Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

Or am I mad at God?

Since my diagnosis with neuroendocrine carcinoid tumors, or as I like to say, the Damn Cancer (or as we say around here, DC), I’ve been asked the same questions over and over again. I’ve
been asked whether my faith has eroded with my terminal diagnosis? Whether I blame God for getting cancer? Whether I am angry with God?

I am not; at least not yet. Oh, I get angry, really angry. I get angry at the situation and circumstance. I get angry at sin, death, and decay. I get angry at the DC. It is like I told a friend, it helps that I had previously defined my understanding and theology of sin. A good theology of sin does not make the sickness any easier but it allows me to understand its presence in the world, and more personally, in my body. It allows my soul and my mind to grasp, on some level, that I am not being punished. That I am a victim, like the rest of the world, of the unintended consequences of humanity’s desire to be “like God,” instead of desiring to be godly.

Sin entered the world with the act of humanity reaching to be “like God.” In Genesis 3:5 humanity performed a deliberate and intentional act of disobedience. It should not surprise us that the prototypical man and woman were disobedient. We are disobedient. I mean, come on, our lives certainly affirm Paul’s admonition that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

We wanted our eyes open. We thought we wanted to know good from evil. Unfortunately the ability to know the difference between good and evil does not give you the ability to control good and evil. It doesn’t even mean you will do good if evil is an option. It just means you will know. And we know. We know and we choose, and usually we choose poorly.

I love it when people say that “so and so fell into sin.” That is not what I’ve seen in my life or the life of those I’ve encountered. We don’t “fall” as much as we “jump” into sin. We, too, like Eve and Adam, evaluate our options, contemplate the advantages, and bite the fruit. Oh, it’s good going down.  So good that we make sure we share it with those closest to us. “Here, have some, it’s amazing.” Then, later, maybe only moments later, regret, guilt, pain, hurt, and fear take up shop in our heart and we know we are busted. We realize that we, too, are “naked,” which really means vulnerable to harm and death. It’s like those nightmares where you find yourself standing in front of the class with your pants down, embarrassed and ashamed. We blame them, Adam and Eve, but in reality they are us. If I am honest, if you are honest, we know that we would have eaten the fruit too, and we probably wouldn’t have even needed a serpent to point out its benefits.

What we did not know was when we chose to be “like God” that also meant that we opened the door for death to enter. God warned us. God told us that if we chose our way, it would end in death. That we would “surely die.” Now we do. We die. Everybody you know has a clock that's ticking. Some of us know ours is ticking faster, but yours is ticking too. I know it, and if you are honest with yourself you know it to. And despite what we think, we don’t really know how much time is left on that clock. Sure, I’ve become more keenly aware of mine, but in actuality yours could have far less time on it. Every time you cross the street, or walk down the stairs, or live your daily life you could encounter something that would fast forward your life-clock and have the alarm go off. Suddenly you would be “absent from the body and present with the Lord.”

So death is an ever-present reality. In my ministry I have done more than three hundred funerals and attended many more. I have actually lost count. During the past twenty-one years death has become a frequent companion as I have been with families through long illnesses and sudden, tragic losses. I have stood beside the bed when mechanical means of life support were switched off and watched a senior saint drift into the hands of the Savior. I have cried with grieving parents at the loss of a small child. There is one thing certain about life, it will end. Nobody gets out alive. Sin opened the door, death barged in and has been with us ever since.

So what does this have to do with why I’m not angry with God? Because I have always known I was going to die, I just didn’t know when or how. “The wages of sin is death.” The Scripture is pretty clear about that. There is sin in the world, and sin in my life. What does sin get you? Death.

So let’s recap before we get to the good news. Sin entered the world because we wanted to be “like God” rather than be godly. Humanity knew that once they disobeyed God they would “surely die,” but we chose to disobey anyway. Once we disobeyed we were surprised at our own nakedness or vulnerability and we were surprised that there were consequences to our actions (this sounds awfully much like a parenting lesson so far). The greatest consequence of our action was that when we opened the door to sin, death came in and became a part of all of our lives. So you don’t really get to choose whether you die; you are going to die. Cheery so far, huh? No wonder so many people are on anti-depressants.

There is good news. Like Paul said earlier, “the wages of sin is death.” We earned it because the sins of the world and the sins of our own choosing have condemned us. The good new is the most important “but” in the Bible. The rest of that verse states, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Wait a minute! We deserve death, but we get life?

During times of difficulty it is so easy to ask, “why me?” That is because we can always think, in our comparative goodness theology, that there is somebody far worse than us that deserve this more than we do. Yes, I’ve sinned, but I know people who are way worse sinners that I am. So when trouble, sickness, and pain comes our way what we are really saying when we say “why me” is “why not them?”

When I got sick, I was in pain. A lot of pain. The kind of pain that makes you not fully aware of everything you are saying. The kind of pain where you don’t want anyone or anything to touch you. The kind of pain where it hurts to stand up, sit down, lay down, or walk around. There was no comfort. No escaping the presence of the pain. During that time of pain all I could think of to say was a breath prayer that has become part of my daily life for the past dozen years. I just kept praying, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Even in pain I knew that because of the sin that was unleashed upon the world I was just as likely to be the recipient of the consequences as the next person.

I, too, have been guilty of asking God, “why me?” on occasion. What I am learning to ask, however, is “why not me?” When the torrent of suffering was unleashed upon the world. When the wages of sin, which is death, flooded our existence why do we think that we should live consequence exempt lives? In a world where genocide happens, where children are starving, and we flood our bodies with chemicals why do we think that the sin of the world will never penetrate our lives?

If you take the Bible seriously you see that even the saints of God were affected by the sin of the world. We see Lot losing his home because of the sin of the city. We see Paul being beaten, shipwrecked, and eventually martyred because of the sin of the presiding government. History even shows us the sins of our brothers and sisters where some of the greatest atrocities were done in the name of Jesus. Yet, still, we think that we should be exempt from the wages of sin. We are not.

I am going to die. Dying is part of living. Actually dying makes living all the more precious, No, I’m not angry at God because I am dying. I am thankful that, as the funeral liturgy reminds us, “even as we die, yet shall we live.” Today I choose to live, even though I’m dying.


Gracious God who gave us life, help us cherish life, even as we are dying. You who did not spare your only begotten Son, but allowed Him to come that we might have life, abundant life in this life, and life eternal, grant that we might live as those who are dying and die as those who will live eternally. Amen.
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