Thursday, September 20, 2007

When Bad Things Happen

When Bad Things Happen to – Anybody written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

In 1981, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book that touched a sensitive spot in many people. The book was titled, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Most of us consider ourselves to be good people, most of the time. Yet few, if any, live very long without having something bad happen in our lives which we feel is unfair. It is difficult to realize, in our understanding of reality, that "being good" is no guarantee against misfortune. We fail to see why God does not protect those who are trying to serve him. A man whose life had been "rained upon" considerably commented to me: "If God lets this sort of thing happen to his friends, pretty soon he will not have any friends." This is a universal human complaint against God even though it is often unspoken. But not everyone has remained quiet about it. The Book of Job and the Book of Psalms are laced with complaints to God about God’s failure to protect them from adversity.

In the Old Testament Book of Judges the "Angel of the Lord" appeared to Gideon and opened the conversation saying: "The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior." This salutation confused Gideon in view of all the trouble that was going on with him and his people. He obviously thought the Angel of the Lord was uninformed about the dire circumstances of God’s people. Gideon said to the Angel: "But, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian" (Judges 6:13). Gideon is expressing the age-old complaint: "Why do bad things happen to good people."

Job gave a philosophical answer to the question: "For misery does not come from the earth, nor does trouble sprout from the ground; but human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward" (Job 5:6-7). He goes on: "A mortal that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble . . ." (Job 14:1). While this philosophical explanation of the origin of trouble is of little comfort to a person in the midst of some life-altering adversity, it does offer a realistic understanding of the nature of human existence that will prepare one to deal with trouble when it comes.

One of the main obstacles to dealing creatively with the inevitable adversities of life is that our idealized image of what life ought to be like if it were like it ought to be gives no consideration to adversity being a normal part of life. Deep down in our hearts we think adversity is abnormal.

Truth is it is not abnormal but inevitable. It is part and parcel of our very existence. There is nothing in human experience or in our religious understanding of life which promises us a trouble-free life. Some of our troubles we bring upon ourselves, and there are some things that happen to us which are beyond our control. Our margin of control in both cases is in what we do with what happens to us.

Lillian Smith, in "Now Is the Time," reminds us that "Every good thing the human race has experienced was trouble for somebody. Our birth was trouble for our mothers. To support us was trouble for our fathers. Books, paintings, music, great buildings, good food, ideas, and the nameless joys and excitements which add up to what we call ‘a good life’ came out of the travail of countless hearts and minds."

Different people have different trials in life, and we deal with it in our own particular way, but adversity in some shape or form comes to everyone. Do not think for a moment that you can dance through the days of your years untouched by some kind of adversity. It is not going to happen.

If you want to really know a person observe them in a time of trial and trouble, when the mask of pretense and bravado is stripped away and there is nothing left but raw reality. While it is basically true that adversity tends to weaken the weak and strengthen the strong, there are people who are "born again" in the midst of a great adversity. But, that’s next week’s column.

We are not done here. Stay tuned.

AN ENCOURAGING WORD for August 9, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

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