Why do bad things happen to good people?
That was the subject of today's message at church. It was really refreshing... no earth-shattering revelations, just some practical wisdom. Basically, bad stuff happens because choices have consequences--they could be our choices, they could be other people's choices. Bad stuff also happens because we live in a world where stuff happens. God promises us peace in Him, but many trials and sorrows in the world.
Those who believe in iron-clad 'divine protection' would answer that question in an entirely different way: Bad things happen to people who are outside of God's will. At first, this approach was attractive and seemed to make sense: God is all powerful. We're God's kids. God will protect His kids, as long as they stay close enough to Him and did what He said to do. When I was younger, it seemed to work pretty well. I was relatively healthy. Finances were steady. The family was stable. Life was good.
Well, life has a way of changing and throwing in a few curves. Those curves are difficult enough to handle on their own... but when you actually believe in guaranteed divine protection, it makes the hard times considerably harder. Not only are you dealing with a difficult circumstance, but you have the added weight of wondering what you did (or neglected to do) to bring this punishment on yourself... and the uneasy feeling that those around you are probably wondering where you went wrong too. An illness becomes a symptom of some deeper spiritual problem. A business failure also represents failure of your faith or a deficiency in your spiritual life. You can always respond to an altar call and have someone lay hands on you and declare the problem solved... but what if your situation is still unchanged afterwards?
One of the things that I love about my current church home is how open everyone is about their struggles--whether it be health or finances or jobs or family. We pray for eachother in small groups and get regular updates on how things are going. We're vulnerable with eachother... and it is only in that willingness to expose our individual weaknesses that we can discover the strength of fellowship and community.
People just aren't as willing to share when they believe that their struggles are a sign of some spiritual failure. They keep their struggles to themselves, and keep others far enough away so that they can't see what's really going on inside. It's actually quite sad. If you are reluctant to share when you yourself are struggling, you'll also be reluctant to share your experiences as an encouragement to someone else who is going through a tough time. You miss out on the support of your friends, and you miss out on the awesome opportunity God gives us to comfort one another with the comfort we ourselves have received.
This is probably one of the reasons why the community here is so much deeper and richer than it ever was for me in a pentecostal (especially "Word of Faith") setting. We build relationships when we share common struggles. We strengthen the ties when we bear eachothers burdens.