“Why Do Bad Things Happen to God’s People?”

(1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – Lent 4 – March 27, 2022)

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – 18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Dear Redeemed in Christ Crucified:

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” You probably have heard that question before, and maybe you have asked it yourself. Why is it that tragedy strikes a person who has done so much good in life? Why is it that someone who has been so helpful when others are in need, suddenly must suffer so much need with the loss of earthly goods and comforts? Why is it that a person who has done so much good in life, surrounded by loving relationships, must pass his or her final days feeling such loneliness and pain? Why do bad things happen to good people – people who do not seem to deserve it?

Sometimes a similar question is asked: “Why Do Bad Things Happen to God’s People?” Why do we who share in Christ’s salvation and eternal life still have to suffer? One would think that God’s eternally blessed children in Christ would escape the suffering of life. Yet, how often we must bear a cross of trouble and trial as we follow Jesus. But as our text indicates: 1) God’s goodness is hidden under the cross, and 2) As Christians we are blessed under the cross.

1) God’s goodness is hidden under the cross

What about that question that so often plagues us as we deal with pain, sorrow, and disappointment in life: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That question implies that we have been so good-natured that we deserve only to receive good things from God. But is that implication accurate? We may appear good-natured in the eyes of the world; but things are different if we consider how God saw us in our natural condition as sinners. In Romans 7:18, the apostle Paul said of his sinful nature: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells.” The reality is that the only thing we deserve for our sin-filled life is death and everlasting punishment. The only reason we can be described as good in God’s eyes is that He has graciously washed us of all our sin and covered us with the blood and righteousness of His Son. This goodness, which He has made ours through baptism and faith, is not something we have earned. It is purely a gift of God.

Again, consider the accuracy of that question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” When something unpleasant happens to us, we immediately consider it to be “bad.” But who are we to determine whether our struggles and sufferings in life ultimately are bad for us – especially when it comes to God’s perspective? For example, think of when Job lost everything he had by the hand of Satan, or when Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. As far as the world was concerned, it seemed like only bad could come of these things; it seemed like evil ruled the day. But from God’s eternal plan and loving perspective, He knew all along how He was going to bring His good out of these situations. So often in dealing with His people, God’s goodness is hidden under the cross.

As we read the Scriptures, we find many examples of how God allowed a cross of suffering in the lives of His people. Before David became king, he had to flee from King Saul, who kept trying to put him to death for no good reason. Nearly all of the prophets were persecuted, even though they faithfully proclaimed God’s Word year after year. Think of the crisis Abraham faced, when God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac, not knowing it was only a test. In the midst of such troubles and trials, to say that God is working all things for good sounds very strange to the world and to our own flesh. Yet according to His promise, God always is at work for our good, even when it seems like He is allowing the very opposite to happen to us.

This hidden work of God for our good is most clearly found in the cross of Christ, of which our text speaks. To the human eye, nothing good can be found in the shameful death of Jesus. From all appearances, it seemed He had lost the battle to His enemies and gone down in defeat. But that human judgment is mistaken. For as it turns out, what appeared to be a bad thing in the life of Jesus was really a very good thing – not only for Him, but also for us. To the eyes of the world, the cross of Christ appears to be the epitome of weakness. God’s Son dying to earn our eternal life – that sounds like complete foolishness. Yet, far from being weakness and folly, in the cross God was demonstrating His power and wisdom in working out our salvation. On the cross, Jesus took the punishment that had to be paid for our sin, in order to deliver us from all condemnation. Then He broke forth in victory from the grave, having defeated His foes, having freed us from the power of sin, death, and Satan. So God’s goodness and salvation has come to us hidden under the cross.

2) As Christians we are blessed under the cross

The way God works through the cross – bringing victory out of the jaws of defeat – provides a key for understanding how He works in the lives of His people. The Scriptures tell us that, as Christians, we live under the cross for Jesus’ sake. Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). And we are blessed under the cross.

We are blessed through faith. By revealing Himself in such an unlikely place as the cross and suffering, God defines the only way He is found – by faith alone. As God hides His glory and salvation under what appears weak and foolish, He removes any boasting in our own ability to find Him. Human wisdom will not look for God in suffering – the suffering of His Son on the cross or our suffering. Therefore, our text says the message of the cross is a stumbling block and folly to those who are perishing in unbelief. But to us who have been called to faith, the message of the cross is the power and wisdom of God unto our salvation. Truly, we are blessed that God has revealed His salvation in Christ to us by faith – the faith His Holy Spirit has graciously worked in us.

Again, we are blessed through the means of grace which God uses to give us this faith. God brings Christ’s salvation to us by means His Word and Sacraments. Again, to the world these seem weak and foolish. Human wisdom seeks God in displays of power, glory, visions, speaking in tongues, an emotional spiritual life, etc. Yet just as God once revealed His goodness, not in glorious demonstrations of power, but in the suffering and shame of the cross – so today, He is present in the seemingly weak and foolish forms of Word and Sacrament. The world says: “What good is a word of Absolution spoken, or the water splashed in Baptism, or a piece of bread and sip of wine at the Lord’s Table, or the preaching from that ancient book?” Yet through these means, God promises to be present as our gracious God, with all His saving power, blessing us to the fullest. In Baptism, He has poured out His Spirit on us, washed away our sins, clothed us in Christ, and called us His children. By His Word, He forgives us, strengthens our faith, and comforts us in our sorrows. In the Holy Supper, He is incarnate for us in the bread and wine, forgiving us, uniting Himself with us, giving us power to do all things through Him who strengthens us and gives us His victory.

These seemingly weak earthly forms of Word and Sacrament are a true blessing when we find ourselves under the cross. When trials and tribulation overwhelm us and get us down, it is easy to think God is no longer on our side, and that He no longer cares for us. So we need to hear our Savior speaking to us in His Word. There He assures us: “I will never leave you nor forsake in you. I gave My life for you on the cross. I chose you as My own through Baptism and faith. I gave you eternal life. Since I have done all this for you, I will be with you in all the burdens and problems of life, working all things for your good. In every trouble and sorrow come to Me – come to Me in Word and Sacrament – and I will give you rest, peace, and strength to go on. I am for you; so who can be against you?”

So through the saving faith God gives us, and through the means of grace by which He strengthens us, we remain blessed even as we live under the cross. Rightly understood, we can even regard our suffering while following Jesus as a blessing from God. To the world that sounds foolish; the world wants only good times and an easy life. But now that God has worked out eternal good for us by Christ’s suffering to win our salvation, He promises to work all things for good in our suffering. Through hardship, our heavenly Father is shaping us for our good, as His beloved children in Christ (Hebrews 12:5-11). We may not be able to see anything good in disappointment and loss, pain and sickness, or the death of a loved one. Yet God promises to bring good out of even apparent tragedy.

1 Peter 4:12-13 says: Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

Consider how it turned out in the case of Joseph. When he was sold into slavery by his brothers and later thrown into prison, it must have been hard to see how God was working all things for good under that heavy cross. But by God’s revelation, we know the rest of the story. Many years later, Joseph could say to his brothers: you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Through the seemingly bad things that happened God worked out His good plan in the most unlikely way, so that Joseph was raised to the second highest position in Egypt under Pharaoh. So God enabled Joseph to save his family from a great famine – and even more, to preserve the family line of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Again, consider how it turned out in the case of Job. Satan took away all his children and possessions, and painfully afflicted him physically, and severely tempted him spiritually. Yet through it all, God kept Job’s faith firm; so that, in the midst of his suffering, he could declare: I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). That hope in his living Savior did not disappoint him. By the strength of God, Job came forth from that trial with faith pure as gold, knowing God all the better (Job 42:5). God not only restored to him all he had lost, but much more; indeed, even now Job lives with his Redeemer in heaven’s eternal joys.

When we find ourselves asking, “Why do bad things happen to God’s people?” let us simply take God at His Word and trust that He is working out His good plan in our lives, in ways greater than we can imagine. He is turning bad into good in ways we may not understand until we are in heaven. We know this for sure as we look first to the cross of Christ. In His suffering, He already has won our eternal victory over sin, death, and Satan. We are joined with Christ by Baptism and faith; therefore, all His good must follow for us. Despite all that may be called bad in life, God is bringing us the eternal good of heaven. Thanks be to God; the cross Christ means our eternal glory!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.