Why Do Bad Things Happen to God’s People?
1 Peter 1:1-2
James C. Denison
A friend sent me some questions I could not answer. Let’s see how you do:
The first couple to be shown in bed together on prime time television? Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
Coca-Cola was originally what color? Green.
The state with the highest percentage of people who walk to work? Alaska.
The percentage of Africa that is wilderness? 28%. The percentage of America that is wilderness? 38%.
The cost of raising a medium-sized dog to the age of eleven? $6,400.
What do bulletproof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers, and laser printers all have in common? They were invented by women.
If such trivia represents one end of the relevance spectrum, our question today represents the other. You’ve heard the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? Our question is even tougher: Why do bad things happen to God’s people?
This summer we’ve learned that we are God’s saints, his new creation, the temple of his Holy Spirit. We are branches of his vine, his building, his bride, his body, citizens of his Kingdom, the very people of God. Why, then, are our lives so often so hard?
Being a Christian does not immunize us from a single problem the rest of the world experiences. We get cancer and heart disease just like the rest of the population; the divorce rate is apparently the same for Christians as for the rest of society; our sons and daughters fight and die in Iraq; we lose our jobs and parents and children just like everyone else. If the God of the universe is our Father, why does he treat his children this way?
Where is our question especially pertinent for you this morning? How has stress or struggle or suffering found you today? Why?
Know who you are
Let’s start with the good news. Our text tells us exactly who we are, no matter where we are. It describes in very specific ways precisely how God sees us. No matter how lonely we feel, or abandoned we seem, we’re not. God + 1 = majority, always. Here’s why.
We are “God’s elect,” “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”
“Elect” translates the Greek word for “chosen, selected.” It was used to describe fruit chosen because it was especially ripe, or clothes chosen because they were especially well-tailored. Once this word applied only to Israel, as the “chosen people of God.” But now it applies to us–all of us.
You read it last week: “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
This happened by “the foreknowledge of God the Father.” God knew before time began that he would choose us, that he would want a personal, intimate, eternal relationship with every one of us. He wants such a relationship with every person he made, for he is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy. 2:4).
When we accept his invitation to personal relationship with him, we “elect” the One who “elects” us. We join his chosen people from across all the nations and all the centuries. We become part of God’s people forever. This is our identity.
Here is the power to be who we are: “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.”
The Spirit saved you when he convicted you of your sins and led you to faith in Christ. He is saving you now, “sanctifying” you–making you more and more God’s saint, his holy one. He will save you for eternity.
To partner with the Spirit, we surrender to him every day. We begin the morning by yielding it to his Lordship. We ask his guidance before our decisions, his forgiveness when we sin, his power to defeat temptation, his help for our problems. When we walk in the Spirit, we are sanctified by the Spirit.
Now we discover the purpose for which we are chosen and sanctified: “in obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.”
To obey and to serve him. As Moses sprinkled blood on the altar of sacrifice, so we are to sprinkle the “blood of Christ” wherever we go. We exist to make disciples of all nations, to be the salt and light of Christ, his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
The church is the only hope of the world. As we obey Jesus and share his saving love with our dying world, we fulfill a purpose more significant than any other. Bodies may be healed, but they will one day die. Finances will belong to someone else or be lost. Cars will rust. Clothes will wear out. Houses will be torn down. Nothing we do in time will count for eternity, except what we do to obey Jesus and share his love with all we can. This is the reason we are here, the purpose of our lives. It is the highest purpose in all of human history.
Know where you are
So you are not what you do, or what you own, or how many friends you have. You are the chosen, sanctified, serving child of God. If all this is so, why do bad things happen to God’s people? If we are chosen, sanctified, and called, why is life so often so hard? The answer lies not in who we are, but in where we are.
We are “strangers in the world.” “Strangers” translates the Greek word for “sojourners,” temporary residents, not permanent settlers in the land. We are immigrants in this world, just here for a while, only passing through.