Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why do Bad Things happen to Good People?

I think everyone has asked this question at least once.  I know I have.  Why is it that someone can do everything right, and still everything will go wrong for them?  It is a popular teaching in some churches that Christians are meant to be prosperous.  That we should "name it and claim it."  If we have health issues or financial issues or catastrophes of any sort coming upon us, it is because we don't believe well enough. 

The problem I see is that God never promised us an easy life if we chose to follow him.  You would think that those first disciples and apostles would have deserved such a life, if anyone did, but they didn't have it.  They were persecuted, and most were killed.  As Christians, we are followers of Christ.  And as such, we have to go where he went.  And before he went to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, he suffered.  We should not be surprised that we have to follow him in his suffering. 

Peter, in his first letter, warns us that this will happen to us, and explains that it can be the will of God that we go through these things.  "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation...Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right."  1 Peter 4:12-13,19.

The prophet Jeremiah, in his Lamentations, explains God's compassion and mercy, even in regards to his judgement.  "The LORD's lovingkindnesses never cease, For his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness...For the Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly, Or grieve the sons of men...Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?  Why should any living mortal, or any man, Offer complaint in view of his sins?"  Lamentations 3:22-23, 31-33, 38-39.

We know that our sins are blotted out if we but confess them.  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  1 John 1:9.  But we still have to live in this sinful world.  Once we confess and repent from our sins, they are no longer held against us.  They cannot keep us from God any longer.  But as long as we are in this physical world, our deeds will have consequences.  A murderer can repent and become a child of the most high God, but he still has to serve out the jail term he was sentenced to.  The family of his victim will still have to bear their grief in this world, whether they are Christians or not.  Just because we follow Christ, we do not become immune to the decay of this world.  Isaiah told us:  "Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, And its inhabitants will die in like manner, But my salvation shall be forever, And my righteousness shall not wane."  Isaiah 51:6

So, why do bad things happen to good people?  For the same reason that good things happen to bad people.  God isn't in the business of favoritism.  He created each one of us, and loves each one of us, whether or not we love him back.  But we are in a fallen and sinful world, and we are under natural laws.  Gravity works.  We can fall off a ladder and hurt ourselves.  The economy can go bad.  Cancer can invade our bodies. Some of our problems come as a result of other people.  This is because God gave all humans a free will.  We are not robots who are controlled by some big remote in the sky.  We each have our own minds, and are free to live however we want.   Sometimes we hurt each other through our actions. 

We are not given a different lot in life because we are Christians.  We are, however, held to a different standard.  Jesus said:  "You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."  Matthew 5:43-45.  We are to treat everyone the same, regardless of how good they are.  Even regardless of how good they are to us!  That's a hard one.  But it is what sons of God and followers of Jesus are to do. 

We are not promised different circumstances because we are Christians, but we are promised peace in all circumstances.  We can be joyful even in our afflictions.  As Paul wrote to the church in Philippi:  "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men.  The Lord is near.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 4:4-7.  Notice that he did not promise the answers we wanted for our prayers, but he said we would have peace which would guard our hearts and minds. 

So, next time someone asks you why bad things happen to good people, you can tell them.  And you can let them know that even though things aren't going well, they can have peace through Jesus Christ.  All they need to do is ask.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What Would You Do?

I just received my newsletter from Voice of the Martyrs.  It occurs to me that here in the United States, we have very little idea of what persecution really is.  We are insulated from the horrors that our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries deal with everyday.  We consider ourselves persecuted if someone wishes us "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" while we are doing our Christmas shopping.  We may see a news report from Iraq or Kenya and feel sorry for those "poor people," but then we go on with our lives, worrying about such things as what to eat for dinner and what to watch on TV.  We dress up on Sunday morning and freely go to our comfortable church buildings and smile and wave and sing a few songs, and then go home to a nice dinner and relax for the rest of the day because of course you are not supposed to work on the "Sabbath." 

But what if all of this changed?  What if your comfortable church building was burned to the ground by a militant group, and the members were chased by people who were trying to kill them?  Would you still show up the next day ready to praise God?  This is what our family in the Republic of Niger had to deal with in January.  What if you were in your home, when someone pulled your family out, asked if you were Christians, and then killed your husband when you said you were?  This happened in Hindi, Kenya last July. 

We live in a relatively safe, affluent country.  But our brothers and sisters are suffering all around the world from religious persecution, from lack of food, lack of medical care, and lack of educational opportunities.  And worse, there are countless people lacking all of these things plus the knowledge of Christ.  Can we ignore this?  Can we continue to walk around in our own little insulated bubble, living the good life, and limit our involvement to feeling sorry for "those people over there" every once in a while?

I confess that I don't pay a lot of attention to the news.  Partly because I feel that I'm not getting the whole story anyway, and partly because I can't deal with the pain of seeing so many horrifying images.  I tend to come away feeling depressed, rather than encouraged or empowered.  But when I read the stories from Voice of the Martyrs, Amazima Ministries, or Gospel for Asia, I see that there is hope.  There are people who are making a difference.  There are everyday people like you and me who are risking some of their comfort to make someone else's life better. 

I hope that if I were in a situation where I had to defend my faith, I would be brave enough to do so.  I believe that what the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church still stands. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nore things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Romans 8:35-39)

But I think the time to act is now.  Those of us who have been given much cannot go on keeping for ourselves, and squirreling away our extras in case hard times come to us.  For so many people, hard times are now.  In God's kingdom everyone has enough.  So why are things so unbalanced?  We need to take a good hard look at ourselves.  It is not enough to feel sorry.  We cannot enjoy our gifts in isolation.  Our family is in trouble!  "Those people over there" are our brothers and sisters, our parents, grandparents, and children.  They are not nameless and faceless.  Our Father knows each one intimately, just as he knows you and me.  And he is hurting because they are hurting.

I am preaching to myself, here.  I am the first to try to get the things I want without thinking of the needs of others.  And I am so sorry for acting this way.  Please pray for me, as I pray for you, and we all pray for our family all over the world.  And lets put some hands and feet on our prayers!  For God expects us to do what we can.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The "Future" Trap

We have a painting smock for kids at our house.  It is very useful for keeping paint off of clothes.  It is made of plastic, ties around the neck and under the arms, and covers both the front and the back.  It's saved countless outfits in its time.
Lily's masterpiece
The only problem I have with it is that it says "Future Artist" on the front.  So, at what point will Lily become a "Present Artist?"  I would argue that she already is one.  And was one even at 3, when this picture was taken.  She's also a musician, an athlete, a writer, and many other things.

Kids have it rough in some ways.  Rory is 12 years old and feels like he's in limbo.  He can't wait to get older, because he feels like he'll finally be "something."  He talks all the time about what he wants to do when he grows up.  He sees himself as having no real life until he is old enough to get a job.
Rory and some of his plants
In some ways, he's right.  Our society puts very little importance on what children do or think.  They are expected to go through the motions as a group until they are old enough to think for themselves.  But at what age does this happen?  Is there some magical time when we have all the answers and can run our own lives without help?  Should there be?

In my state, school is compulsory until age 16.  Most kids attend until 18, when they graduate from high school.  They are permitted to go to public school until the year they turn 21 if they don't graduate before then.  So, according to state law, kids are able to run their own lives somewhere between the ages of 16 and 21.  Until then, someone else knows what's best for them.  After that, they're on their own.

Part of going to school involves learning whatever the school thinks you should learn exactly when the school thinks you should learn it.  To look at it in a simplified way, someone decided what people need to learn and divided it up into 13 years of school, portioning out the instruction so that it all gets done in a logical sequence and also takes the whole 13 years.  Of course, it used to be 12, as kindergarten was more like preschool is now.  And people are trying to make it 14 by making preschool mandatory, at which point I suppose they will start teaching the current kindergarten curriculum to the four-year-olds.

I have to wonder whether constantly being told what to do and when to do it is best for kids.  I don't mean to say that children know as much as adults or shouldn't ever be instructed in anything, but I can't imagine that every kid in America needs to know the same things by the same time, or that they all take the same amount of time to learn it. 

Benjamin Franklin attended grammar school for 2 years starting at age 8, was an apprentice typesetter for a newspaper at age 12, and left his hometown of Boston on his own at age 17 to go to Philadelphia and become an independent printer.  Thomas Edison started school at age 8, and attended for three months before his mother withdrew him because his teacher thought he was "addled."  He spent time at home experimenting until age 12 when he got a job selling food to train passengers.  He spent the money on more materials for his experiments.

Where would we be if Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison had been forced to spend 12 - 14 years sitting in classrooms during the day and playing organized sports and doing homework until bedtime?  Is all of this age-graded, scope-and-sequence organized, planned-out-to-the-minute instruction necessary?  What if our kids are being forced to wait for life to start, when they have ideas that would make a difference now?  What if, instead of learning who they are and what they can do, they are learning to compare themselves to each other?  What if they are learning to follow instructions given by authority figures without having the opportunity to learn how to think for themselves?  What if the revolutionists and inventors of our time are being dumbed-down to function with all the other cogs in the wheel?

Our society tends to treat children as if they are empty, and we have to put in the right ingredients to make them "right."  But what if children are already full?  What if they are born ready to learn and we just have to make sure that they are given the opportunity?  What if they are all gifted in their own ways, and will learn what they need to know in their own time?  What if some of them take 2 years and others take 20?  What if some are ready to learn something at age 4 and others at age 10?  What if they are not "future" anythings, but are already the people they are destined to be inside?  They may need more experience or more information, but how can anyone know exactly which experiences and information someone else will need?  What if children, and adults for that matter, were given tools to find these things out for themselves, rather than being fed the things that other people think they need to know?  And what if they were able to share the things that they were passionate about with others who were interested in what they had to say?  Not as "future" teachers, but as people who are useful members of society right now?

What if no-one has a point where they begin learning, or a point where they end?  What if life is a constant process of learning and growing, from the time we are born until the time we die?  What if?

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