Good things to Good People?

fonzThis is a several part series on the question of how God treats good and bad people. Someone recently said to me that they wondered why good things were not happening in life, even though he had been a good person. Here is the first question:

Should good things happen for good people?

You may have heard the expression that God will give an answer, but it might be Yes, No or Later.

Yes. There is a general principal that good things follow natural choices. This is a matter of making wise choices.  For example, wearing your seat belt gives you a better chance to survive an accident.  So choosing to be honest, decent, fair, thoughtful and just should have good consequences.

Beyond that there is a personal principle, by this I refer to the promises of God to bless and reward.  For example, Deuteronomy 6:5, “…be careful to obey so that it may go well with you…”  This is the idea that the Lord actively rewards (or punishes) behavior, beyond the natural consequences of our choices.

No. However, there is also a recognition that “…time and chance happen to all…” as it says in Ecclesiastes 9:11.  That is to say, stuff happens that does not make sense to us.  These appear to be “chance” or “bad luck.”  We believe with our faith that God is in control, but we often see with our eyes things that do not fit what we think to be true.

This is a major point of the book of Job.  Job suffered great calamities and he did not know why they happened.  His friends said that since God rewards and punishes us for our actions, that Job must have done something unjust or offensive. They were wrong.  Their explanation was too simple and legalistic.  We learn from their example that we can not always know why bad things happen to good people, or good things happen to bad people.  God’s ways are mysterious to us.

Later.  Some of the care and reward from God is in the present.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  The idea is that each day we are given what we need to get along.  Some of them come during our lives but we have to wait.  One example of that is the father of our faith, Abraham.  He was promised a land and descendants as numerous as the stars.  However, he did not own any of the promised land, except for a piece of land to bury his wife Rachel.  He did not have a son until he was nearly 100 years of age.  The the promises were true, but slow in coming.

Some of the rewards and punishments are reserved for the future.  There is a Hall of Fame for Faith in Hebrews 11.  We find some of the great people of the Bible listed there, such as Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses.  We also find un-named martyrs, who did not receive anything in this life:

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

What we have as believers is Faith: That is a certainty about the character of God and the promises of God.  But Faith is not only what we see, it is most often what we can not see.

Homework: If this makes you anxious, let me suggest a prescription.  Take Psalm 23 three times a day with thought and prayer.  Read or say it slowly, phrase by phrase as a meditation and or a prayer in the morning, around noon and at night.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord




Light and Love in I John


“If love is understood in an abstract and fairly impersonal way, then it becomes difficult to see how, in the same God, such love can co-exist with wrath.  But the Scriptures treat God’s love in more dynamic ways…”  D. A. Carson, “Atonement in Romans 3:21-26” in “The Glory of the Atonement”, ed C. E. Hill and F. A. James III.

We struggle with how a God of Love just does not say, “forgive and forget.”  Some accuse the scriptures themselves of paganism, where sacrifices are offered to appease an angry God.  Yet it is God who initiates the work of Salvation – see John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he sent….”  Paganism was an attempt to appease a God or gods by human effort.  The Gospel is God satisfying God.

We find this in the book of I John. The word for Propitiation, or Atoning Sacrifice (Gk, hilasmos) is found in two places.  I John 2:2 and I John 4:10.  What is interesting is that I John 2:2 is tied to a statement about God, that “God is Light.”  This means something like God is True and God is Righteous, for the context of the passage speaks of truth and of sin.

In the particular passage, I John 1:5-2:2, the idea that God is Light and that we are darkness (sinful) is resolved by the blood of Christ (1:7) as part of being the atoning sacrifice (2:2).

I John 1:5-2:2

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

In I John 4:7-17, we find love.  We find the statement that “God is Love.”  This passage does not say that God thus decides that we are worthy of love or that his love is unconditional. Rather it is conditional upon the “atoning sacrifice” (v. 10) of Christ.  God’s love is resolved by his action of providing a sacrifice: “This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” v. 9.  Love is not in the Bible a cost free and general inclusion, but rather it is a costly sacrifice enabling inclusion.

This is exactly what Carson meant in the quote at the top. In the abstractions of Love and Holiness or Kindness and Justice we find questions such as” How could a loving God requrie blood sacrifice?”   In the concrete passages of scripture we find something else; we find an affirmation that the love of God is expressed in his own provision for us.  He sent his beloved son to be a sacrifice for sin.

I John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

It’s Personal – Genesis, John and Tim Keller

Our adult class has been working through Tim Keller’s book, “The Reason for God.”  his penutlimate chapter is about “the dance of God’, which is how he describes the dynamic of love between the persons of the Trinity.  This is the font from which comes all of creation and all of life.  Therefore life is at its core personal and should be about love.  God not only loves, but he is love.

Here is some food for thought if you can’t make the discussion this Sunday.

Genesis 1:26-28

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

Tim Keller:

“If God is triune, then loving relationships in community are the ‘great fountain at the center of reality.’  When people say ‘God is love,’ I think they meant that live is extremely important, or that God really wants us to love.  But in the Christian conception, God really has love as his essence…..Ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another.  That is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about…” p. 216

 “We believe that the world was made by a God who is a community of persons who have loved each other for all creation.  You were made for mutually self-giving, other-directed love.  Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made.”  p. 217

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism, 2008, Dutton,  NY, NY.