A friend of mine and fellow pastor has had a very rough year. His wife has had health issues most of her life, and then last year was diagnosed with cancer. Treatments went well, and then infections set in after surgery. He was accused of untrue things by some of his church board members and went through a church split. He has had health problems of his own, and his wife had been hospitalized and required surgery for health complications in addition to her cancer. Then, just last week, his mother was diognosed with inoperable and terminal cancer as well.
How is it that these things happen? It seems that Christians are constantly answering or seeking to answer the seemingly eternal question of, “why do bad things happen to good people”. While this can be a broad discussion of it’s own, I want us to consider a narrow target thought on this issue.
In a recent discussion about these circumstances, I wrote a letter to a fellow pastor seeking some advise. When asking about this gentlman’s circumstances, one fellow pastor wrote, “…clearly (he) has been under attack for a very long time”. I wondered. Was this an attack by the enemy, or were these simply circumstances that were permitted to happen because we live in a fallen sinful world in constant (physical and moral) decay? More to the point, how do we tell the difference?
Here’s what I wrote, and I ask you to ponder the same questions and reply:
How can you say with certainty that these events are attacks from the enemy? And perhaps the unanswerable question: How do we draw the line/see the line between circumstantial events that come about because we live in a fallen world (illness, disease, ‘natural’ disasters etc), and a persecution that has its source in Satan?
But how can I, you, or anyone be certain that what trials and tribulations we are going through are brought by Satan as an enemy attack? Can’t we overstep ourselves by saying, “this is an attack by the enemy” the first time something happens unexpectedly?
I once counseled a woman that was dead-set on the fact that Satan was manipulating the red lights to make her late for homegroup and church every week. She was convinced it was an attack by the enemy, and that it had nothing to do with the fact that she has three children under 10, and that she simply did not give herself enough time to get ready.
I don’t know if I’m hedging because of lack of understanding or lack of faith, I don’t think so in either case…, but as a Christian I feel that we tend to take a narrow look at ‘when bad things happen to good people’. I feel like our faith compass points to one of two poles: Action of God, or action of Satan. I guess my question is this; is there something in between? Can things happen just because they happen in the process of this fallen world?Earthquakes. What do we call them; acts of God, because it is nature “doing her thing’’, and man really has no full explanation for it. Tornados, floods, disease etc. From a secular point of view, anything that man cannot fully explain or control we tend to call ‘acts of God’. From a Christian point of view, I think we are less likely to do that. Cases in point would be John Hagee and his blaming Katrina on God’s retribution against a sinful New Orleans, Pat Robertson sourcing the earthquake in Haiti to God as an act of retribution for their sin, or even the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Jerry Falwell saying that the terrorist acts of 9/11/2001 were God taking action against a sinful America. Evangelicals, most of us included, seemed to run as fast as we could to distance ourselves from such a blanket statement on both accounts, that the wind created by all the evangelicals running as quickly as they could to distance themselves from Hagee and Robertson et al may have created a hurricane of its own! In other words, we tend to, in cases such as this, get behind these acts as being natural acts of a fallen world, decaying earth and sin simply having its way on nature and man. We simply describe them as being acts of nature in a world that is no longer perfect, a world that is impacted by sin, falling apart, and that sometimes man simply gets in the path of those actions. After all, were not Christians killed in those acts as well?Please understand that I am not making this argument personal, this is just a young man trying to align his theology with real world events and in all sincerity seeking wisdom from someone whom I greatly admire. But why in a case such as (a man whom we know), are we willing to so quickly cry “Satan!” when the attacks are against a Godly man, and just as quick or more quickly to say in cases such as Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti “this is not God acting out against man, this is just the result of sin being present in this fallen world” – when if anything it would seem highly more likely that Hagee and Robertson are more likely to be correct? Does it not make more sense that God would have retribution against these sinful, lustful, hedonistic and pagan idolatrous people?I’m not saying Hagee, Robertson, Wright and Falwell are right. Not even close. I’m not saying everyone in particular is 100% wrong (well, maybe the Rev. Wright…). Maybe you are all right, and maybe you are all wrong. Are we saying then that it just comes down to the ‘gut’? is it simply a matter of spiritual discernment? Obviously we know (some) circumstances very well, and I’ll tell you, my heart just aches when I read (some) stories. …
Why are we so quick to run from the possibility of 9/11, Katrina, the Haiti earthquake etc as being acts of God punishing sinful man, and equally quick to blame Satan for egregious acts in the lives of faithful men? I can see where being to quick to judge things in the manner of Hagee, Robertson, Wright and Falwell would quickly see you branded as, or even turn us into another Westboro Baptists Church! Never want to go there.
Is it wrong for me to ponder such things?Do we as evangelicals get so focused on grace and explaining God’s love for people that we do not warn them enough of the possibility of His wrath being poured out on a sinful man?
Is there an answer? Probably not. Just exercising my faith and understanding.