Hebrews 11:32-40

Lori Gilbert-Kaye was a good person. She was happily married and had one daughter. She was one of the pioneering congregants of her synagogue. Her best friend said of her she was always running to do a good deed and gave charity to everyone. “It’s not like she gave a million dollars for a building, but if someone was sick or someone died, she was the first one there with food or asking what she could do.”

A week ago Saturday she went to worship in her synagogue when she was shot dead while trying to shield her rabbi from the bullets. Her rabbi said at a press conference, “Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us. She didn’t deserve to die.”

No, she didn’t; but she did.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

They were good people. Under immense pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus, “they refused to turn from God in order to be set free. . . . Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword” (Hebrews 11:35-37). Certainly, they didn’t deserve to suffer in this way; but they did. Why?

Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s probably the oldest philosophical question ever asked by any human being.

And when you add belief in a good and benevolent God into the mix, it can easily become an issue of whether or not God is fair. We think, ‘I am a reasonably good person, I’m trying my best to follow you, Jesus, so why did this bad thing happen to me? It’s just not fair.’

When it seems to us that God is unfair by causing or allowing bad things to happen to good people, we can begin to doubt God, or become disappointed with God or get angry with God, or even worse.

And so in light of some of the recent events in the news lately that quite likely has had you wondering about why bad things happen to good people, I want to remind us of the Bible’s perspective on this sometimes troubling subject.

Traditional Christianity has proposed two solutions to the problem of God’s fairness.

Solution # 1 is the ‘God is not unfair at all because we deserve it’ approach. This view is that bad things do not happen to good people because none of us is good. In fact, that is exactly what Paul posits in Romans 3:9 and continues in that vein until he reaches a conclusion in Romans 3:23 by summarizing, “Everyone has sinned” (Ro. 3:23) and we, therefore, get what we deserve.

This view represents truth from the Bible; not all the truth, but it is truth. There is a degree to which some of what we consider the unfairness of God is simply pay back on the seed we planted in the Garden of Eden.

And to the man, He (God) said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.

Genesis 3:17-19

In other words, some of us experience bad things as a direct result of our own wrong choices. If I stick a table knife in an electrical outlet, I’m going to get shocked. And I have no one to blame but myself.

But doesn’t it seem that sometimes people get what they don’t deserve?

Did Lori Kaye deserve to die after trying to shield her rabbi from being shot while they celebrated Passover in their synagogue last Saturday evening? Did those 253 Christians who gathered to worship on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka deserve to be slaughtered by Muslim extremists?

For the times when it seems people get what they don’t deserve, the Bible offers a second solution to this dilemma of God’s fairness. And both Solution number one, ‘I deserve it,’ and this second solution can be illustrated by what we might call the ‘toxic waste in the water solution.’ Picture all of us standing outside around a small lake. Each of us has in our hand a bucket that holds the toxic waste of our own sin. Solution number one says if you’ve experienced bad things, it’s not because God is unfair, it’s because you drank from your own bucket.

Solution number two suggests we all have poured the content of our bucket into the lake. After a while, we get thirsty and need to take a drink. But we think ‘I’m not drinking from the lake here; I know what I put in it.’ So we walk down to the other end of the lake, take a drink, and we get sick. ‘This isn’t fair,’ we think, ‘I poured my stuff in the other end of the lake, now I’m drinking your stuff and I’m getting sick.’

Welcome to the watering hole of the human race. It’s polluted by the combined sinfulness of all humanity. And now I’m not suffering the consequences of my own foul water, but rather, the putrid water of all humanity.

Is God being unfair? No; Biblical Christianity says the ‘toxic waste in the water’ solution illustrates two Biblical truths: I deserve it and/or we deserve it.

In addition, the Bible never claims that God is going to be fair.

At least in the way that we count fairness; that is by rewarding good and punishing evil. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to live in a world like that where every time I did something good I would get a little pellet and every time something bad a little shock. Would we be anything more than rats in a cage?

Now we might be tempted to think that if God consistently operated that way, everybody would climb on God’s bandwagon and would have faith in God if only to avoid punishment and receive rewards. The strange thing is it didn’t work that way at all. When God gave Israel ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ laws with their consequent rewards and punishments, what happened? In one word; rebellion. So isn’t it ironic? We want God to be fair, but when He offered it to us we chose the route that led to punishment.

No, God never promises us in scripture that life will be what we consider fair. If anything the writers of the Bible tell us just the opposite. Jesus often warned His disciples that life as one of His would be tough.

But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are My followers. … A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers.

Matthew 10:17-18, 21-22

Wait a minute; that’s not fair!

And I don’t need to tell you that the Book of Acts and the letter to the Hebrews bears witness to the veracity of Jesus’ words. Beyond that; the blood of countless Christian martyrs down through the ages reminds us that God never promised us life would be fair. In fact, you don’t have to around for very long to come to the realization that life is unfair; sometimes grossly so! No one is exempt from tragedy or disappointment.

That’s why we also need to see that the Bible offers not only an explanation but also a promise for those who willing to embrace it.

And the promise is Romans 8:28: “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” Notice here that the verse doesn’t say that God ‘causes’ all things. It says He causes everything to work together for the good. This is the ideas that things are bad now, there are deep scars that have been seared into our souls but over time, through God’s grace and mercy, those scars will become beauty marks. This is the view that ultimately all things will become good for the follower of Jesus, and, therefore, there is no unfairness to God’s character, because, in the end, it’ll all become good.

This too is truth from the Bible. John Milton’s version of Romans 8:28 is ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’

So, perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the question shouldn’t be ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ Maybe the question should be ‘Lord, can You do anything about the bad things that happen?’

Rabbi Goldstein was invited by President Trump to speak at the service for the National Day of Prayer. He said:

My life has changed forever, he said, but it changed so that I can make change, and that I can help others learn how to be strong and mighty and tall. Many have asked me, ‘Rabbi, where do we go from here?’ My response is we need to go back to the basics and introduce a Moment of Silence in all public schools, the rabbi said to applause. So that children from early childhood on can recognize that there is more good to the world, that they are valuable, there is accountability and every human being is created in God’s image. If something good can come out of this terrible, terrible horrific event, let us bring back a Moment of Silence to our public school system. 1

So in dealing with the problem of bad things happening to good people the church has responded historically with two observations: ‘I deserve it’ and ‘we deserve it.’ And a promise that God can take the worst that human sinfulness can dish out and make something beautiful out of it.

And then when considering this subject, we would be remiss if we didn’t also mention that regardless of whether God is unfair to us, we were unfair with Him!

Think about it now; we killed God, that’s right, we killed Him. He was the best thing to come along, full of grace and truth, doing acts of kindness wherever He went, speaking about the love of His Father and simply encouraging us to love one another.

And how did we respond? We nailed love to a cross! Talk about a terrible injustice! At once the cross of Jesus revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: in the midst of a world of gross unfairness; a God of sacrificial love for me and you. Coming to this Communion Table reminds us of the love of God through Jesus.

In his book, Doubting, author Alister McGrath shared the following story:

An aunt of mine died some time ago, having lived to be 80 or so. She had never married. During the course of clearing out her possessions, we came across a battered old photograph of a young man. My aunt had, it turned out, fallen hopelessly in love as a young girl. It had ended tragically. She never loved anyone else and kept a photograph of the man she had loved for the remainder of her life. Why? Partly to remind herself that she had once been loved by someone. As she had grown old, she knew that she would have difficulty believing that, at one point in her life, she really had meant something to someone that someone had once cared for her and regarded her as his everything. It could all have seemed a dream, an illusion, something she invented in her old age to console her in her declining years except that the photograph gave the lie to that. It reminded her that it had not been invented; she really loved someone once and was loved in return. The photograph was her sole link to a world in which she had been valued. 2

The communion bread and wine are like that photograph. They reassure us that something that seems too good to be true, something that we might even be suspected of having invented really did happen.

No, Jesus didn’t offer us immunity from bad things happening to good people.

But He did build us bridge over and through it to the other side; where a new heaven and a new earth await those with faith in the power of the cross and the resurrection.

If I might press our earlier analogy, the Son of God walked to the end of the lake filled with our toxic waste and drank it dry. Then He filled the lake back up with the ‘water of life’ and said to all of us standing there with our empty buckets. “Dip your bucket and drink and I will give you life.”

And one of these days, those who have drunk freely from the waters of life will be taken home; away from sin and suffering forever. His judgment will be just and He will be true and right and good. And all of our disappointment with life will be finally done away with. And those who have been disappointed with God will cheer God’s greatness forever and ever.

You see my friends, what this all boils down to is we have two options in life disappointment with God or disappointment without God. We can’t really choose not to be disappointed. We can only choose to be disappointed with God in Jesus Christ or to be disappointed without God in Christ.

We began this service with a reading from the beginning of the Book of Revelation. I conclude from reading toward the end:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Revelation 21:1-7


2 Alister McGrath, Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith (IVP, 2006); submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky