Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

This week has certainly had its fill of bad things. Our nation has been shocked by a bombing of innocents, running a race on a beautiful day in Boston. Our state has mourned great loss caused by a devastating plant explosion. My little town has prayed for the recovery of a first responder hit by a car while helping others in a car accident and we have grieved over the loss of one of our precious teenagers. Times like these often leave us to wonder, why do bad things happen to good people? That then leads to a second question. Why do good things happen to bad people?

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there were two shepherds responsible for watching a large flock. The older of the two herdsmen was known for his remarkable talents as a shepherd. He provided well for his sheep. He cared for all their needs, led them to the safest pastures, and loved each animal. He was also responsible for the younger shepherd. He had originally given the younger man the job and taught him the tricks of the trade. The flock was safe.

Over time, the younger of the shepherds began to grow jealous of his elder. He wanted recognition as a good shepherd. He wanted the sheep to follow him when they walked through pastures. HE wanted to be the leader of the flock. He had a few sheep that were his favorites and that followed him, but he wanted more. He began to do things to undermine the older shepherd. In doing so, he often put the sheep in danger. Over time, it became clear that the great flock would be split in two. Although the older, wiser shepherd did not wish to lose a single sheep, he would not bind them to him against their will. The two shepherds parted ways and the flock became separated.

The jealousy of the younger shepherd didn't cease when he was on his own. In fact, it grew. In order to tarnish the reputation of the older shepherd, the younger would wait until the shadows of darkness and then creep to the other flock to cause damage. He attacked the good shepherd's flock. He poisoned them, misled them off into darkness, and sometimes killed them and made it look like a wild animal had attacked. The townspeople began to whisper that maybe the good shepherd wasn't so good. Maybe the younger herdsman was better. His flock seemed to be fine after all. The young shepherd was pleased.

More time passed. Some of the sheep in the good shepherds flock began to look at the other flock. They began to grow dissatisfied because it looked like the pasture of the other sheep was so much greener than theirs. They seemed to be so well off. What they didn't recognize, was how close to the edge of a cliff the pasture was, and that many sheep had fallen over the edge. Their shepherd didn't take them there because it wasn't in their best interest. Not realizing that, many of the sheep left the flock, much to the heartbreak of their shepherd.

Often the good shepherd would come across one of the sheep from the other flock. It would be wounded, starving, left for dead. Even though it was a sheep that had left him, actively chosen to walk away, he would pick it up, nurture it back to health and once again allow it to choose its flock. Some would stay with him. Others would go back to what they had known, but the good shepherd treated all sheep with love and offered them good things.

The younger shepherd's concern was really not for sheep at all. In fact, he hated the animals. They just served his purpose in a game he was playing against the good shepherd. He actively sought to destroy the good shepherds flock. As for his flock, destroying them didn't serve a need, so harm that came to them was more of a neglectful harm. They often enjoyed green grass, but because the pastures were in dangerous places, lives were lost. Because he didn't care what happened to them, they were sometimes injured, but it was not usually with the same intention of harm that he had for the other flock. Whereas the good shepherd loved sheep so much that he cared for even those that wandered away, the young shepherd cared for none of them. He only cared about overthrowing the good shepherd.

To this day, the younger shepherd continues to try to destroy the flock. The story hasn't ended. Good sheep continue to be found injured in pastures. Sheep who wander off continue to seem to prosper. The ending is coming, but it isn't over yet.

God is the good shepherd. Satan is the younger. You and I are the flock.

Bad things do not come from God. 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." His goal is to do whatever he can to separate people from God. Because that it his goal, his greatest targets are often the people who are God's children. Therefore, bad things happen to good people. Thankfully, God is a God who can take what was intended for evil and use it for something good. Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and have been called according to his purpose." So the answer to the first question is that bad things happen to good people because Satan seeks to destroy and is threatened by people who are "good" (God's). He often attacks others as well, but he doesn't have to work as hard on people who don't have a relationship with God, they are already separated from Him. They pose no threat.

In addition, we might consider how we classify a person as "good". The bible says that "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6. In actuality, none of us are "good"; we are just forgiven and trying. We all sin. But God loves us still.

Now about that second question, "Why do good things happen to bad people?" Sometimes it seems unfair that bad seems to prosper. How does that work? For one thing, as the young shepherd used the green pastures as a lure, so Satan uses promises of good to lure away God's people. The pastures look green, but they are dangerous. Secondly, God is a God of love. He loves each person He has created, even when they don't love him back. Just like the good shepherd cared for all the sheep, His and those of the other flock, God cares for all people. Good things happen to bad people because God, the Shepherd, still loves them. Now that is not to say there will not be discipline and judgment at some point for wrong that any of us have done. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says," For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."

Bad things happen to good people because the nature of Satan is bad. Good things happen to bad people because the nature of God is good. But when it is all said and done, the "good" guys (the forgiven) always win, because God uses both good and evil for the betterment of those who love him. We profit either way.

If you are a "good guy" afflicted by bad this week, hold on. God is going to bring good things from it. I could write volumes on how God has used "The Nuisance" to bring good in my life. I haven't scratched the surface of what God has done in my life through this. And to the "bad guys" (unforgiven) of the world, may they recognize that God loves them and wants to woo them back to Him, but they shouldn't wait too long. There will be a day of judgment and then it is too late. The good shepherd wants all his sheep in the fold, even those that have wandered away. See Luke 15:1-7 for a biblical perspective on that.

Continue to pray for those who have lost much this week. Pray for our country, our state, our town. Pray specifically for Boston, West, the Cook and Coats families. Do not be quick to judge and seek vengeance-- that belongs to The Lord, and he can handle it. Love one another and don't be afraid to show it. Life changes quickly, but God never does.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In the Shape of a Heart...

Laura Ingalls Wilder said, "I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life that are the real ones after all."  This may not be Little House on the Prairie, but I think there is still a lot of wisdom to be found in that quote. How many times in a day, a week, a month, do we miss the big stuff because it comes in a tiny, easily-overlooked package? It was such a package, easily missed, that got me to thinking today. As I stepped out of my car, I glanced down and happened to notice a small, brown leaf at the tip of my toe. Nothing that would normally grab my attention, but this leaf was in the shape of a heart. A sweet little reminder of love, so easily missed.  As I stooped to pick it up, I was struck by the thought that a happy life is made up of lots of little blessings. I was saddened to realize that often we miss out on happiness because we expect it to come in a big package. We think it is a house, a car, a new purse or clothes when really it is rays of sunshine, leaves in the shapes of hearts and the giggles of our children who are supposed to be sleeping.

Yesterday our country was struck by a terrible tragedy. The bombing of the Boston Marathon was a heartbreaking event that no one should ever have to experience. My heart aches for those involved and for a world in which such things happen.  My guess is that the families most impacted by this event aren't worried about houses, boats and belongings today. Survivors and their families are grateful for the ability to hug their loved ones; that they ran too fast/slow to be at the finish line when the bomb exploded; that the alarm clock went off again this morning. The families of the lost ones wish they had lingered around the dinner table just a little longer at their last gathering; that they could hear the laughter one more time; that they'd said I love you a little more often. It truly is the sweet, simple things that are the real ones.  My prayer is that we spend less time complaining and more time being thankful. That we find happiness in the things we already have, instead of seeking it in things that rust and fade. Happiness lies all around us, but sometimes we are too blind to recognize it. See the sweet, simple things. It might be right at your feet, in the shape of a heart.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Bounce or Splatter?

Bounce or splatter? I once read that when faced with adversity, there are two types of people in the world--those that bounce, and those that splatter. A bouncer hits rock bottom, but doesn't linger there. They may temporarily be flattened, but quickly use that posture to propel themselves back out of the depths. Splatterers, on the other hand, hit the bottom and fall into a million pieces. They remain stuck, unable to regroup and mobilize. 

What makes the reactions so different? When I first read of bouncers and splatterers, I have to admit my picture of adversity was quite different than my current perspective. At that time my biggest concerns were getting ready for a big presentation, making ends meet, worrying about checking off my to-do list. I believed I was a bouncer because I made up my mind to be one. Now that my adversity is on a grander scale, I have come to realize that it is not my determination and power that allows me to bounce, but reliance on a greater power.

I have discovered that when I feel like splattering, and boy, has that been tempting, that I am listening to the lies of a deceiver. I am lending my ear to fear, to the unknown, to the things I cannot control, to my physical weakness. It is hard to get up when you are pinned under lies, but there is a way.  Both the bouncers and the splatterers hit the bottom, but a bouncer doesn't listen to the lies that can be found there. A bouncer looks for truth.  Truths  like:
 "He has seen me through before, He will see me through again."
"He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds."
 "With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible." 
These truths make the bouncer bounce.

Today I am coming back out of the pit. I was knocked flat by round three of "power aid". Four days of my life are all but missing, but I haven't splattered. I am holding onto the truths that will allow me to bounce back.  

At some point in life we all hit the bottom. Sometimes is it a shallow pit, sometimes it is a frightening depth, but we will all face adversity. How will you respond? Will you bounce or splatter? Remember, whatever you are facing, "With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible." Don't listen to the splatterer's lies. BOUNCE!