I watched an interview recently with two very famous people. The interviewer, herself a “mega-personality”, was interviewing a high-profile pastor. Whenever these types of programs air, I’m always hopeful for a respectful line of questioning and not some sort of horrible ambush that puts the minister under personal scrutiny or attack. I’m sure you’ve seen enough of those; I won’t go into detail here. In actuality this particular one was pretty good. But inevitably there is a basic question raised in these interviews in some form: “Why do bad things happen to people?” Or, “Why does a “loving” God let horrible things happen to people?” In this case the question was, “If you’re poor, broke, depressed, is it because you’re not praying enough?”
Isn’t it amazing that people are usually quick to assume that God is the source of their trouble? Or that affliction or lack is some sort of punishment God uses? Common religion usually portrays God as the punisher. He has lots of rules and is waiting for you to mess up so He can legally abuse you and punish you. For some reason, the thought of a real adversary, the devil, is preposterous to today’s intelligent American. The pastor in the interview I watched said, “There are forces trying to hold us all down.” He went on with this thought (my paraphrase): People have not been trained or inspired to move from their present position. They haven’t been told they don’t have to stay in that state.
Let me give you an example. A couple of years ago, Kevin and I were at our pastor’s home and ended up standing out in the driveway talking. I don’t know how long we were there, but it was quite a bit of time. Actually I was standing just off of the driveway in a little patch of grass and dirt. There were some yellow jackets buzzing around my feet, and Pastor Webb said, “You better get out of there.” I wasn’t too concerned about the yellow jackets. They weren’t very aggressive, just annoying. A few minutes passed and again Pastor Webb said, “You better get out of there.” I said, “I’m OK, they’re not bothering me.” I appreciated his concern, but I’m a big girl and I decided to keep my position demonstrating how “tough” I was. This same scenario happened at least two more times. He warned me; I shrugged it off. I was never stung, and really didn’t even pay attention to the striped creatures circling my ankles. Eventually we left the house and headed home unscathed, pride intact. Or so I thought.
On our way home, Kevin and I were going over things we talked about with the Pastor and thinking how much we enjoyed our nice informal conversation in the driveway; such a pleasant time. And then it began. My legs started itching, and I don’t mean mildly. I rolled up my jeans and my legs were COVERED in red itchy bumps. Chiggers!! I scratched and scratched with no relief. At that point, a yellow jacket sting would have been nothing by comparison (maybe a welcome exchange, in fact). Those chigger bites were literally unbearable and the fire I felt from the itching was unrelenting. It lasted nearly two weeks, and yes, I googled and tried every remedy available. Until that poison eventually left, I was reminded daily of its effects.
Back to “the question”. Why did that happen to me? I’ll tell you why. I was standing right on top of unseen evil! The decoy yellow jackets made me feel I was impervious to danger. After all, I could see those and wasn’t scared of them. I was lulled into a false sense of my own strength and toughness. Meanwhile, my caring shepherd warned me to get out of there, and I ignored him! Because the stuff I did see didn’t hurt me, the stuff I didn’t see crept in and attacked.
It’s the same trick the devil used in the garden on Eve. Did God warn Adam and Eve? Yes, He did. How? He told them to guard the garden (in other words, there is something to guard it from) and He told them not to eat from one particular tree. But Eve was not on her guard. That smooth talking serpent lulled her into a false sense of security. When she decided that everything looked pretty good, she didn’t realize the unseen evil she was right on top of. Pure poison!
God warns us for our protection, not our punishment. Death was not a punishment for eating from that tree; it was the result of eating from that tree. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Notice the word wages. A wage is different than a punishment. Sin pays you for your participation. On the other hand, eternal life is not a payment or a wage, but a gift! You can’t earn it, you can only receive it. Glory to God!
So there I was, guard down. God knew my guard was down so He sent a word of protection through my Pastor, “You better get out of there.” The word didn’t come across the pulpit, but it was still a Word from God. He wanted to protect me, but I wasn’t listening. I didn’t act on the word, so I was an open target for the chiggers. Did God send the chiggers to teach me a lesson? Of course not, the chiggers were there the whole time and He tried to get me away from them.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Because evil is all around us, looking for its opportunity. If we’ll listen to the Lord and act on what He says, we’ll be safe. 1 Peter 5:8-11 says, “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ-eternal and glorious plans they are!- will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, He does.” (The Message)
Peter was speaking from experience. Before he denied Jesus, he was warned. "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me." (Luke 22:31-34, NKJV) Peter had the warning, thought he was impervious, and thought he could handle anything on his own. Jesus knew he’d still succumb to those forces around him, and along with the warning came the encouragement: “When you get over this, help your brothers.”
God’s Word includes the warnings along with the encouragement and empowerment to overcome. “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands [who feels sure that he has a steadfast mind and is standing firm], take heed lest he fall [into sin]. For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear.] But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently. Therefore, my dearly beloved, shun (keep clear away from, avoid by flight if need be) any sort of idolatry (of loving or venerating anything more than God). (1 Corinthians 10:12-14, Amplified)
Ephesians 6:13, Amplified, “Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger’, and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place].” Good news! God has given us HIS armor! It’s your choice where to stand.