2019 11 17 PM Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Judges 6 : 1-11 by Rev. Andre Holtslag

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

During the week I attended the funeral of little Jayden Rademaker.  12 or so weeks ago his family arrived at the North Shore, ready for Nathaniel to begin his year long vicariate or ministry training there.  Sharon was due to give birth soon and all seemed well, according to scans and midwife appointments.  But as we know, there were complications during birth that led to heart and lung problems, and major surgeries, and 8 weeks later the family carried a very small coffin into the church.  And you cannot help but wonder, Why?  Why did Jayden suffer like this and live for such a short time?  Why were prayers for healing not answered with healing?  Why did God allow (or even do) this? 

And the week before I was making a pastoral visit to someone struggling with illness and the question this person asked me was, “Why has God done this to me?  What have I done to deserve this?”

And you either have asked this question yourself or you are asking this question now or you have heard others ask it; it’s most common forms are: Why do bad things happen to good people?  Or, if God is good, why is there suffering? 

And this is not a new question; it was Gideon’s question in v13, “If the Lord is with us, why then has this happened to us?”  And there are some parts of the answer to this question in the passage but we will also have to go outside this passage to get a fuller answer. 

But the best place for us to begin is to remember that God is God and we are His creatures.  When Job came to God with these big Why? questions, God’s loving but firm response was, basically, Who do you think you are?  So while it is OK for us to ask Why? Questions, for after all, they are asked often in the Psalms, for example, we must do so humbly.  And that means we make careful inquiry of what God has revealed in His Word, which is plenty, but ultimately we must trust in God and accept that there is also some divine mystery here.  What we will see though is that it is not mystery of the ‘throw your hands up in the air in frustration’ variety but of the ‘raise your hands in the air worship’ variety!

So beginning with Gideon’s encounter with the angel of the LORD, we want to see that What the Bible Teaches about Suffering Should Lead Believers to Joyful Worship.  And our two headings will be Gideon’s Question and the Bible’s Answer, and then God’s goodness and the Believer’s Response.

  1. So we begin with Gideon’s Question and the Bible’s Answer.
  1. The Book of Judges records a particularly bad part of Israel’s history.  They had arrived in the PL but Joshua had died and they were ruled by a series of Judges.  It was a tie characterized by continued disobedience.  Three I’s – Idolatry, Injustice, Immorality.  The author’s conclusion is that this was the case because there was no King in Israel; a king would not have let this happen.  So it was probably written sometime around the reign of King David and looking back at this period as the ‘the Wild West’ days in Israel.  And in terms of the overall story of the Bible, the Book of Judges points forward to King Jesus as the King that can truly save us.
  • But what was happening in Israel at that time was that the Midianites, the Amalekites, and people from East were oppressing Israel.  And these were neighbouring enemies. 
    • As you read through OT history, these nations were to Israel what a dog like a Jack Russel terrier can be to its neighbours – it just keeps yapping and nipping at your ankles whenever you walk past.  They were a constant pest!
    • We see in v1 that they troubled Israel for seven years.  v2 – the people had to leave their homes and live in caves.  v3 – All their crops were stolen – all the hard work of planting and watering was wasted when the M/A/PE turned up, every year for seven years, and stole the crop!  v4 – All their oxen, donkeys, and sheep were taken and devoured. 
    • So this was serious suffering – no crops and no livestock = no food and no ‘farm tools’ to plant next year’s food!
  • So dropping down to v12, when the Angel came and greeted Gideon, saying, “The Lord is with you,” Gideon replied, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?  And where are all His wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’  But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”  So Gideon knew that Israel was God’s covenant nation – God was their God and they were His people, which made them a special nation of all the nations of the earth.  So once again, his question was: Why were these bad things happening to us good people?  And it is the question that we and others still ask today – Why do babies die?  Why are their wildfires?  Why has my loved one got cancer?  Why do I struggle with depression? 
  • Well, notice that the angel did not answer Gideon’s question.  We didn’t read on after v14 but the Angel just informed Gideon that he, Gideon, was to deliver the people of Israel.  And I am sure you boys and girls remember that we then get Gideon’s wet-fleece, dry-fleece test and eventually Gideon led just 300 men to rout the massive Midianite army.  But Gideon’s question is answered in our text
    • Look back to the first line of v1: “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”  So the Midianite oppression was because of the evil that Israel had done. 
    • And this is explained more in vv8-10 where we read about the prophet of the Lord that came to the people after they had cried out to the Lord in their sorrow.  And the prophet recalled the wonderful saving acts of the Lord and then pointed out that the people had repaid the Lord by disobeying His command not to worship idols.  So it was especially their idolatry that had brought about the Midianite oppression.
  • So now we are ready to consider the Bible’s answers to Gideon’s question:
    • His question was Why do bad things happen to good people?  But what have we seen about Israel from vv1&10?  Was this a case of a bad thing happening to an innocent, undeserving people?  No.  This was a case of something bad happening to a people who were doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”  And this is a point of fundamental importance to this whole matter.  For what was true of the people of Israel in that time is actually true of everyone:
      • Romans 3:10-12 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 
      • In Luke 18:18-19, the rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, “”Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.” 
      • Are we actually, truly good?  Are we fundamentally good people?  The Bible’s answer is No.  The Bible says that we are basically bad; we are sinners; we are disobedient rebels.  Unbelievers are called hostile enemies of God in Romans 8:5-7.  And even after we come to faith, we still sin, and Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”  So what we actually deserve is punishment and death.
  • So while there is more that needs to be said, the first problem with this question is that we are not good people who deserve good; we are actually bad people who deserve bad. 
  1. And this already puts this whole matter in a whole different light, doesn’t it.  For now the mystery is Why do good things happen to bad people?  If you understand that what you deserve is punishment and death, then what you really should be agonized about and pouring your heart out to God about is Why does He show you any kindness at all?But the Bible says more about this matter of sin and suffering also:For just as Israel’s disobedience led to the Midianite oppression, sometimes we read about people like King David whose adultery and murder led to the death of his son, and Ananias and Sapphira whose lies led to their deaths.  They are biblical examples of a direct link between sin and consequences.  And today also a person who drinks and drives and then crashes, or a person who commits a crime and ends up in prison, would be examples of a direct link between sin and consequences.  But we also read about people like Job who suffered even though he was a righteous man.  And in John 9, when Jesus passed a man born blind, the disciples asked Jesus if his blindness was because of his own sin or his parent’s sins, but Jesus’ reply was, Neither; the man’s blindness was because of his or his parent’s sin.  So suffering is not always a consequence of some specific sinful behaviour.  Therefore, it is wrong for us to assume that suffering must be because of some specific sin that we or someone else has committed.But we also need to note the important statement of v2, where we read, “And the Lord gave them over to the people of Midian.”  God did this to Israel.  And the Bible is very clear that God is sovereign, which means He has total control over everything.  That’s what we confessed earlier with Heidelberg Q/A 27 – He is Almighty God (All).  So whatever we experience, whether it be good or bad, ultimately comes to us from God.  But let’s think about this some more in terms of Israel.  I want you to listen to these words from Deuteronomy 28:30-33.  This is where God warned the people of Israel what would happen if they disobeyed Him.  He said, “…You shall build a house, but you shall not live in it.  You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit.  Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat any of it.  Your donkey shall be seized before your face, but shall not be restored to you.  Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, but there shall be no one to help you … A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labours, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually.”  So God was doing to Israel exactly what He had warned them He would do.  But why did He do this?  Well, He did it first of all to maintain His own honour.  God will not be mocked and ignored.  He cannot overlook sin; it must be punished.  But what did the people of Israel do in response to the oppression?  We see it in v7: They “cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites.”  So God disciplined His people so that they would repent and turn back to Him.  This was God the Father disciplining His naughty children.  And we have all had our fathers do this with us or we have done it with our children – we tell them Don’t touch or Come here, now, or Do what I say.  And we give warnings about what will happen if our words are disobeyed.  And we might give our children some space to self-govern, but there comes a time when we intervene and we say, Enough, now you have to see that there are consequences for bad behaviour.  Why?  Because we want their behaviour to change.  We want them to learn to obey.  And in the same way, God brought oppression upon His people so that they would repent and seek Him. Now, in terms of the story of the Bible, the repentance of the people and the deliverance of each Judge was short-lived.  And while there was some improvement under the kings, even the kings could not ultimately make the people righteous.  So this repeated cycle in the OT was so that the people would yearn for a King who could fully deliver His people from their sins and who could make them righteous.  And that King is Jesus!
  1. And this is where we smoothly transition from Gideon’s Question and the Bible’s Answer to God’s Goodness and the Believer’s Response.
  1. And we begin this point by recognizing that despite what we said earlier about there being no one good, there actually is one truly good person who suffered bad things.  Can you think who that is, boys and girls?  It is Jesus.  Jesus never sinned and He obeyed all of God’s commands, perfectly.  But on the cross He endured terrible pain and the eternal wrath of God as the sins of God’s people that He had taken on Himself were punished to the full measure.   And we have been thinking about this in our morning sermons.So this question: Why do bad things happen to good people? really is a perfect opening for the gospel!  When people ask that question you can help them see that we are not good people and that we actually deserve punishment.  But Jesus was a good person and He took the punishment that we deserve!  So the best response to the question of suffering is to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus!
  • But now I want to pick up the point we were just considering in terms of the Midianite oppression being God’s discipline of His people so that they would turn back to Him in repentance.  And this is why we read Hebrews 12 earlier in the service.  There it says, “The Lord disciplines the one He loves.”  And that verse gives us a beautiful framework or our response to all we have learned:You see, the sins of unbelievers are punished in this life and they will be eternally punished in the next life.  This life is usually a mixture of good and bad, and even those whose lives are filled with chronic pain experience some relief and some laughter and some beauty.  But the next life, for those who reject Jesus as Saviour, will be only bad, always, and forever.  It is horrific to contemplate – there will only be pain and suffering and grief and anger and tears and isolation and hatred and dysfunction, and no relief and no laughter and no beauty.  And it will never stop.But when it comes to believers, all our sins were fully punished on the cross in the suffering of Jesus.  He said, “It is finished.”  So that means, believer, that you are never punished by God; you are only ever disciplined by God.  And it may seem a fine distinction, but I tell you, It makes all the difference in the world!  You can say, My God is not punishing me, He is disciplining me or training me.  Romans 8:28 says, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”  So whatever suffering or hardship that comes your way is meant for good; it is to train you and maybe others to grow in the Fruit of the Spirit and to trust God, more and more.  So, not trying to be a prophet or putting too much pressure on Vicar Nathaniel and his family, I am sure you can imagine that how he and his wife minister to those who are suffering in the future will have an empathy and an understanding that would not have been there if they had not experienced what they have gone through with Jayden.And there were unbelievers at the funeral who heard the gospel and saw it lived out in the Rademaker’s profession of faith.  Perhaps the Lord will use it to bring them to faith?And maybe there is a young man in the North Shore congregation who as a result of Jayden’s life is prayerfully considering the ministry or the mission field?And maybe the elders and deacons and members of the NS congregation have been bound tightly together as a church family and stretched in areas of service that were not there before Jayden?And maybe the Spirit of the Lord is using this sermon to speak to your heart about an area of sin in your life or to fill out your understanding of God’s goodness or to draw you to your Father in a deeper love and trust?

And finally, brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, none of this is to say that we have no reason to ever cry or be shaken by our suffering or the suffering of others.  In James 1:2 it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”  But the Lord Jesus wept when He stood in front of Lazarus’ grave.  So the joy in view is not a bouncy, happy, smiley emotion, it is the joy best illustrated by the prophet Habakkuk in ch. 3.  For having heard devastating news about a coming destruction, He wrote, “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled … Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.”  So you can break out in a cold sweat and feel all sorts of inner turmoil and still rejoice in the Lord!  And you will do this if you know that God is your Father through Christ, and that He disciplines the one He loves, and that whatever adversity He sends you in this sad world He will turn to your good.  Amen?  Amen.