Monday, March 26, 2012

Bad Things and Good People

Do bad things happen to good people? For the vast majority of people, the answer would be “yes!” And because of this, many reject the Judeo-Christian God. To restate the problem – If God is all good and powerful, there can be no possible reason for Him to allow holocausts and tsunamis.

This is certainly the way that Job had thought. He was most righteous among humanity. He had done everything that he was supposed to do, and yet the worst of tragedies befell him. He, therefore, concluded that God was unjust and consequently, didn’t deserve worship:

  • "As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul.” (Job 27:2)
  • “All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior…yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure.” (Job 16:12-17)
However, Job’s assessment changed after an encounter with God. God asked Job a series of questions, and Job couldn’t answer one of them. Finally, Job got the point. He was in no position to judge God:

  • "I am unworthy - how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer--twice, but I will say no more."  (Job 40:4-5)
  • “You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:3-6)
Perhaps we too need to reassess our indictments against God? Perhaps, like Job, we lack the facts necessary to charge that God is unjust. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t make moral judgments. But we have to bear in mind that certain judgments might be too difficult for us.

The Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, has made an important distinction regarding the question of “bad things.” If we are sent into a pup tent to see if there is an elephant inside, we can be very confident of our answer. However, if we are instead sent into the same tent and asked if there is a microscopic spider-mite inside, our judgment should be very uncertain. Similarly, Job learned that the judgments that he had been issuing were as uncertain as spider-mites.

We tend to talk glibly about both “bad things” and “good people,” but do we really know enough about these things to indict God? While we might know enough about bad things to not choose to vacation in North Korea, we might not know enough to insist that we know better than God how to run our lives. In fact, we are told that we don’t even know what to pray for:

  • We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. [27] And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8:26-27)
Likewise, this was God’s complaint against Job:

  • "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2
We don’t have to be a Bible-enthusiast to see that our judgment is very limited in this area. Surveys show that, while people who win the Lotto had been convinced that the money would change their lives for the better, more often than not, the money destroyed them.

Also, a recent survey revealed that when successful people get the things that they were certain were good, they become less moral and altruistic. Perhaps we don’t know what’s good for us!

So often we see how people who endure great tragedies learn so much through them and become more other-centered. Likewise, tragedy teaches us to treasure the relationships that we now have but sometimes take for granted. Consequently, I enjoy walking through cemeteries and reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. These too remind me to treasure what I have.

Suffering can serve as soul-medicine. Scripture teaches us that it’s a token of God’s love (Hebrews 12:11), an opportunity to become more Christ-like (2 Cor. 4:7-11) and a builder of character (Romans 5:3-5). The prophetic Elihu explained to Job that God used suffering to bring people to repentance and the knowledge of the truth (Job 33:13-28).

Perhaps we can’t see the big picture? Perhaps we don’t even know what are “bad things?” And perhaps we don’t even know who are the “good people?” Job was the best of people, but he finally repented of his ways:

  • "I am unworthy how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. (Job 40:4)
 The New King James Version translates “unworthy” as “vile.” If Job had been vile, what does this say about the rest of us? Perhaps we aren’t the good people we think we are. A truckload of psychological surveys all affirm that we are self deluded about our goodness. (11/9/05; Self-images Often Erroneously Inflated) reports:

·             “In one study of nearly a million high school seniors, 70 percent said they had “above average leadership skills, but only 2 percent felt their leadership skills were below average.” Another study found that 94 percent of college professors think they do above average work. And in another study, ‘when doctors diagnosed their patients as having pneumonia, predictions made with 88 percent confidence turned out to be right only 20 percent of the time.’”

Psychologist Shelley Taylor adds,

·             “Normal people exaggerate how competent and well liked they are. Depressed people do not. Normal people remember their past behavior with a rosy glow. Depressed people are more even-handed…On virtually every point on which normal people show enhanced self-regard, illusions of control, and unrealistic visions of the future, depressed people fail to show the same biases.” (Positive Illusions, p.214)

However, once the psychological torment leaves, self-delusion returns.  Taylor confesses,

·             “When depressed people are no longer depressed, they show the same self-enhancing biases and illusions as non-depressed people.” (p.223)

Perhaps we don’t know much about “good people?” And perhaps we need some “bad things?” More importantly, we might want to reassess our rejection of God.


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