Bad Things Happen to Good People

Bad Things Happen to Good People

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

This is the story of a good guy named Job.

And Job was a super good guy.  He wasn’t a Christian – Job lived long before Christ was born – but he sounds an awful lot like the kind of Christian I aspire to be.  He turned away from anything evil and turned toward God with all his respect and devotion.  He told the truth and did the right thing.  He got up early so he could make offerings to God.  He wanted his kids to not only do and say the right things, but even think the right things.

I’d like to be more like Job.

I have a feeling everyone wanted to be more like Job.

Job was a really good guy.

And why wouldn’t he be?  Look at his very good life!

Job was straight-up rich.  He had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 1,000 oxen, and 500 donkeys.  We’re also told that he had “many” servants.  Considering all those eating, pooping, and wandering animals – well, I’d dare say that necessitated a very many servants, indeed.

Now, money can’t buy you love – but maybe 11,500 livestock can.  Job had 10 children – 7 sons and 3 daughters – and they all got along.  They were like best friends, constantly having each other over for dinner.  Oh the infinite parental joy, to sit at a meal with all your adult children around the table, laughing and enjoying each other!

So, yes:  Job was a really good guy.  But he also had a super-good life.  And when you have it so good… then maybe being so good isn’t that remarkable.

Which is exactly Satan’s argument. 

One day, all the heavenly beings are checking in with God.  Among them is Satan.  Weird, right?  Satan among God’s heavenly beings?  I won’t claim to totally understand this, but here’s what might help:  “Satan” is a Hebrew word that means “adversary” or “accuser.”  In Job, Satan is God’s adversary among the heavenly beings; his job is to accuse those that God seems to favor.

So God prompts Satan to play his role.  “Have you seen my boy, Job?” God asks.  “He’s the best.  He’s a good guy.”

“Oh, I’m sure he is,” Satan says, rolling his eyes.  “You’ve placed a silver spoon in his mouth and built a wall around him!  Nothing can touch your boy Job, and everything he touches turns to gold.  But God – give me a chance to mess with him… and let’s see how fast he breaks.”

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Job in Despair, Marc Chagall (1960)

So God lets Satan loose.  It happens in a rapid-fire flurry of freak accidents:  first, Job loses his oxen and donkeys to a warring tribe; then his sheep and servants are consumed by fire; next, his camels and more servants are lost to another violent tribe.  Most sickening of all, Job loses all his adult children when a strong gust of wind causes their dinner location to cave in.  That last one would break me – but it doesn’t break Job.  “God gives and God takes away,” Job says.  “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

But Satan isn’t done yet.  “Let me touch him,” Satan says to God.  “I can still break him.”  So a final blow is dealt:  Job’s body is covered with sores, head to toe.

And just like that, Job loses his whole, charmed, good life.

To say it another way:  bad things happened to a good person.

This is the foundational event of the story of Job.  There’s a lot more to this complicated book – gritty, real, hard issues, like “Who is Satan?” and “Why did God allow these tragedies to happen?” and “How is Job supposed to respond?”  As we work through Job this month, we’ll explore some of those things.  But today I want to focus on this one, clear fact:  bad things do happen to good people.  Period.

There’s a dangerous theology out there (“theology” being our beliefs about God) that states the opposite.  “If you’re obedient to God, then you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise,” it says.  Maybe you’ve heard a sermon like that before, delivered from a smiling preacher with perfect hair and a seemingly perfect life.  “Do all the right things (including tithing 10%!) and everything will go well for you!” the preacher says.  And don’t we want to believe that message?  Don’t we want a silver spoon in our mouths and a wall around our lives?

But that is not how it works.  Bad things happen to good people.  Even the best people.

Job is a good example to prove that point… but if Job isn’t convincing enough for you, consider this:  Jesus the Christ, the only human who never sinned, ended his life alone and beaten and penniless on a cross.  If Jesus’ perfectly good life didn’t earn him health and wealth… then neither will ours.

This is important, because the idea that God will reward our good behavior with material benefits has dangerous implications.

If we believe that bad things *don’t* happen to good people, then we unfairly judge those who fall into misfortune.  We look down our noses at those who are poor, thinking that they should have gotten a better education… or at those who are sick, thinking they should have taken better care of themselves… or at those who are addicted, thinking they shouldn’t have taken drugs…  While it’s true that we are responsible for our actions and those actions have consequences, this kind of judgmental thinking is dangerous.  From the outside looking in on someone else’s life, we don’t know what actions may or may not have led to which consequences.  Most often, we judge others in order to distance ourselves from their bad things.  It’s us thinking, “That wouldn’t happen to me, because I’m making good choices.”

But that could happen to us.  Bad things happen to good people.  Period.

We have to understand that because, sooner or later, bad things will happen to us.  The bulk of the book of Job isn’t about the calamity that fell on him – but how he responded when it did.  And how will we respond?  Will we be tormented, wondering what we did to bring this on ourselves?  Will we be outraged, thinking that we’re too good for such bad things?

No – because we know that bad things happen to good people.  They just do.  I don’t understand why, and (spoiler alert) Job doesn’t provide a very satisfying explanation in the end.  We don’t know why bad things happen to good people… but we know that they do.

But – just as surely – we also know this:  God is with us.

Long after Job lived and suffered and lived again, Jesus Christ lived and died and lived again.  And the God who came as Jesus Christ has not left us.  That God is with us, providing us with radical forgiveness and eternal life that begins now and extends after death.

God hasn’t promised us a perfect life… but God has offered us a very good life.

May we live into it.

Amen.

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