Today’s post has been a challenge. I have been on a mountain with poor wifi coverage. I have worked hard to get connected but now the problem has been solved.
In conversation with one of my travelling companions he related a couple of stories about good in the world. That’s where we will begin. Let’s paraphrase his thoughts. A Godly man with many marketable skills has decided to give his life to ministry. He and his wife have sacrificed and sacrificed to serve the local church. He feels called to further his commitment and he decides he needs to go all in and become a pastor. He is heading to seminary and has made all the right moves to fulfill the Lord’s calling and then he is stricken with a very aggressive cancer. He has thousands who are praying for him, and his wife is sure that he will be healed. He is not. The cancer takes his life and the world has lost a very powerful man of God.
Did he not deserve to serve the Lord? Did he not deserve to live a Godly life so others could see? Did he not deserve to have happiness in his newfound Godly purpose?
Yes he did; on all counts…but it was not God’s plan for that to happen.
Paul Little says this idea of good people getting rewarded is the thinking of man, not God. What as people do we expect? Little cites Hugh Hopkins “a good God would reward each man according to his deserts and that an almighty God would have no difficulty in carrying this out.” In other words, a good man will get a positive reward and let’s flip it over; an evil man will experience suffering because he deserves it. Little says “would God be good if He were to deal with each person exactly according to his behavior?”
It just does not work that way.
What is at work here?
First of all, there is the assumption that the best part of the life we live is the comfort that we can have, the comfort that is the result of happiness. This is a human evaluation. We want comfort and we want contentment. We think that is the best thing for us in this life but what if God thinks otherwise? What if God’s definition of happiness is discomfort? For most of us, that would be unbelievable. The idea that God would want us to have pain, the idea that God would want us to suffer, the idea that God would think that we would benefit from hard times.
Let’s get a bit personal. The greatest u-turn I ever made in my life was made when I was in the middle of the worst suffering I had ever experienced. I was not happy; I was devastated. But as I worked through my suffering I began to see a new way to live, a new power to draw upon, a new source for wisdom. I began to work toward a new life and now as I compare where I am to those days, I realize that I have so much going for me.
What is this I speak of…some say it is God’s way of building my character.
Secondly, we have the pop religion idea of Karma. Simply put, “what goes around comes around.” Christians don’t believe like people of the Hindu faith [where Karma comes from] but some feel that a person gets his just reward. If you sew evil, you will reap evil. If you do good deeds, you will get good rewards. Let’s take it further, like Job, if you are suffering it must be because you are experiencing what you deserve because you have been a bad person. What a thing for Job’s friends to think, but they did think it. Conversely, if you are living a good life, you must be a good person.
In the Bible, we encounter example after example [other than Job] where people suffer and they did not deserve it. Miriam gets leprosy because she challenges the authority of Moses [a man who does not wield authority with much confidence]. The innocent baby of David and Bathsheba dies because of David’s sin. The man born blind and healed by Jesus was accused of sinning; that was why he was blind. Little points to the eighteen people who were killed by the falling tower of Siloam; Jesus said they were not greater sinners than other Galileans. These things happen and we ask why? Did they deserve to suffer?
The Christian looks at the Bible and also at life and wonders is there a direct connection between deeds and suffering? Sometimes the connection is not clear.
Here is what we are left with: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord [Isiah 55:8]. And “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” [Deuteronomy 29:29].
When it comes to evil and suffering, we just don’t know.
We never will.
But God knows…