One of the benefits of traveling is meeting new people–often taxi cab drivers. Heading back to my hotel from Busch Stadium this past Monday I was blessed by a long chat with a former Ethiopian, Eyasu Reda.
The conversation started going biblical when, after I told him how Augie was a bit of a late arrival based on my wife’s age, he noted she was like Sarah.
Michelle will be glad to know that I did confirm she wasn’t quite that old. ☺
Just before we got to the St. Louis Airport Marriott Eyasu brought up how his daughter spoke with him about Job. She could accept the terrible things that happened to him–but what about children who haven’t done anything wrong…yet suffer horrific fates. Why does God allow it?
Eyasu didn’t feel that he was able to answer that well.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
The suffering of children
Going to news.google.com and searching for “children torture” quickly finds myriad news stories that will make us all scratch our heads. Four examples:
“Dominick Calhoun: 4-Year-Old Allegedly Tortured to Death for Wetting Pants” (from April 16), CBSNews.com (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20002714-504083.html)
“Parents Facing Charges in Suspected Torture of Child” (from April 15), noozhawk.com (http://www.noozhawk.com/local_news/article/041410_parents_facing_charges_in_suspected_torture_of_child/)
“Wife’s suspicions behind child porn conviction” (from April 9), timescolonist.com (http://www.timescolonist.com/entertainment/Wife+suspicions+behind+child+porn+conviction/2780586/story.html)
“Koranic students kept in ‘slave-like’ conditions” (from April 15), irinnews.org (http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88828)
Obviously I could go on…but “I have said too much” already…
Is there anyone else here who also doesn’t wonder why such defenseless children so often see the worst of humanity’s evil?
What Eyasu’s daughter was asking…and we are asking…is really is a variation of the classic question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Additionally it ties to another quintessential query, “If God is love, why does He allow such evil?”
No good answer
Although we will try to answer these together–I first will admit that for someone experiencing the results of evil–first-hand or in seeing someone close suffer–there is no acceptable response.
In Steve Camp’s song, “Why, why, why” (written after 9/11) he sings:
Twin towers falling down right out of the sky
Why, why, why?
Texas mother dooms her children to die
Why, why, why?
Whole generation lost to aids and cocaine
Why, why, why?
People believe they die and come back and live like Shirley McClain
Why, why, why?
No easy answers for the hurt in this world
“No easy answers for the hurt of this world” is a fair statement…and Steve’s song implicitly acknowledges how hard it is to especially answer when the “hurt” is felt by a child.
Don’t we all understand why Eyasu’s daughter is scratching her head?
In the Garden
To begin to respond to those questions we first have to go to the beginning of time for us…to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:7-9):
8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Things were pretty good for our parents…Adam and Eve. They lived in a place that “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food”…I imagine it to be many times better than any place I’ve ever visited…
Although I personally would like God to add some Del Taco restaurants ☺
An unwelcome visitor
The problem is that we were not alone in the Garden (Ezekiel 28:12-19):
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I exposed you before kings,
to feast their eyes on you.
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
in the unrighteousness of your trade
you profaned your sanctuaries;
so I brought fire out from your midst;
it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth
in the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples
are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
and shall be no more forever.”
No…we were not alone…instead we had an unwelcome visitor…and he had an unfortunate conversation with our first mother (Genesis 3:1-10):
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
There is a reason I said “we weren’t alone in the Garden.” Yes…”we” humans weren’t there…only Adam and Eve…but we cannot forget that just as our parents represent us now (for the youngins) or when we were children (for us oldins)…Adam and Eve represented all homo sapiens that ever did or ever will exist. It only took two bites of forbidden fruit for our parents to cede control of this earth to a new master–the snake–the serpent–Satan.
Yes…God is ultimately in control…but if you aren’t convinced we gave rulership to Satan, let’s review a few scriptures together:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–
31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out
30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming
8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
2 Corinthians 4:4
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
“The prince of the power of the air,” “the ruler of this world,” and “the god of this world.”
Who is in charge of earth?
How many people here have been to a big city?
How many have walked past dark alleys in a big city?
Did you go down it?
If you had gone down it would you be surprised if you got mugged?
No…if you were mugged in some dark alley in a seedy part of town you would not be surprised…because you know there is a decent chance those in control of that alley do not have your best interest at heart.
Does it then surprise you more when life mugs you…or mugs little children…in this dark alley called planet earth? A dark alley controlled by the “father of lies” (John 8:44)…a fallen angel who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)?
Bad things happen to good people because the earth is a huge dark alley where we can be mugged at any location and at any time.
So…are you satisfied with that answer to why bad things happen to good people?
If your great pain is recent…then I suspect not. And, you might say, if God can prevent evil, why doesn’t He?!
Let me ask you this: why do you do bad things to good people? Why, if you can stop yourself from doing evil to someone else, why don’t you?
It’s easy for people to scream those questions at God…but they ignore the fact that with the same questions they judge God they damn themselves.
Even if Adam and Eve originally ceded control of this world to Satan, we all ultimately choose our own master. The only way God could change this is to make us all a bunch of robots. That would eliminate evil, but also would remove the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) in us.
Yes, God could prevent evil things from happening to you, but then He would have to prevent you from doing evil to others.
So much for free will.
At this point we could become quite jaded…life in this world is dangerous…and God isn’t going to do anything about it.
First…we know that God hasn’t allowed the Devil complete control…that He has stepped in–with the greatest example being coming Himself in the form of His Son.
Second…we can be assured He cares…our pain makes him weep:
32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept.
Not only does our pain make him weep…the fate so many of us have chosen (and will choose) also makes Him weep…
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
A New Heavens and a New Earth
Not only does God care…in the end ever one of us who cannot stand to look on a child suffering can instead look forward to a new heavens and a new earth. One where “no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress” (Isaiah 65:19b), where “no more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days” (Isaiah 65:20a), and where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, no pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
But before you can join Eyasu in that great place for eternity you must make a choice. You must choose who to cede control of your life to…who is going to be your prince…your Lord.
To quote the extremely old knight from the round table in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”:
“But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”