When Bad Things Happen…Where’s God?

John 9:1-7

Do you know what a theologian is?  

Did you know that everyone here is a theologian?

A theologian is someone who asks questions about the way things are in the world.  

You know some of those questions – you’ve asked them yourself…Why was I born a boy and not a girl? Or a girl and not a boy?  Why was I born here in the USA and not in India or Sudan?  Why did my grandpa get sick?  What caused that accident?  Who’s responsible for the Coronavirus?

Now some of these questions can be answered with science or observation – and good and factual science is essential for us, especially in times like now. But science is never enough when we really ask the “why” questions.  

Following the death of Kobe Bryant, the famed basketball player, I had a conversation with young gentleman, who asked, “why did God cause the helicopter crash?” Another young person asked me “who created God?” and “Where was I before I was born?” These are tough questions, aren’t they? 

The toughest for me as pastor might be “Why did God cause this cancer, that might kill me?  Why did my grandma have to die? Did God cause it?” Or, “Is the Coronavirus God’s judgment on America?”

This is the heart of today’s scriptures.  Jesus and his followers are walking down the road, they see a man who was born blind and has never seen a tree, the sky, or his parents’ faces.  One of them asks, “Why was this man born blind? Who sinned his parents or himself to cause this blindness?”  That’s a tough question, isn’t it?  How can babies before they are born do bad things?  That’s a foolish question, isn’t it? Unless you had a life before this one, and you are being punished for what you did in a past life.  But the theory of reincarnation wasn’t a theological option for first century Jews.

Now parents make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes hurt their children.  But is that the right answer either, when it came to the man’s blindness? 

Jesus’ says “no.” Like Socrates, Jesus knows the wrong answers.  

Accidents happen, in our cells and on the highway.  Helicopters crash on foggy days.  We make choices to fly or not to fly.  But God doesn’t swat the helicopter down. Viruses emerge and governments are either prepared for it or not, or people go outside or stay in their houses, and there are consequences! 

God doesn’t punish you for mistakes you’ve made in the past. God is not out to get you. God is out to love you.  So, I challenge the foolish comments of a pastor who said the Coronavirus is God’s punishment for our country’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ people and same sex marriage.  (These are convenient sins, red meat for the faithful – not like the inconvenient and often socially acceptable and government sponsored sins of injustice, inhospitality to foreigners, poverty, and so forth.)

Let me repeat God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to people.  God doesn’t cause us to get sick or cause car crashes.  God doesn’t punish you with illness either.  We make choices that cause pain or joy, and sometimes things just happen.  

Jesus then says, “God will be glorified in this man’s healing.”  Now I don’t think Jesus means he was blind so Jesus could heal him.  That would be like someone hurting you so they could help you later.  No, I think Jesus is saying, “when this man gets well, people will believe that God loves them, give thanks, and live better lives.”

Jesus doesn’t say why the man’s born blind, and that’s ok, because what he says next is the most important thing. Jesus says, “It’s daytime.  While it’s daytime, it’s our job to help people in need.” We don’t need to know why something happened.  We just need to love and help.  That’s the right answer to “why do bad things happen to good people?”

Don’t blame and don’t judge, help. Sometimes that help comes by telling people that they are doing things that will hurt themselves or others, but that’s not the reason.  We simply help.  When you have a fire at home, you call the fire department.  They don’t ask if you were good or bad, or smart or foolish, they put out the fire.   If someone slips on the ice, you don’t ask if they just yelled at their mom or dad. You help them up.

The right answer to the problem of evil is to help people in need.  Whenever you can.  Whomever you can.  As often as you can.   You help them regardless of how old they are, the color of their skin, who they love, or where they come from.

Even in a world of physical distancing, we can be of help.  If you see someone hurt or sad, you can ask “How can I help?  What do you need?  Is there anything I can do?”  And let God’s love flow through you.  We can’t fathom the ultimate origin of COVID-19, but we can be kind to each other, be patient, and help in whatever way we can.

So, when we think of bad things happening to us or others, just remember:

  • God loves you
  • God wants you to live an abundant life, a happy life
  • God needs you
  • God needs you to be a helper
  • Sometimes, you just might be the answer to someone’s prayer
  • You just might be the person who helps them see that life is beautiful, they are loved, and they can be happy again