Why Do Good People Suffer?
Today, I want to speak to you on “Why Do Good People Suffer?” I’ve taught on suffering before. In fact, one lady told me, “Preacher, I never knew what suffering was until I heard you preach. Now I know.” Some preaching and some teaching is like suffering. Once a long-winded preacher had been going about an hour and didn’t seem anywhere close to ending. He said, “I’m really on a roll here, and there’s a lot more that I want to say, but Jesus has just told me to stop, so let’s end the service. Jesus has told me to end my message.” The song leader said, “Let’s stand and sing, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’” The preaching must have been really bad for Jesus to tell the preacher to quit.
This is a lesson about terrorists and falling towers. Everybody still talks about that day; it was a day of tragedy and injustice. People were going about their business when they were suddenly and brutally killed. And what about the tower that fell suddenly? Towers remind us of strength and security–and when a tower falls and people are killed, we feel a little less secure.
The initial reaction was shock; then we began to ask the inevitable questions: Why were those innocent people killed? Why did the tower fall? Where was God during all of that? You may think I’m talking about 9/11, and everything I’ve said does apply, but I’m really talking about 13:1.
2,000 years ago, Jesus talked about some innocent people who died at the hands of what could be called terrorists–and He talked about a tower that fell and killed people. In fact, the similarities between 13:1 and 9/11 are amazing. The same questions people are asking today were being asked 2,000 years ago. But more importantly, the answer Jesus gives is the same answer we need to hear.
Now there were some present at the time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Then he relayed this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care for the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found nay. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
The Holy Spirit of Jesus is present with us today, but if He was here in the flesh, we could sit down in front of Him and ask, “Jesus, what about those 254 passengers who were killed on those hijacked airliners? And what about those 3,000 people killed when the World Trade Center was attacked? He would look at you with those eyes that you would never forget and say, “Do you suppose those 254 people were worse sinners than anybody else who has ever gotten on an airliner? Or those 3,000 in New York City–were they worse people than anybody else? NO–but unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
You may not like His answer, or His non-answer. You come with a deep, troubling philosophical question, “Why do good people suffer?” and He basically refuses to answer it; instead He turns the question into a statement about your own spiritual condition. A conversation with Jesus is never boring! It’s okay to ask the question about suffering. Christianity and the Bible can easily endure the light of honest intellectual scrutiny; it has for 200 centuries. So, you don’t have to check your brain at the door when you come to church.
This idea of suffering has puzzled us for centuries. There is an entire theological or philosophical study called theodicy. It asks the simple question: If God is entirely good, and entirely powerful–why is there suffering? Some people look at what the Bible says about God and then look around in the world and say, “The character of God and the reality of suffering contradict each other!” What’s the answer?
I used to read a lot more than I do now, and occasionally I read some of the great literary classics. One of my favorites is Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. It is a deeply spiritual book because Defoe was a committed Christian who wrote hymns and Christian poetry. When Defoe’s character, Robinson Crusoe, is shipwrecked on an island, he discovers a native and names him Friday. He teaches him to speak English and He teaches Him about God and about the importance of trusting Jesus Christ for salvation. In one of their theological discussions, the following dialogue occurs: Friday to Robinson Crusoe: “But if God much strong, much more than devil, why God no kill the devil so make him no more do evil?” Crusoe’s reply: “You may as well ask, why God no kill you and me when we do wicked things” That short conversation provides both the question and a good response to the question of, “How can a loving, powerful God allow evil?”
In light of 9/11 let’s learn four important things about suffering.
1. SUFFERING IS PART OF A FALLEN WORLD
There was no suffering in the Garden of Eden. But when our ancestors, Adam and Eve chose to disobey a loving God, suffering became a reality. We are still living in a world affected by the results of sin. After a nuclear explosion, “fallout” lingers for many years. Even so, we are still living in the “fallout” from the fall of man. God is not the source of evil; Satan and sin are responsible. Human suffering is produced from two different sources, both of which Jesus addresses in Luke 13.
First, we live in a world full of MORAL EVIL. We have to share this planet with some wicked people. Pilate was a cruel Roman governor. One day some Galileans were in the Temple getting ready to make their sacrifices. Pilate did not trust the Jews, so he had Roman soldiers disguised as Jews to intermingle with them. For some unknown reason, on a certain day, Pilate gave the order to massacre a group of worshipers. The Jews were still outraged that Pilate would mingle the blood of the worshipers with their sacrifices.
The world has always had to deal with cruel, wicked people like Pilate. Whether it’s Hitler ordering the death of 6 million Jews, or the gunman rushing into Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, or the misguided religious zeal of the Muslim terrorists who highjacked those jets – this world is just full of mean people.
After 9/11, President Bush said we have seen the face of pure evil–I agree. The Bible speaks of the depravity of the human heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus said, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…” (Mark 7:21). Look no further than your pocket or purse. If you have any kind of a key with you today, it is a testimony to the fact we have to lock things up, or some mean person will steal your car or your possessions.
I believe that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Man is basically a sinner who has to have a life-transforming encounter with God to become a better person. Don’t blame God for the actions of wicked people. When God created us, He gave us the freedom to choose, and some people choose to commit acts of evil and violence.
A second source of suffering is that we also live in a world of NATURAL EVIL. Sometimes we suffer and it’s not because of some wicked person, it could be what we call accidents and disasters. You could even include disease in this category. Why are there tornados, earthquakes, or accidents in which people are hurt or die? Why is there cancer, infection, and disease? It’s because we live in a fallen, messed up world. When Adam and Eve sinned, they opened a Pandora’s Box of troubles for them and for their descendants. Have you ever heard the world’s shortest poem? It’s called “Troubles” and here’s the poem: “Troubles–Adam had ‘em!” He had plenty of troubles–and so do we.
The World Trade Towers fell because of evil men flying fuel-laden jetliners into them. We don’t really know why the tower of Siloam fell; we just know 18 people died. Perhaps it was human error–it wasn’t built well. Or perhaps it’s one of the unavoidable accidents occurring in life. Romans 8:22says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” This is a beautiful world in many ways–the spacious skies, the amber waves of grain; the purple mountain’s majesty … but it is also a world that is not perfect. The Bible says the very creation itself has been whacked out of kilter; you can almost hear it groaning like a woman in pain. Creation isn’t running right because of sin. One day, creation itself will be fixed and redeemed but for the time being we have to live in an imperfect world where there are storms, accidents, and disease. Don’t blame God: we messed it up. Tony Evans says, “Have you ever cleaned up your house in preparation of receiving guests or visitors and when they arrive, they begin to mess up your house? You know it’s a good house; it’s just been messed up by these visitors. This can be annoying! Now think about how God feels about mankind messing up His perfect Creation!”
2. SUFFERING IS UNRELATED TO GOODNESS.
The question in the minds of Jesus’ audience was, “Did those people suffer and die from Pilate’s cruelty or from the tower falling?” The assumption was, they must have been bad people to suffer like that. There is a tendency for us to look at someone when they are suffering and to think, “Maybe they are just getting what they deserve.”
In John 9, Jesus was walking along when he saw a blind man. His disciples asked Him, “Master who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” Don’t we sometimes think the same way? What did this person do to deserve their suffering? Pay attention to what Jesus told His disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned that he was born blind, but this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:1-3) We still make the same false assumption today.
Jesus asks, “Do you think those upon whom the tower fell were worst sinners than you? No!” That kind of thinking attacks our sense of fairness or justice. We think bad people should be the ones to suffer and good people shouldn’t. But that’s not the way it works. Let’s consider the title of this lesson again: Why do good people suffer? It’s actually not a very good question, because no one is good in the first place! Once a man approached Jesus and called Him “good.” Notice Jesus’ reply in Luke 18:19: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.” The Psalmist says, “There is none good–no not one.” (Psalm 14:1) God is good all the time, but I don’t think any of us can claim that designation for ourselves. I’m a sinner saved by grace. If we want to know why bad things happen to good people; we’re asking the wrong question. The great theologian and writer, R.C. Sproul wrote, “In effect what Jesus was saying was this: “You people are asking the wrong question. You should be asking me, ‘Why didn’t that tower fall on MY head?’” (The Holiness of God, p. 161)