make you forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place” (Young, p97).
In Young’s book, we hear the Triune-God say that in order for us to find true peace and happiness, we must “re-turn” to God. We must let go of our own ideas of control, of being able to discern or judge right from wrong, and to let go of the need for power, authority over others and everything, and to seek/submit ourselves to a loving relationship – a co-union – with God (Young, p147).
By re-turning to God, and fully engaging in the circle of God’s love, we place our total trust in God’s will for us and God’s innate goodness. From that relationship and place of comfort and security, we are able to face all the challenges, disappointments, pain and suffering that life can dish out because we know that God is with us through it all.
How is your relationship with God?
Are you ready to take it to the next level?
God is inviting you to re-turn and enter the true circle of life
May it be so……AMEN
Young, William P., “The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity.” Windblown Media/Los Angeles, CA, 2007.
28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.