If you’ve never been to one of our commencement ceremonies, you’ve missed a real treat. Seeing a large number of students, all of whom have had a steady diet of the gospel poured into them for a decade or more, prepared to influence the world for Christ, is exciting to behold. Although some are farther along the spiritual maturity continuum than others, some barely out of the gates, it is always a thrill to see what God has done in their lives, and to imagine what He will do.
If you missed this commencement ceremony, you missed an even bigger treat. Our graduation speaker was Cindy Allen, retiring this year after two decades of service as the kind of teacher you never, ever forget, no matter how distant a memory high school becomes. Cindy shared with our seniors an amazing insight about life. She said most of our childhood is spent in a kind of behavior modification mode, with our parents training our conduct by rewarding us for doing the “right” things, and by meting out consequences for doing “wrong”. This form of training, though appropriate for young children and certainly well intended, ingrains in us the belief God works the same way: He allows good things to happen to good people, and bad things to happen to bad. And so, when bad things happen to us, we respond, “Why is God doing this? He must not love us.” She challenged the seniors, and all of us, with the idea that God operates on a whole different economy from the one with which our parents potty-trained us.
Her words have really resonated with me over the past week or so, and I have been thinking about how her ideas impact theodicy, which is a twenty-dollar word for the study of the age-old question, “why do bad things happen to good people?”
That question has troubled me in the past, because it assumes someone– and by “someone,” I usually mean “me”– is good. The reality is we’re just not. Christ said to the one who called Him ‘good teacher,’ “Why do you call me ‘good’? No one is good but God alone.” When you consider our faith teaches, but for God’s grace through Christ on the Cross, we’re all condemned to death, the fact that anything good happens to us is pretty spectacular, really.
But, as I’ve been thinking, it goes beyond that. There’s a name we all have for a kid whose parents indiscriminately give them everything they ask for, everything they want, no discipline, all “good” things. We call them a spoiled brat. We hate being around those kids; we secretly want to choke the life out of them when their parents aren’t looking. We talk about them at home, or, if we’re really nice, we just roll our eyes when they have a wall-eyed fit because they’re not getting what they want in any given instant. In Uganda, they say a kid like that is “wasted,” which has a whole different meaning here, but the idea is a good one—the kid’s life is on a trajectory toward ultimate ruin and despair.
Here’s the thing: we’re that kid, if bad things don’t happen to us. The truth is, and figuratively speaking, “bad” things happen to “good” people so good people won’t become bad. In this fallen world, the only lessons worth living, the only character qualities worth developing, come through pain, disease, loss, rejection, and other “bad” things. When you’re getting only “good” things, you’re learning nothing. Those “bad” things mold and shape us into people who Christ calls truly good- those who are saved by His blood, who are molded into His image, who are driven into deep life-changing relationships with Him by praying through the challenges of life.
I was having breakfast last week with a friend whose grown son has made some bad choices that have put him in bad situations. Although my friend is confident God will restore his son, he shared with me he wished he had allowed his son to feel the sting, the consequences of bad mistakes he had made when he was younger. Had he done so, he feels as though his son might have learned those lessons at a younger age, when the consequences were much, much less costly. I totally get that.
As I’ve been thinking, I need to more boldly pray, not for comfort and ease in the life of my children, but for holiness–for a passionate relationship with Christ. Then, I need to draw close enough to the Lord myself, so that I recognize when He’s allowing “bad” things to happen to my kid for her good. Then, I need to back the heck off, not maneuvering her out of harm’s way, throwing myself between her and God’s good for her life (How many times have I been a hindrance to God’s goodness? Ouch!), but counseling and praying her through it. I also need to not try so hard to manufacture comfort and safety in my own life, or to even ask for those things. Instead, my prayers for God’s “daily bread” need to be for His provision that will develop the character I need to humbly serve Him, here and in eternity.
I don’t need to pray for “bad” things, or to seek them out–they always find us sooner or later. But, I can pray for the fruit that comes with them, and for God to maximize them when they do come for His glory and my good.
The beautiful promise we have in Christ is, for us and for our kids, bad things are good things.