I see images of violence on television. I hear stories of pain and suffering where people have lost everything. I see people being harassed, abused, and disrespected. Our world and our lifetimes are often filled with needless difficulty and grief.
I would like to mention the latest act of violence that has been in the news and is on the minds of many, but I fear that, by the time I finish this message, there could be another act of senseless violence that has taken over the headlines and again left us asking why. And each time we ask, it seems we find the answers remaining silent.
When bad things happen in our world, we can try our best to give reasons for it. We can argue many things in our policies and politics and we can make excuses and cast blame toward one another until we are blue in the face, but it will still leave us feeling empty inside. We will still be left with questions.
When we ourselves, do bad things, we can look at behaviors of our own. We all, at times, have made incorrect decisions. We have all disrespected, and caused harm. Each of us have turned left when we knew we should have turned right. Many of us would consider ourselves loving and caring people, but there have been many times in our lives that we have done things wrong.
We know that many of our actions toward others can be a result from what we feel inside. A person feeling terrible in their heart can often act out toward others. Many scholars of human behavior will agree that a person who disrespects another, usually first disrespects themselves.
But this still doesn’t give us the real answers we seek.
Why do bad things happen?
Why do we do bad things?
Why do bad things happen to us?
Why do we feel so bad sometimes?
Some do try to speak for God and give answers to these questions. They go on TV and write books, telling us that God is angry at the world because of the many things we have done to upset him. We’ve annoyed him for years with our sins and nagging, so he finally snapped and said, “That’s it! I’m smiting the lot of you!” (Smite [smīt] verb. strike with a firm blow.)
Many of these people tell us that our pain is being caused by God due to recent events in our world. Usually something social or political. Something that has recently made the headlines or has been the talk of social media; i.e. someone made a cake for someone or didn’t make a cake for someone and that’s why we had that devastating hurricane.
I’m not sure that’s an answer.
In fact, I really don’t know what the answer is.
Some would think, that by being a pastor, I would have found the answer to these questions. Allow me to set this record straight; no pastor truly knows why bad things happen. We could quote some things from the book of Genesis about the fall of humankind, when we as a race, put all of our money on Adam and Eve, and how they blew it for us by biting fruit and turning their back on God.
But truthfully, even we have difficulty in making sense out of war and violence and pain and suffering. Even we clergy folk sometimes look to God with puzzlement and frustration.
But asking God questions is not a new thing. In fact, it’s a very old thing.
The bible itself is filled with passages and stories that look as if permission is given for us all to question God and even share frustrations toward God with God. One example is from Psalm 13. In this, the author expresses anger toward God and questions why God has appeared to turn away from them:
“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? forever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.”
The last piece of this psalm almost seems out of place. After turning their anger toward God, the psalmist appears to do an about face and ends their writing by exclaiming trust in God and rejoicing in praise toward God.
How can we praise God when we don’t find the answers we seek?
But are we asking the right questions?
We may not know why bad things happen, but how are we able to even identify bad things?
Why do we feel empathy toward others?
Why isn’t life just about survival of the fittest, meaning someone with the means can justifiably harm or kill another if the focused achievement is to rise above?
How do we know good from evil?
Who gave us feelings that tell us to care for others?
Where did we get the ability to have compassion for others?
Maybe the question larger than, “why do bad things happen,” is the question; “why do we care?”
Indeed, we don’t have all the answers, but there may be a few things we can learn from this.
The first is that it is okay to tell God just how we feel. God is more than capable of taking our anger, disillusionment, and all other feelings. Moreover, God wants us to share. Whether it’s feelings, questions, praises or doubts, God wants to hear from us uncensored. Whatever we are feeling, we can share it with God.
Another thing we can take from this is that, although we do not know why bad things happen, we are given the means of knowing right from wrong. Somehow, we have the ability and even desire to want what is good. We can feel compassion for ourselves and for others. When someone displays extreme indifference or harms someone else, we know something is not right because something deep inside of us tells us so.
Some have tried to argue that our ethics is something we are taught. But our deep sense of morality is proven to be something much more universal often regardless of cultural influence. People, in their core, know the difference between right and wrong. We may argue over some details due to influence, but there is definitely a knowledge of good and evil and a longing desire for good inside us all.
Does this come from God?
If God placed this into our makeup when we were created, then perhaps we can surmise that God also holds the same personality traits within God. God too is compassionate, and feels empathy for us all. Like us, God feels hurt when we hurt, sad when we are sad, and even frustrated when we are frustrated.
Could God be walking with us in our pain?
As he was dying on the cross, Jesus quoted psalm 22. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Jesus referenced a psalm of questions and in doing so, insured us all that it is okay to share our feelings with God, whatever they may be.
And on the cross Jesus also said, “forgive them,” showing compassion for the people who were harming him.
Like an infant in a loving caregiver’s arms, we may not be able to see and know everything our caregiver sees and knows. There may be things our caregiver does not explain to us. As infants, we may want to know the answers to all the whys, and get frustrated by the questions.
But as an infant in a loving caregiver’s arms, we can also find peace in trusting our caregiver. We can know that the caregiver feels with us and for us. We can find comfort in knowing our caregiver loves us. And even as infants, in some way, we know that being loved is good.
There may be, and surely are, things that God our caregiver doesn’t tell us. Things we are much too infantile to comprehend. But by the very fact that we despise evil, we can believe that God, who gave us our ability to know good from evil, is also not in favor of our pain and suffering.
By the very fact that we favor love, we can know that God, our caregiver, is the source of love.
What God has shared with us is a communication implanted deep inside us. A note placed in our hearts. A message of love that impowers us with the knowledge of right and wrong and a desire to continue to strive for a better world. In our very core is a longing for a peaceful existence, in which all people are loved and respected and celebrated.
I may not have all the answers but there is something I do believe; that God has placed, deep inside each of us, a longing for love. And, I believe that love is the kingdom of God. In each of us, is a desire to love and to be loved. In each of us is a longing for the kingdom of heaven. That’s why we feel what we feel when bad things happen.
Somehow, we know that evil is not part of the kingdom and so we become distressed when we witness it.
I wonder if God feels that too?