When Bad things Happen to Good People

Sermon From August 4th, 2013 by Paul DuVal

This is summer, August long weekend, it is supposed to be happy time, light relaxing.

I'd like to be able to  share a few jokes, and laugh a bit and perhaps we will.  But I went to a funeral yesterday, for three young beautiful teenage girls who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

I and perhaps a thousand or two others sat , some openly weeping, some simply numbed, all trying to make some sense out of what had happened, what was happening, what will happen.  Joyce was part of another similar service in Marshall, and would be involved again.

I have known all week that this would have to be a learning moment for us all.

It has been a hard week.  The news has been filled with pictures of death.  Another teen, an 18 year old Toronto man shot by police in a street-car.  An infant and a toddler dead in Winnipeg, and their mother found drowned in the river. And for many weeks we have heard about the search for victims of the Lac Megantic train wreck and oil explosion.

Earlier this month there was the story of 19 elite firefighters in Arizona killed while fighting a  wildfire.

And though there were only a few lives lost, June ended with huge floods in Southern Alberta and later in Toronto, the impact of which  will be felt  for years.

In all these and so many more tragic situations we are tempted to ask why?  Why did this happen, why to me or this other person.  There is a sense that if there is a reason, we can accept it or if there is someone to blame and they are held accountable someone might feel better.

Now in some of the older more primitive parts of the bible there is the suggestion that in God's economy the righteous are rewarded with long healthy life and material wealth.  Conversely, the wicked are  afforded the opposite treatment.

Even today, some people struggle, thinking there must be a cause and effect relationship between tragic events and personal behaviour.

            "what did I do to deserve this diagnosis of cancer?" One asks.

            " If parents took more responsibility, these things wouldn't happen." says        another.

There is a subtle but unmistakeable belief that if something bad has happened, someone has done something wrong.  And by corollary, that bad things don't happen to good people if they have done everything right.

In one way or another  Christian theology has always had to deal with the question of why bad things happen to good people.

Harold Kushner is a Jewish rabbi, and forty years ago he and his wife were told that their 3 year old son  had a very rare disease that would mean he would never grow above three feet, he would prematurely age and would die in his early teens.  that experience of his family's pain and particularly his son's set him off on his life's work exploring the theological nature of personal loss and culminated in the writing of two books:  "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." and "The book of Job: when Bad things Happen to a good Person"

Kushner is quick to say that most of these tragic experiences of disease or death are random and more often than not result from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  His understanding raises profound questions about the  power of God to protect.  Any of us who have experienced a senseless or random tragic death in our own lives, know the feeling of blaming God, arguing with God, perhaps even losing faith in God because of the seeming injustice and unfairness of it all.

Today's reading from Colossians  suggests that those who have become mature Christians,  become one with Christ, have an opportunity to live our lives differently.  We can choose to set aside some common earthly attributes and attitudes that undermine healthy relationships among human beings, and that separate us from one another.


3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).

3:6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.

3:7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.

3:8 But now you must get rid of all such things--anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

I am going to suggest to you that one of the things that we can choose to shed in the presence of a horrible tragedy is our need to know "why?",  and our related tendency to judge and to blame.

The deaths of six teenagers that have rocked our community this week were tragic, senseless, and random.  the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time

Almost all death  is  accompanied with a sense of unfinished business.

With our young people it is compounded by the loss of a lifetime of unfulfilled potential and unlived dreams.

Knowing that life is short and unpredictable, and for some is tragically short ought to prompt us to not waste time in asking why but in using our time to make the world a better place.

Paul's story

Wayne Muller in his book "How Then Shall We Live?" recounts the story of Paul, a man dying of cancer whom he counselled.  shortly before Paul's death, Wayne visited him and he said, "I feel ready to go,    but sometimes I wish I had more time."

"I wish I had ten more years, free of this illness.  With those ten years I could really live as I always wanted." 

"What would you do if we could give you those ten years?  What would your life look like?"  Wayne asked him.

Paul spoke easily and certainly.  "I would be kind."

"I would live my life with kindness," He said. "I would be kind to children.  I would teach them to be kind, too.  This is all I ever really wanted to do, just to be kind, to be loving."  He was quiet for a moment. "A few months ago, when I was still feeling strong, I thought I would treat myself, so I walked into a bakery and bought two of my favourite cookies.  I told the girl behind the counter they were my favourite, and she said she loved them too but they were very expensive.  when I left I thought for a minute, went back and bought another cookie, and gave it to her.  'this one is for you', I said.  she was so surprised by my kindness.  'You are such a kind man', she said.  I felt absolutely wonderful.  such a small thing, such an easy thing to do.  This is how I would live my life if I had more time." 

What can we do in response to the random deaths of six beautiful teenagers, and all the other tragic and unfair deaths that we experience? 

There are many things, I have prepared a shopping list of only a few and you will think of others:

1)  Remember them, remember that they are loved, by their families, by their friends and by God.  Remember you are loved too!

2)  Remember their parents, the grief, the loss, and the pressure the burden they will live with all their lives.

3)  Shed  tears.   Sometimes it is the only response physically possible

4)  Pray

5)  Remember that we are all going to die, it is the only truly universal human experience.

6)  Have a community of support.

7)  Don't Judge, or blame,  resist the temptation to ask why. 

8)  Be Compassionate

9)  Be kind