When Good Things Happen
November 8, 1998 - Grace Christian Reformed Church, Cobourg
November 22, 1998 - Pickering Standard Church
Psalm 65:1-13 - Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.
You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.
You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows, and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.
This past few months have been for me an absolutely incredible time. Actually, the entire period from early spring to late autumn has been wonderful. The weather has been so fantastic for such a long period that I will remember this year for many years to come. Many others may not agree with me. My brother in law is a farmer and he has mentioned to me that he wishes it had been a little hotter and a little more wet where he lives; and even now, as in Canada I admire the extraordinary beauty of the autumn season, there are in Central America entire communities which no longer exist and human tragedy such as is rarely seen. It seems so unfair that I enjoy a such a wonderful life while many others in this world do not, and I find myself asking: "Why is God continuing to be so kind to me?"
I was recently asked this question from the other side by saying: "If your God is so loving and kind why is there such evil in the world, why do innocent people suffer so often under circumstances beyond their power to control?" This is, in fact, the very question that is so often used as an excuse by those who wish to continue to disbelieve in God. The basis of this question is the expectation of constant good and consequently there is some surprise when things go badly. The purpose of the question is not really as obvious as it would appear. What the question is really saying is "Look at all the evil in this world, if your God is a God of love and grace how could He possibly allow such things to exist?" The obvious answer from their point of view it that since we teach that God is a God of love and grace and that since these things do exist therefore our God cannot be real.
All too often, when we as Christians are asked why bad things happen to people, we give an inadequate answer, one that fails to address the real needs of the person asking the question. They are not so much seeking an answer as they are asking us to prove the validity of what we believe. They do not need an answer as much as they need to believe in the God behind the answer. Bad things do happen. Innocent people do die for no apparent reason. Just over the past weeks we have heard of the ever increasing death toll in Central America from Hurricane Mitch. We will most likely never know why so many have died in what our world regards as a natural disaster, though as Christians we must believe that even this catastrophe could not have happened if it were not part of God's will and that it somehow has a part in His plan. What we need to realize is that this question is often being asked from the wrong point of view. It is not the bad things that ought to surprise us but the good things. If there is no God, if this world did occur through the interaction of time and chance then the question of "Why?" in response to either good or bad is irrelevant. The current belief in evolution and natural selection give no basis to question the morality of the events that come upon us. The question of good or bad only exists if there is a fundamental morality within creation.
We are here today as believers in God and therefore we must believe that what happens in this world happens for a reason. We accept that, in the general sense, good comes to us from God and evil comes to us through the arrival of Satan in this creation It is the good things that happen that are the proof of the God behind the creation in spite of the fallen state of mankind. Paul, addressing the belief that since God had not yet passed judgement upon the world He was not going to, writes to the Roman Jews that:
Romans 2:4 - God's kindness leads you toward repentance.
Showing to them that God's patience was not indicative of a lack of desire or will to judge evil, but that it was instead the result of God's desire that all possible be saved. God's kindness is treated here as a witness to His existence.
When Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra they were believed to be the Greek gods Jupiter and Mercury. In protest Paul addressed the crowds and made a stirring presentation of the reality of our God. Among his words was the following statement:
Acts 14:17 - Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.
Paul's sense in this statement is that the good which comes to people is witness to the kindness, and goodness of God. In the times in which the events of the Bible took place rain, sunshine, storm, and all other aspects of the weather were understood to be under the direct control of gods. In the agricultural society of the times people were entirely dependant upon rain and other forces of nature for their survival and so the gods who controlled the weather were significant and important. While Paul makes use of this cultural understanding of natural elements to introduce the people of Lystra to His God and believe in Him Jeremiah actually bases his request for God's mercy towards the then pagan nation of Judah upon God's control over nature:
Jeremiah 14:22 - Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O LORD our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.
Jeremiah makes two all important comparisons in this part of his prophecy:
1 - There never has been nor will there ever be a god such as our God who's control over every aspect of His creation is complete.
2 - That the rain does not come of its own accord. Even the pagan nations of Jeremiah's time regarded rain as the blessing of their gods. Rain is not a result of natural processes as much as it is the result of the will of God.
We have today almost taken God for granted. We certainly ask Him why in our prayers when we or those we love are in trouble and suffering, but we rarely consider that life itself comes from God, that all we enjoy and hold dear has come to us direct from His hand. Paul told the Athenian philosophers that we live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:28), that our existence is possible only because of God.
Now to address the question of bad things. As Christians we should not be surprised when bad occurs since we know that evil entered God's perfect creation thousands of years ago and has been progressing ever since. We know that there is a war going on between God and the forces of evil and that, even though God's victory was never in doubt, evil will at times appear to have the upper hand. When evil occurs we are once again observing the effects of a decision our first parents made so long ago. What should be surprising, however, is that in spite of the evil within this world God is kind to us and gives each of us what we need in order to be able to make an other decision, the decision of whether or not to believe that the blood of Jesus washes us clean from all our evil.
We do not often understand that the Bible never teaches us of the importance of this life. It is never viewed as anything except as a platform upon which to make preparation for the next one. No task is ever considered of greater importance than that of serving God The sufferings of the early Church, the persecution of believers throughout history, even the death of Jesus Christ, all would be considered tragedy by any worldly measure yet the Bible tells us that these things are relatively unimportant when compared to the glory of knowing the God who both made and saved us.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 - This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD , who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.
All of man's eternal existence is determined by his response to God during the short span of years we know as life.
Can any of us ever have the answer for why such a disaster happened in Central America, no. Not only that, but we may never even know the answer for the things that happen to us. We do, however, know that God is good and kind and that Satan, our enemy, is evil and malevolent. We know that much of this world is under Satan's control. We know that a time is coming when the wrath of God will be poured out upon this earth because of man's rebellion and sin. We know that Jesus told us that in the last days there would be great calamities and suffering. Knowing all of this we can arrive at a conclusion that may satisfactorily answer question that I referred to earlier: The good we enjoy, we enjoy by the grace of God that those who enjoy this good may come to believe in Him. The evil that occurs is only the result of the sin that our first parents allowed into the world and that humanity has been worshipping ever since. Since God is not evil but punishes evil we must therefore conclude that God's anger is being held back so that as many as possible may put their faith in Him. The apostle Peter had this to say about God's hesitation and was responding to much the same attitude that Paul addressed in the early chapters of Romans:
1 Peter 3:3-10 - First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will com, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forge this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
But Peter does not use this destruction as an excuse for unbelief for he continues:
2 Peter 3:11-13 - Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
Peter's argument is that, since the world in which we live will be destroyed in the last days, we who are Christians ought to live holy and godly lives in this life as we look forward to our eternal home. Our answer, therefore, to those who ask us questions about the bad that befalls us in this world would be that both good and bad are proof of the existence of God and Satan and show very clearly the difference between the two powers that have been fighting for the souls of men since the dawn of time. We serve the creator, the loving God who has won through His Son the victory, let us rejoice in the good things He sends us and use them as opportunities to introduce others to Jesus Christ.