Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why do bad things happen to good people?

THE SICKNESS OF SIN

And behold they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith Jesus said to the paralytic, "Be of good cheer son, your sins are forgiven." And behold some of the scribes said within themselves: this man is blaspheming. But Jesus, seeing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?” Matthew 9:2-4

Jesus met two very different kinds of people when He visited His home town that day, but their differences aren’t noted for the sake of drama, or to spin an interesting yarn. Rather so that by hearing them we might examine ourselves to see which one of the two we are.  Are we like the people who brought their troubles to Jesus, believing in His power and love to help them?  Or are we like the Scribes who couldn’t connect the dots between illness and sin, and so were not interested in Jesus who could both heal and forgive?  If you know your catechism, you’ll know that we are both!

Each of us has a Scribe inside called Flesh, and it doesn’t believe that the troubles we suffer are part of the temporal punishment our sins merit.  We don’t like illness, poverty, social unrest or family strife, neither do we think we need Jesus to conquer them.  Instead we imagine that the march of progress will eliminate them bit by bit, and consign them to the dustbin of history, so that they’ll never trouble us again, but Sin makes such a dream impossible.  People like to say that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, but those who do know history are also doomed to repeat it.  We never seem to learn, and even if we could, by some stretch of the imagination, sustain rational thought for more than a fleeting moment, the Sinful Self always rises up to destroy us.  We ask why bad things happen to good people.  They don’t, they happen to bad people; people who have rebelled against their God, excluded the possibility of His judgment and would rather build a Perfect World by their own genius than have their sins forgiven.  We are those people.  When God warned Adam and Eve, “the day you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17) what He did not say was that it would be a slow death!  Our first parents didn’t simply drop dead like Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts Chapter Five when they lied to the Holy Spirit.  Instead they were cursed with a protracted death.  The man with hard labor; the woman with the travails of childbirth.  They lost their superior powers and were robbed of the good cheer that comes from fellowship with the Living God.  They were ejected from paradise and consigned to a life of exhaustion, illness, pain, in-harmonious relationships, treachery and finally death.  Do you think that these troubles that have marked humanity from the beginning are going to be mitigated by technology or government decree?  That’s exactly what our Scribe thinks, and why he pays homage to these instead of the Savior who forgives sin.

Thankfully there’s another force at work within us, namely the Holy Spirit of God.  In baptism He called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified us.  In this primary sacrament He restored the lost image of God to us and made us new creations, and now, just like the paralytic, we too depend on Him for the forgiveness of our sins, a reconciliation which was made possible by His holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death on the cross, and by His resurrection from the dead.  Though the Lord’s death and resurrection are past events the benefits they confer are not.  The absolution first given by Jesus to the paralytic is still given today to spiritual paralytics who are astonished by the corruption of their Flesh, and who desperately want to be done with sin and win the victory over it.

What’s so wondrous and exhilarating about the forgiveness of sins?  First, it gives us peace with God, and nothing else can!  The world doesn’t forgive transgressions and even if it does, it never forgets; but when the Son sets us free we are free indeed (John 8:32), and our sins are remembered no more! (Jeremiah 31:34) Further, we all have our detractors, those who know our sins all too well and never let us forget them! The certain forgiveness we receive from God, based on Christ’s suffering and death, enables us to live with dignity even in the face of the never-ending criticism people love to dish out to us.  The Gospel also gives us new powers, to put off the Old Self, put away falsehood, put aside anger and to forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us. (Ephesians 4:32) When we understand that the bill for sin was paid in full on the cross, we can also put our present sufferings into the proper context.  They are not punishment, but discipline (Hebrews 12:5), administered by the God who loves us so that we might learn to rely on Him alone, and find our joy in the gifts He gives and the promises He makes.  Knowing that our sins have been erased allows us to die with confidence.  Many people boast that they’re not afraid to die.  It’s an easy thing to say when we’re healthy and well, but such confidence quickly vanishes when death is at the door, or when the most unthinkable hardships turn our world upside down.

Like the paralytic, we also call on Jesus to heal our diseases.  The instant miraculous healings we read of in the gospels no longer occur, but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless.  We have the power of prayer, the confidence to ask boldly, and the faith to accept whatever God gives us, knowing that His will is always good and gracious, the very best one for us.

We depend on the Gospel for good cheer as well, and what a rare commodity that is today! People are so morose.  Is it any wonder?  Bad news is everywhere.  Violence is glorified.  Villains are lionized.  Arrogance is celebrated.  Sin is extolled as virtue, and those who are supposed to be the wisest among us bicker like four year olds on the playground, as the whole “wired” planet watches and wonders.  Yet through it all the words of Jesus break through the despair and restore the joy of salvation to us. “Son be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” We are those sons, children of God, and heirs of salvation, so like the paralytic let us rise up from our gloomy beds, and move steadily on towards our heavenly home.  Amen.


~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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