Episode 35: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People (Part 2) (+ Paul Bear Bryant and the ‘Junction Boys’ and Wisdom from Spurgeon)
Our reading passages for today are Genesis 36 and 37, Job 3, Mark 7 and Romans 7. In Genesis we get to read a very long list of Esau’s relatives, which isn’t the most inspiring chapter in the Bible, but we also meet Joseph in Genesis 37, a man of God who will become one of the more inspiring characters in the Bible. Job 3 sees Job finally talking after a week of silence (and the scraping of his boils with broken pottery shards.), and he is as depressed and undone as we would expect him to be after Satan put him through the ringer. In Mark 7, Jesus is going to blister the scribes and pharisees for overvaluing and overemphasizing their silly (and legalistic!) human traditions, and undervaluing the actual commands and instructions of God. Romans 7, our final read of the day, Paul uses death in marriage to illustrate how those who have died with Christ are free from the Old Testament law. We don’t have a focus passage today, but we will read Job 3 first, because we are continuing our discussion from yesterday’s big question: Why do bad things happen to comparatively good people? And, FYI, its such a big discussion that it looks like it will spill over into tomorrow as well.
Let me say this from the beginning, before we read Job. For literally thousands of years, people have sought to disprove the possibility of an all-mighty and all-loving God by pointing to the presence and reality of suffering, especially the kind of suffering that we would deem ‘unfair.’ A thorough reading of the Bible – even a surface reading, really – is enough to disabuse one of the notion that good people will not suffer. Today we meet Joseph – possessing the finest character among all his brothers, and yet he will probably suffer the most out of all of them and the vast majority of his suffering is extremely unfair. (Spurgeon said of Joseph, “Joseph was Jacob’s best loved and most tried son. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”)
John the Baptist and Job also illustrate this issue, but there is an even more obvious illustration that the best in the Bible sometimes suffer the most. The central character and focus of the Bible is Jesus Christ, the son of God. The most unfair thing that ever happened in history was His torture, crucifixion, and death on the cross bearing our sins. The central message of the Bible demonstrates beyond question that bad things will happen to the best of people, and therefore nobody should be surprised when it happens to us. Good people suffering does not disprove biblical truth, it demonstrates and confirms biblical truth. If good people almost never suffered, then we might have reason to doubt the reliability of the Bible in some way or, at least, its relatability, because good people suffer all throughout the Bible. And, as we will see when we read Job 3, that suffering is not minimal or surface suffering, but deep and relatable agony.
After this, Job began to speak and cursed the day he was born. 2 He said: 3 May the day I was born perish,Job 3:1-13
and the night that said,
“A boy is conceived.”
4 If only that day had turned to darkness!
May God above not care about it,
or light shine on it.
5 May darkness and gloom reclaim it,
and a cloud settle over it.
May what darkens the day terrify it.
6 If only darkness had taken that night away!
May it not appear among the days of the year
or be listed in the calendar.
7 Yes, may that night be barren;
may no joyful shout be heard in it.
8 Let those who curse days
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
9 May its morning stars grow dark.
May it wait for daylight but have none;
may it not see the breaking of dawn.
10 For that night did not shut
the doors of my mother’s womb,
and hide sorrow from my eyes.
11 Why was I not stillborn;
why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?
12 Why did the knees receive me,
and why were there breasts for me to nurse?
13 Now I would certainly be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep.
Then I would be at rest
Just listening to that is hard, and even though Job lived thousands of years ago, I imagine that many of us can relate to what Job is going through. He sounds absolutely and utterly depressed and crushed and even suicidal. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s lost everything but his wife, and she keeps telling him to curse God and die.
5 Biblical Teachings on Suffering:
- Suffering is universal and unavoidable. Jesus promises it in John 16:33. Peter says don’t be surprised when it comes, as if something odd was happening.
1 Peter 4:12-13 “12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you.13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory.”
- Suffering, in many ways, is a good thing in the long run.
. “ 10 My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,” Phil 3:10
“24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church.” Col 1:24
Along those lines, consider this wisdom from Spurgeon:
WE should never have such fellowship with Jesus as we do if we had not such troubles as we have. You cannot see the stars in the daytime, but they tell us that if you go down into a well you can. Sometimes God sinks wells of trouble and puts his servants into them, and then they see his starry promises. You might hunt in vain for glowworms by day, but they shall all be seen at night, and so shall the comfortable words and thoughts of Holy Scripture. The fire-flies shall flash best at night when the sunlight is gone, and so oftentimes the light of the promises is better seen in the night of trouble than in the day of outward prosperity. The black foils of trouble shall bring out the brighter jewel of divine grace. You cannot know Christ except by following in his footsteps. Poverty will reveal him who for our sakes became poor; sickness will show him whose visage was more marred than any man’s; shame will teach you his shame, and suffering will reveal to you his suffering; and even death itself, which shall remove the foundations, shall give you conformity to his death that you may have part in his resurrection.
3. Suffering in a Christian can happen because of discipline..
“For the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives. 7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”Hebrews 12:6-8
4. Suffering in a Christian can also happen because of God’s favor!
“4 Therefore, we ourselves boast about you among God’s churches—about your endurance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure. 5 It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, Thessalonians 1:4-5
5. Our suffering will pale in comparison to the glory that is to come.C. H. Spurgeon, Flashes of Thought (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 472.
A. “ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
We are going deeper tomorrow into this question tomorrow, but let me expound briefly on that last Romans passage. The Bible teaches that humans are eternal creatures, and that means that our 80 or so years of living on the Earth are a short, short time in light of eternity. That also means that the amount of time we are suffering in our existence will also be short compared to eternity. When viewed through the lens of eternity, the idea of a good God allowing suffering to happen is not so shocking, especially when that suffering can have good effects.
I’m a football fan, specifically a University of Alabama fan. (And have been for 40+ years, suffering through the Dubose, Shula and Francione years, as well as the Price day) Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant was a legendary coach at Alabama, but before he was at Alabama, he was at Texas A&M university, a mediocre football team prior to Bryant’s arrival. He purposed to toughen the men up, so in 1954, he took a big group of players to Junction, Texas and sought to forge them into men. Most who went to the camp quit before it was over, but the survivors became known as the ‘Junction Boys,’ and they would go on to eventually lead Texas A&M back into football relevance. The suffering in Junction did not lead to immediate success, but it did lead to long-term success, and most anybody that understands football understands that Coach Bryant wasn’t being cruel to his players, but he was shaping their character and building them into a stronger football team.
I am not at all here comparing God to a football coach, but am pointing out that most astute football people can understand the concept of difficult periods of practice leading to a stronger, better football team with greater character and perseverance. If we can understand that, then perhaps we can understand how God might use the suffering of our life for a similar, but much, much loftier goal.
3 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.Romans 5:3-5