May 19, 2014

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Us Good People?

I have questioned deeply, loudly, with tears and anguish and anger why bad things happen to good people.  Kids with cancer?  Wrong.  Abuse, neglect?  Wrong.  Poverty, war, injustice, hunger?  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I have not, however, questioned why a bad thing has happened to me.

It's bad, what's happened to my muscles.  It's bad that I have a weird, rare disease.  But from the beginning I haven't much felt compelled to ask why or, worse, why me?  Why not me?

Stuff happens.  It happens to everybody.  I tell my kids frequently and whenever they take to complaining about someone else's bad or irritating behavior, that we don't know what cross another person is carrying.  But be assured that every person you meet is carrying one.

Most of our burdens are invisible.  I have had the privilege in work and ministry and life of being entrusted with many people's personal, intimate stories.  I have sat with women and men who look like they have it all and have it all together and heard from them stories that crush my heart.  I know stories of the deaths of children and of parents and of marriages.  I know stories of the theft of innocence and safety and the promise of childhood.  I have seen and heard the lies and fear and shame and rage and seemingly bottomless wells of grief.

Everyone has a burden.  Why shouldn't I?

As a Christian, I subscribe to a worldview that says that God's image is most accurately reflected by a man stripped naked, nailed to a wooden cross as a criminal, and left to die of exposure and suffocation.  That is the human suffering that stands at the center of what we can know about an infinite, mysterious God.  This God has identified Himself with human suffering completely.  Jesus says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father," (John 14:9).

What if it is true that it is in our darkest darkness that we, you and I, best reflect the image and likeness of God?  That is what humans were created to do, bear God's image (see Genesis 1:27).  What if when people see our suffering, they truly see the face of God?

But that isn't the whole story.  If the story of Jesus ended with the cross we wouldn't still be telling it.  Plenty of would-be Messiahs died on Roman crosses, bearing the burden of their humanity.  For Jesus, The Human, The God-Image Bearer, the weight of suffering was and is outweighed by the transforming power of Love.

Love is the source of creation...of incarnation...of the road to the cross.  We need not mistake God as the source of our suffering.  Suffering is the product of a world broken by sin, mine and yours and everybody's.  God, rather is the source of the love that invades that suffering and turns it into something completely unexpected -- joy.

I know that doesn't make any sense, but it's true all the same.  We can look on the brokenness of our bodies and souls, pried from our crosses, laid in the cold darkness of tombs, and wonder how a good God can allow such awfulness to happen to us or to happen to anyone.  But if we keep listening to the story, we see that the darkness can't keep out the light.  The stone and the seal aren't strong enough to hold, not when Love is behind the whole unfolding drama.

Joy breaks through.  Fresh air floods in.  Grave clothes are thrown off and replaced by robes of light.

In my life, as I sit in this chair, I receive daily little resurrection gifts -- a meal, a potted rose, someone to hold up my arm so I can comb my hair.  Where do they come from?  From Love.  Why do I need them?  Because I have a burden, a cross to bear.  I don't have one without the other.

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