GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO BAD PEOPLE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 27, 2018
1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
— Luke 12:49-59, ESV
While foreign to biblical and historic Christianity, the concept of karma has crept into the psyche of most professors of faith. Deep down inside, most people believe that most people get what most people deserve, be it good or bad. We get the good we earn, we suffer the bad for punishment, because what goes around comes around. The therapeutic, deistic God of modern Christendom, and the gods of other religions, serve to balance the scales in this life as well as the life to come. That’s karma.
Those who subscribe to karma count themselves as deep spiritual individuals. Many popular books, movies, and television series have been built on the theme that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. But, karma cannot answer at least two real profound questions that hover over the world. Why do bad things happened to good people? And, why do good things happen to bad people? Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can give satisfying answers.
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
The text unfolds with the age old question of theodicy. If God is good (and He is), then why does He allow bad things to happen? Do bad people get what they deserve, or are other forces afoot? Our Lord does not dodge the question, but rather affirms the anti-karma position that bad things do indeed happen to good people.
Case one involves the heartless heathen Pontius Pilate who ruled over Israel during Jesus’ public ministry. Religions other than Caesar worship, like Old Covenant Judaism and the fledgling New Covenant Christianity, were officially banned by Rome but generally tolerated. On at least one occasion, however, Pilate deployed one of his random acts of cruelty to assert his power over the people. He had some devout Galilean Jews who were observing an Old Testament ritual executed on the spot, their life’s blood ebbing out with the blood of their dead sacrifices.
Case two, which must have occurred about the same time, concerned a construction accident on the outskirts of Jerusalem. A new tower being built near the pool of Siloam collapsed and eighteen innocent workers or bystanders were killed. This wasn’t Pilate’s fault. This wasn’t their own fault, as far as we know, for seeming accidents happen all the time that claim the lives of people, whether on a construction site, a laboratory, or a highway.
The people who brought the news of these current events to Jesus were probably followers of the Pharisees. Pharisees believed in karma. You get what you deserve. So, the victims of Pilate’s treachery and the tower’s fall must have had it coming to them. Surely God was punishing them for their known sins, or perhaps for some skeletons in their closets. Right?
Wrong, said Jesus. The people who lost their lives in those tragedies were no better or worse than any other human beings living in the world. They may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they were not wrong for being there. Things happen in this free and fallen world. Bad things happen. Too often, bad things happen to good people.
The people who leapt from the Twin Towers in Manhattan or otherwise perished on September 11, 2001 were no better or worse than you and me. The high school students killed in the recent rampages in Florida and Texas were no better or worse than you and me. The woman murdered by her jealous ex-husband and the teenager killed by the drunk driver and the baby aborted by her fearful mother were all good people, good in the sense that they were created in the image of God, with good attributes and opportunities given to them by God. Yet their lives were snuffed out by bad perpetrators, bad circumstances, or as some would say just plain bad luck. Bad things happen to good people.
That’s not karma. But, how is it compatible with the Christian faith? Jesus’ double reply actually answers two questions.
Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?
Christianity turns karma on its head. It admits that bad things happen to good people, and the reasons why we will get to later. Right now, let’s turn our attention to Jesus’ allusion to another question: Can good things happen to bad people?
Perhaps now would be a good time to give clarity to the definitions of good and bad. I have said before and I will state it again that all people are basically good, insomuch as all human beings have been made imago deo, in the image of God. Humans are born with certain qualities, capabilities, freedoms, and rights given to them by God. We are all good and have the potential to do good in this life and please other people. But are we good enough to please God?
No, because we are all bad, too, if you believe in sin and affirm the sinfulness, the badness, of sin. Total depravity is taught in both Testaments and can be observed in every day life. Human beings are selfish; therefore, we sin against God and against other people to get what we want. The people we consider good are tainted by selfishness and sin, while the people we view as bad are consumed by it. Yet, to return to Jesus’ previous argument, we are all about the same before God, no better or no worse, so in one important way we are all bad. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (ref. Romans 3:23; Proverbs 20:9; etc.).
What Jesus does here, so masterfully, is honestly address the first question and use it as an opportunity to offer an answer to the even more important second question. Forget that bad things that happen to good people for a moment. What good thing, what is the best thing, that can happen to a bad, sinful, person? The answer is salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone! How does such salvation come? Repentance!
Jesus stresses, two times, the necessity of repentance. It is a central to Jesus’ teaching as it is absent from the modern gospel. Repentance is the good thing, the best thing, that happens to bad people. It turns them into truly good and godly people who can please God and bless other people.
Repentance is a requirement of God, and one of His favorites. He demands it 73 times in Scripture, mostly in the New Testament, mostly in the Gospels. Repent is practically the first and last words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Bible (ref. Matthew 4:17; Revelation3:19). Repentance is proof that God loves us, so much that He refuses to leave us in our sinful, lost condition. He demands change of mind and heart that makes us heavenly minded and much earthly good. Repentance is the other side of the coin of faith, without which no one can know, love, and be forgiven by God. So where can you get this currency of repentance and faith?
Repentance is supplied by God. It is a work of grace, the unmerited gift of God, an infinitely good thing for inherently bad people. The ground of repentance is the cross, the finished work of Jesus Christ for sinners. The supply chain of repentance is the Holy Spirit, who regenerates the human heart and fills it with faith and repentance. The expression of repentance is any time, anywhere, when anybody calls upon the name of the Lord (ref. Acts11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). God demands repentance, God supplies repentance, so that you can repent, right now if necessary.
When supply meets demand, salvation occurs, and verifiable change takes place. Repentance is not negative and harsh. It is the most positive, life-changing event in a person’s life. It is much like a life changed by winning the lottery, only with positive and longer lasting riches. It is much like a life changed by getting married, the perfect husband to the perfect wife. It is much like a life saved by a heart transplant in a dying man, who will never die again. Repentance brings eternal salvation!
And, repentance bears spiritual fruit, here and now. The parable Jesus gives after His pronouncement to repent illustrates this point perfectly. For every human being ever born, every person on this planet, is either taking up temporary space, or worshiping and working for eternal life. Some say the parable pertains to the nation of Israel in Jesus’ day, and a double entendre is possible. But I think it applies to every man every day, who is either bearing fruit in keeping with salvation; or, who is enjoying the patience of God for a short season during which time he must, in the words of Jesus, repent or perish.
Two more questions are necessary.
What Kind of Person Are You?
Are you a good person or a bad person? By now you should realize you are both. You are good in the sense that God made you, God loves you, and God has engineered a plan for you at the cost of His own Son, Jesus Christ, whereby you can be absolved of all your sins and enjoy everlasting life. You are bad in the sense that you sin, and you will go on sinning until the day you die, or the day Christ returns. If you spurn God’s offer of forgiveness, you will pay your own debt with eternal punishment separated from God and God’s people forever.
No one can get repentance unto life except by the sheer, sovereign grace of God. Yet Scripture also proves that anyone who desires to repent and believe will never be abandoned by God. The question is not whether you are good or bad, for you are both. The question is whether you are repentant or unrepentant, faithful or unfaithful, saved or lost.
Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ today! Yet, there is a lingering question, still.
What Kind of God Do We Trust, Worship, and Serve?
What kind of God would allow the suffering we alluded to when acknowledging bad things happen to good people? What kind of God would proffer His good grace to some bad people while passing over others? What kind of God is this God of the Bible, the God who presented Himself as Jesus Christ the Son, the God who wields His power through the Holy Spirit?
God is mysteriously transcendent. In other words, there are some things about God we will never know, never have complete answers for, never fully understand. This is in keeping with His incommunicable attributes of sovereignty, supremacy, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. God is God, and there is nothing about His nature or ours that requires Him to answer all of our questions, yet He is absolutely worthy of our absolute trust.
God is consistently imminent. God is here, now, then, tomorrow, forever. God reveals Himself to all in creation, and to His people through word, Spirit, preaching, and most perfectly in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. God is always loving, always working, and always working all things together for good for those He loves and who love Him (ref. Romans 8:28-30).
God is in control, and His ultimate goal is salvation for His people. This is why bad things happen to good people, so that good things can happen to bad people. This is why God allows human freedom, even sinful choices. Tragedies are a part of life, they change lives on earth, and they lead to changed lives in Heaven. God could prevent every death, every disaster, every murderous dictator or criminal, every fatal construction or car accident. But, He does not. He allows for bad things to happen to good people so that, in the end, this complex fabric of God’s sovereignty and human freedom will weave a tapestry that presents a picture God’s people, on earth and in Heaven.
If you have ever looked at a beautiful, artistically made tapestry or rug from the bottom, it is an absolute mess. When viewed from the top, however, it is a masterpiece. Such is the handiwork of God. This is why bad things happen to good people. This is why good things happen to bad people. Turns of events turn messes into masterpieces. This is why we must repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org