ABC Extra – Why Do Good Things Happen To Bad People?

April 23, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


The other day I participated in an internet poll.  The question asked was, “Do you consider yourself to be a good person?”  There were three options:  “Yes,” “No,” and “It’s not black and white.”  The results of this poll?  The vast majority of people – a little under two-thirds – responded that they did consider themselves to be good.  Another one-third of the respondents answered that such a question is not black and white.  Finally, two people claimed they were not good.  And one of the two was me.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we looked at a list of spiritual gifts from Romans 12.  Before talking about spiritual gifts, however, Paul sounds a warning:  “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).  Paul understands that humans have a proclivity, when asked whether or not they are “good,” to think of themselves as better than they are – to think of themselves “more highly than they ought.”  Thus, Paul calls for “sober judgment.”

Last week in my personal Bible reading, I read a seemingly simple and straightforward passage that gripped me:  “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (Genesis 13:10).  In Genesis 13, Abraham and his nephew Lot are on their way up from Egypt to start over and settle in a new place.  As they reach the Negeb, they arrive at a pinnacle from which they can see two lands – one to the east which looks well-watered and lush and one to the west which looks arid and barren.  Abraham, in an act of stunning generosity, allows his little nephew to pick which of the two lands he would like for himself.  Logically, Lot picks the lush land, leaving his uncle with the barren pit.  But as Lot is picking the lush land, we find out that this land is home to two infamous cities – Sodom and Gomorrah.  Before God destroys these twin cities of iniquity with fire and brimstone, however, they are apparently situated on a verdant plain.  But why?  Why would God bless such evil cities with such lush landscapes?  For these cities cannot be considered “good” by any estimation!  Even people who call themselves “good” would probably say that the residents of these cities were “bad”!

There is a foundational truth that undergirds all of God’s blessings:  God’s blessings come not because humans are worthy to receive them, but because God is gracious to give them.  Sodom and Gomorrah certainly did not deserve the land and bounty they enjoyed.  But out of His grace, God blessed them in spite of their wickedness.  And we must remember and recognize that God does the same thing with us.  The blessings we have are not the result of our worthiness, but a testimony to God’s graciousness.  As Jesus Himself says, “The Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

More than once, I have been asked, usually after a heartbreaking tragedy has struck a seemingly great person, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Though it is important to affirm the sadness of tragedy and mourn with those who mourn (cf. Romans 12:15), it is also important to understand that such a question has embedded in it a faulty premise.  There are no “good” people, at least not in the biblical sense.  Though people, when asked if they are good, may consider themselves as such, the Bible paints an entirely different picture of human holiness.  Paul explains, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts…We were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3).  “By nature,” Paul says, “we are sinners.  By nature, we are bad.  And because of our badness, by nature, we deserve not God’s blessings, but God’s wrath.”  The question, then, is not, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but “Why do good things happen to bad people?”  For we, like Sodom and Gomorrah, deserve not the verdant plains of God’s blessings, but the barren desert of God’s wrath at our sin.  So why does God give us good things even though we are bad?  He gives us good things because of His grace.  So praise God for His blessings to you today!  For you do not deserve them.  But God has given them to you anyway.

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