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Novi, Michigan 48375
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WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN
A seed falls to the ground. It looks dead lying there, but in a couple of weeks it begins to send down tiny little roots into the soil. After a while it begins to sprout the smallest leaf. In a couple of months it's a plant, growing and expanding. A bit longer and it is producing fruit. It seemed to be dead - a useless scrap on the ground - but it became a flowering, fruitful plant.
He was vice president of his company and then one day he was fired. His boss was a mean person, hard to get along with, and micro-managed the company. The man who had been vice president had just bought a new house, and was beginning to plan for retirement in ten or fifteen years.
Now he was out of work, frightened, and depressed. He went through an extensive search process, but eventually found a really good job in a company he liked, which turned out to be a lot better than the job he originally had. One day he said to me, "Getting fired was the best thing that happened to me." He certainly didn't feel that way on the day he was fired.
A young man is arrested and thrown in jail. He is an enthusiastic, deeply passionate man, so it's frustrating for him to sit in a cell all day with nothing to do. But, he doesn't waste any time. Before long he is speaking to the other people around him about his strong beliefs. He writes letters to the churches he has begun and which he loves so much. He writes about issues of faith, about how they must live and work together as a church, about how Christ taught us to live.
These letters make it to the churches, and those churches send them on to other churches, until his letters - written while he sat in jail - are circulating through most of the known world. What was horribly evil turned into a great good that has helped people learn and grow in their faith for 2000 years.
God can bring good out of evil. Sometimes we face terrible situations that frighten and depress us. We have to deal with tragedies, or times that shake us to the foundation of our lives. When these bad things happen, we wonder how we will ever be able to handle them.
As Christians we believe that God can bring good out of even terrible situations. Sometimes when we deal with a circumstance that shakes our lives, that situation makes us step back and take a look at our lives. It causes us to evaluate where we are going and what we really trust.
The apartment of a friend of mine burned to the ground. She lost everything in that fire. She and her husband made it out of the fire, and all they had left was the clothes on the bodies. Everything else was destroyed.
Several years later when she looked back on that experience she said it made her re-evaluate her life. When all the things she owned were gone, she had to look at her life and evaluate it without any belongings.
She said it made her realize the relative unimportance of having things and the real value of who you are and what you hold dear as a person. She said it helped her see the value of the people around her. It was an awful experience, but one that strengthened her faith. God can bring good out of evil.
Sometimes the terrible things that happen to us show us the limits of our life and our need to depend on God rather than on ourselves. Things are going along smoothly; we are doing well; everything seems to be under our control; and then something happens that breaks all of that apart. Our world comes crashing down around us. We have to rethink life. We have to re-evaluate who we are in the world, and what our relationship with God is like.
A man suffered a massive heart attack. He nearly died. They had to do surgery to clear out three of his arteries. They cut his chest open, sawed the breastbone, pried it open and went into replace sections of three arteries. Just a few weeks later he said, "I will never be the same again. I feel like God took me by the shoulders and shook me to get me to realize what is really important in life. This heart attack has changed my life, it has given me new priorities."
Then he said, "I don't ever want to go through that again, it was a horrible experience, but what came from it was the best thing that ever happened to me."
God can bring good out of evil, but that doesn't mean that the evil is good. Evil experiences are still evil. It's just that God is able to bring good even from terrible events. God has the power to produce great good even from horrible evil.
For example, being unjustly thrown in prison is not a good thing; it is a terrible injustice and goes against every sense of fairness. Unjust imprisonment is clearly against God's will. But from that bad experience can come great good.
Look at the amazing information we have just because good people were wrongly imprisoned: the apostle Paul wrote many of his letters to the churches from prison. If he hadn't been in jail, we might not have those helpful letters in the New Testament. During that awful time in prison he communicated with the churches he had formed and gave them important instructions on how to live together as the church. Those words are still important for us today, almost 2000 yrs later.
The book of Revelations was written while John was in prison on the Island of Patmos. Writing in a kind of code, John spoke to the churches about life in the church, and how the church and the government relate to each other.
Dr. Martin Luther King wrote one of the key documents of non-violent resistance while he was locked away in jail. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is one of the most famous and helpful writings in support of non-violence. We very likely wouldn't have that key piece of literature if he hadn't been in jail.
God can bring good out of evil. But being put in jail isn't a good thing. It's painful. It's frightening. It's a denial of freedom. But even from this evil, God can bring goodness.
Wherever life takes us - or forces us to go - God promises to be with us. More than that, God can even take evil and bring something good from it.
For us Christians the prime example of this was Jesus crucifixion. What Jesus endured was horribly cruel - the humiliation, the mocking and the crown of thorns, being forced to carry his own cross to the place of execution, the hammering of nails through wrists, and the slow painful death. It is an atrocity. It is horrid.
But even from this inhumane brutality God was able to bring the greatest gift - our salvation. Theologian William Willimon has written of this, "Here is a story about a God who wins victories not through conventional means of power and glory, but through suffering and death. Christians are those who live our lives in the light of that story. What the world regarded as unabashed tragedy - the complete triumph of evil - Christians have been taught to read as God's great victory over sin and death. Knowing this story compels us to read our stories differently from the way that the world reads itself."
God can transform our times of struggle, difficulty, and loss into moments of revelation and hope. Rather than being pulled down into hopelessness and depression, we can be drawn closer to God.
When we face times of trial, hurt, or setback we can ask ourselves, "Is there some blessing that can come from this pain?" "Is there some way in which I can use this to glorify God?" Or, "How can I grow in my relationship with God from this?"
We won't always be able to see any good coming from our pain at the moment - it may hurt too much at the time to see any possible good. In many instances, maybe most instances, we will need time to see what good can come from it. Often we will look back in hindsight to see what God is able to do.
But the promise of Jesus' death and resurrection is that God can bring great good from even the worst evil.
Our hope is in God. If God can bring the greatest good from this horrid act of execution, God can bring good from the shocks and pains and evils that happen to us.
©Richard J. Henderson 2003