When bad things happen we don’t understand
Sunday, March 8th in our 5th grade Sunday School class we concluded our multi-week study on the topics, “Why is life not fair?” and “Why do bad things happen?” These are challenging topics for adults to consider, as well as 11 year olds, but that is why we call our class “Grapple!” We take on challenging subjects (selected by our students earlier in the year) and seek to find answers and guidance in God’s Word.
We discussed that when something bad happens to someone else, one of the WORST things we can tell them is “That was God’s will.” We discussed several important ideas which we need to keep in mind when we have bad things happen to us, to our family members, our friends or others. These include the following.
1. Sometimes we don’t understand
Anyone who tells us that they understand everything that happens in the world is either misinformed, kidding, or misleading us. Even Nobel prize winning scientists admit they don’t completely understand everything about the universe and how everything works. We can ask questions to our pastors about situations they may not be able to fully explain. Why does a tornado strike one person’s house and kill members of their family, and some of their neighbors next door are spared? Why are the lives of very young children taken away by disease or disaster? Why do innocent people die in the world? When it comes to natural disasters like tornados and other things, often we don’t understand the complete picture. We viewed two videos which include tornado / storm stories during class, that have been created by Oklahoma teachers as part of the “Celebrate Oklahoma Voices” oral history and digital storytelling project. We used these stories to discuss the idea of natural disasters happening which we do not fully understand and cannot fully explain.
The first tornado story we watched was created by Lissa McMillin and is titled “1928 Blair, OK Tornado.” The second one by Julie Roberts is titled “The Greatest Hero I Know.” Both of these stories include aspects that are not entirely explainable or understandable by the people who survived them. How tragic that Julie’s father lost her own dad to a lightning strike in their storm cellar. Tragedies like these happen in our lives and we should not pretend that we have all the answers. Telling someone who has suffered a tragedy like this that “this was God’s will” can be a big mistake. It is true God is omniscient and omnipotent, meaning God knows everything and controls all things, but this does not mean God does evil things or “wills” evil things to happen in our lives. This is the second main point we discussed in our lesson.
2. God is not the author of evil
Evil certainly does exist in our world. We don’t have to look far to see people who are making bad choices, and evil things taking place. Sin is a reality in all our lives and it separates us from God and from each other. Whether we are talking about things like drug abuse and addiction like that highlighted in the Crystal Darkness campaign here in Oklahoma, or tragedies which happen related to crime in our communities, evil things are not far away.
Where does this evil come from? It does not come from God. We learn in the Genesis story that God gave us as human beings the ability to choose, and the author of evil temptation in this world is called Satan, or the Devil. Sometimes when bad things happen in our lives it is somewhat easier to understand if it has involved human choices. That is not the case in many tornado tragedies, but it is in other situations. I told our class the story of my friend in college, whose father was a policeman in Philadelphia and who committed suicide. What a terrible tragedy that was. Unfortunately I do not think I did a very good job at that time explaining to my friend “Where God was” in that situation and tragedy. I also told our class about an older student I knew in high school who was killed on his motorcycle by a drunk driver, as both parties were coming and going from a drinking party at the local lake near the town where we lived.
3. God lets us make choices
Both the suicide of my friend’s dad and the fatal driving accident involving the high school student I knew involved people’s CHOICES. God did make any of the people in these situations choose to do evil things. God has given us the ability to make choices, and sometimes our choices lead to bad consequences. Sometimes we don’t have choices about things, as both adults and as kids. We may not have a choice as a child about having to clean up our room. We may not have a choice as an adult about losing our job, or our spouse deciding to leave us and get a divorce. In all these situations, however, we do have choices about how we respond and act in response to these circumstances. As we struggle to understand why evil things happen in the world, we need to recognize that while God is not the author of evil, he does let us choose as human beings. As sinful, fallen people, sometimes we make bad choices. Sometimes those choices hurt others and cause or contribute to bad things happening which hurt.
4. God always helps us
Amidst unfair things which hurt us and others, in addition to understanding that 1) We don’t always understand why things happen, 2) God is not the author of evil, and 3) God lets us make choices, we also need to understand a fourth thing: 4) God always helps us. This is VERY important. No matter what kind of struggle or difficult time we are going through, God has sent his Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen us. This is a very important thing to know and understand. When REALLY bad things happen to people (members of our families die or are killed, other tragic events happen which we cannot control or seem to change) we sometimes see people run away from God. As a final video story, we watched the testimony of Staci in the Life Church video series “30 Days to Live.” This was brought to my attention by Terry Attebery, who is in my Friday morning men’s group and is the Director of Contemporary Choir at our church. Staci lost her fight with cancer this spring and died several weeks ago. Her testimony about how her knowledge of God’s goodness and the strength He gives us to maintain our hope amidst incredibly difficult times is very powerful. Stacie also exhorts us to focus on the relationships and the people in our lives who are the most important: far more important than things or trips/travel we could go on. Staci encourages us to live NOW, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. I really encourage you to watch Staci’s testimony if you have not seen it already. It is included in two different parts in the online sermon provided by Life Church here in Oklahoma City. We didn’t watch the entire 20 minute sermon, we just watched the five minutes or so which is included from Staci’s testimony.
We wrapped up our lesson last Sunday by reading the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8, in “The Message” translation. Paul wrote:
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
This is a verse we also cited in our past study, “What Would Jesus Put on his iPod.” We may not be able to control or change all the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose our focus and on WHOM we choose to focus each day.
May God bless you and strengthen you as you contend with the challenges and struggles of life. Rely on Him for strength, and He will lift you up. More verses we used during this Sunday School study are available in this post from February 1st.