This last Sunday (January 15, 2017) my wife’s niece was sufficiently recovered from the burns which she got on her thighs from a hot water accident two weeks previous that we were able to bring her to attend her own ecclesial community, the Weddington United Methodist Church, where the Rev. Dr. Terry Moore gave the sermon. The Scripture passage which he chose was Job 1:1-12 and the topic was “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” hence the title of this blog post, “Cum Res Malae Populo Bono Accidunt.”
Please left click your mouse cursor on the hyperlinked title in the above paragraph to listen to an audio recording of the sermon. Please note that this audio recording was likely made at a time different than when I attended the service. The reason why I say that is two-fold: (1) Weddington UMC has more than one Sunday morning service at which the Rev. Dr. Moore speaks, and (2) the order of my notes in certain places differs from the order of what I hear in the audio file, and there are details that I did not record in my notes. I did my best to take accurate notes, but nothing beats the audio file for correctness!
Now first it was quite a coincidence that on her first day back to church in a little while my wife’s niece hears this topic given the fact that something bad did happen to her a couple of weeks ago: a glass vessel filled with boiling water brittle fractured, spilling the hot liquid on her thighs and causing third degree burns. I am sure this sermon was not planned specifically for her, but the happenstance of that being the topic of the sermon on her return is noteworthy.
Second, the word for “happen” in title of the topic when translated into Latin gives away the end conclusion made by the Rev. Dr. Moore near the end of his sermon: accidunt. Bad things happen to good people because sometimes they are simply accidents, not caused by God but allowed by Him because of either man’s free will or the intrinsic nature of the physical universe. Excessive thermal stress in a glass vessel causes brittle fracture and spillage of liquid. God did not cause that; it is simply an accident.
But let us go through the sermon on which I took 10 pages of notes on 4 ⅞ by 8 ¼ inch paper. It seems to make sense that bad things would happen to bad people, but not when bad things happen to good people. Often well meaning people not knowing what to say would say something – anything – anyways without conscious regard for how that might affect the victim, and thereby they end up hurting the other. It is almost as though sometimes some people posit that bad things may happen now as God’s vengeance for sins committed in years past that have been forgiven.
Other times people may say: “God needed your Mom more than you needed her,” to which the person responds out of pain, “I no longer believe in God!” What does that kind of mentality say about God? Indeed, even pastors have done this, for which reason Rev. Dr. Moore exclaimed, “People who have Reverend in front of their names sometimes scare me the most.”
Nevertheless, let us consider: was the terrorist attack on NYC on 9/11 God’s punishment for that “den of iniquity?” Do we really believe this is how God works?
Other times we look on victims of cancer or similar illnesses and proclaim in arrogance, “I can’t get cancer because I am a man of God.” We may even tell God, “I bet that you cannot give me that!” We will a special privilege. We ignore or fail to recall what Jesus said in John 9:2-3:
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him?"
Still we ask, “How is there a God when his children suffer? Where is God?” The simplistic answer that “we’re not meant to understand” is simply too trite. Such an answer implies that some questions we are supposed to ask. Well, why not? Are we to accept that only by living right and keeping the law God will bless? That was the ancient Hebrew thought, and for that reason some scholars have posited that the Book of Job was written during the Babylonian Exile when Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple had bene destroyed. The people knew that by their apostasy they had erred, hence their “punishment.”
A different explanation is provided in the Bible’s apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation. Satan attacks us, and that attack wreaks havoc and destruction everywhere. Indeed, we see that in Job 1:12:
And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.” So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
ASIDE: Sadly Protestants in the 16th century rejected the Deuterocanonical Books from the Bible that the Church had accepted at the Councils of Rome in AD 382 and Carthage in AD 397. Two of these books – 1st and 2nd Maccabees – deal a lot with suffering caused by the pagan Greek Seleucid overlords on the Jewish people who had returned to the Promised Land after the end of their exile in Babylon. Of particular note is the Martyrdom of Eleazar in 2nd Maccabees 6:18-31 and the Martyrdom of the Seven Brothers in 2nd Maccabees 7. In both instances a wicked leader – Antiochus IV Epiphanes – causes the suffering, NOT God. END ASIDE
Now Job was a good and upright man who lived in the land of Uz, yet in spite of his goodness and uprightness he goes through hard times. Job’s name – אִיּוֹב in Hebrew – means “hated” and the land of Uz – or עוּץ in Hebrew – in which he lived means “wooded” in an unknown place. Therefore, some scholars have thought that the Book of Job is like a parable similar to what Jesus used in teaching.
But other scholars have maintained that Job is an actual account of what happened to a very rich man who lived somewhere in the Arabian desert to the east and southeast of Judah and Israel. One day the heavenly hosts present themselves to God and Satan – the Tempter or Accuser (שָׂטָן in Hebrew) – comes along with them. God asks him what he was doing and Satan responds by saying, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” God asks him, “Do you see my man Job?” And Satan responds, “You protect him.” Satan’s accusation is that Job is faithful because God prospers him. Then Satan dares God by saying, “Take it away and he’ll curse you to your face.” God says, “Go ahead, but do not touch him.”
Satan then afflicts Job. His wife declares, “Curse God and die.” Job’s three friends say, “Job, you messed up.” (Be careful, amici, whom you select for your friends given the support you are likely to get in your hour of need.) So who is this God and why are these things happening to his servant Job?
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” Rabbi Kuschner’s son Aaron had the premature aging disease progeria. This illness is one of rapid aging where the body remains at small stature (3 feet tall), the afflicted loses his hair and likely does not survive past his teenage years. That happened with Aaron who died at 14 years old. So why did God throw a curve ball like that? Degrees and education don’t mean anything when it comes to something like this. The question foremost in one’s mind is, “Why does God punish my child for me?”
Well, the fact of the matter is that God does not cause such bad things to happen. Rather, sometimes bad things happen simply because they are accidents, and in the case of progeria, it is a genetic condition that occurs as a new mutation which by definition is accidental. In some cases, however, accidents can be caused by other people hurting the innocent. For example, a drunk driver hits another vehicle and kills a baby. God did not do that. Rather, man’s free will did that. Therefore instead of asking God “why,” we should ask for “help.” Peter did that in Matthew 14:22-33 when he left the boat to join Jesus in walking on the water. As he began to see the wind and the sea, he became afraid and started to sink, whereupon he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
We need to remember John 3:16-17 as the touchstone of who and what God is:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
And we need to remember Jesus’ promise in John 14:18 and the angels’ promise at Jesus’ Ascension in Acts 1:11:
I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
In addition to the book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” Rabbi Kushner also wrote, “The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-third Psalm.”
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Let us then praise God that when bad things happen to us, he will ever walk with us, never leaving nor forsaking us.
ASIDE: I hope that when I go through the pain of loss I will remain cognizant enough to recall what St. Paul wrote:
Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:8-11
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
ANOTHER ASIDE: There are indeed cases where accidents happen and good things ironically happen to bad people while bad things sadly happen to good people. Thus St. Paul writes in Romans 8:18-25 the following:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Nevertheless, sometimes I do think that God punishes us or lets us be punished as the case may be for our own wrongdoings. Genesis 7 records how except for Noah and his family God destroyed mankind in the Great Flood because of his wickedness. Genesis 11 records the fall of the Tower of Babel because of man’s pride. Genesis 19 records how God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for its sexual deviancy. 2nd Kings 2:23-25 records how God sent two she-bears to maul 42 young boys who ridiculed the prophet Elijah for being bald. Even in the New Testament God meted out punishment. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead in Acts 5:1-11 for lying to the Holy Spirit. And Revelation 2:20-23 records that Jesus promised Jezebel at the Church in Thyatira that she would be placed on her sick bed and her children killed for teaching people to practice sexual immorality and to eat food from animals sacrificed to idols. But sometimes as the Rev. Dr. Moore pointed out, accidents do happen. Thus, we need to remember James 1:2-4:
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
END OTHER ASIDE