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Homeward Bound: Moments Difficult To Treasure

Romans 8:31-39

Charlie Brown was standing on the pitcher’s mound one day talking to himself. His baseball team was behind 98-0, and he said: “Boy, I must be stupid to stand out here and take a beating like this! The other team is laughing at me; my own team hates me; I am a lousy pitcher; my stomach hurts! I don’t know why I play this game, I must be really stupid!” Lucy then offers a word of consolation: “Charlie Brown, you can’t go on like this. You’ve got to change your attitude. You’re not enjoying life at all. Just remember Charlie Brown, that the moments you spend out here on this pitcher’s mound are moments to be treasured. We’re not going to be kids forever, so treasure these moments.” Then Charlie Brown, with fresh determination in his soul, tugs at the bill of his cap, rears back and fires a pitch toward the plate. The batter swings and rips a scorching line drive back through the pitcher’s mound, knocking Charlie Brown flat. His cap flies off in one direction; his glove goes another. Lying there in the dust, he surveys the situation and says: “Some moments are difficult to treasure!”

Charlie Brown was standing on the pitcher’s mound one day talking to himself. His baseball team was behind 98-0, and he said: “Boy, I must be stupid to stand out here and take a beating like this! The other team is laughing at me; my own team hates me; I am a lousy pitcher; my stomach hurts! I don’t know why I play this game, I must be really stupid!” Lucy then offers a word of consolation: “Charlie Brown, you can’t go on like this. You’ve got to change your attitude. You’re not enjoying life at all. Just remember Charlie Brown, that the moments you spend out here on this pitcher’s mound are moments to be treasured. We’re not going to be kids forever, so treasure these moments.” Then Charlie Brown, with fresh determination in his soul, tugs at the bill of his cap, rears back and fires a pitch toward the plate. The batter swings and rips a scorching line drive back through the pitcher’s mound, knocking Charlie Brown flat. His cap flies off in one direction; his glove goes another. Lying there in the dust, he surveys the situation and says: “Some moments are difficult to treasure!”

Charlie Brown captures in a lighter vein what we sometimes find to be all too heavy, namely that there are some moments in life difficult to treasure. So I want to speak today to what I consider to be the most difficult, the most frustrating, the most challenging question Christians ever have to face: Why do good people suffer? That question is the biggest hurdle to believing in a good and loving God. We talk about a God who is the paragon of goodness, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, who loves His children, and yet if that is what God is like, then this world ought to be a living paradise. However, all around us we see the starkness and the agony of suffering. Why? Why does God allow war, disease, accidents, and sorrow? Why did He let the best person who has ever lived be nailed to a cross? Why do good people suffer?

I remember sitting with a young woman in a hospital waiting room. The doctor had just delivered to her some very bad news concerning her husband, and she felt utterly forsaken. “Doesn’t God care?” she cried. “Why my husband? He has been a good man all of his life. He has worked hard. He has been a wonderful father. He has taught Sunday School. He has been honest and kind and loving. Now he’s going to die young, while people who have never done anything for anyone, who have never darkened the door of a church, who have cheated and lied for all of their days live on. Why? It’s just not fair!” She then buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

Well, I would never presume to know the full answer to human suffering. It is one of life’s great mysteries. And yet it seems to me that we ought to at least take a shot at it. We ought to try. Somebody, somehow should say something in response to the bothersome question: Why do good people suffer? Out of my nearly lifelong struggle with the question, let me list four thoughts which I have found helpful. Why do good people suffer? First, because we live in a world of dependable natural laws. Second, because we live in a world that is racked with growing pains. Third, because we live in a world of risky relationships. And fourth, because we live in a world of freedom of choice. Let’s work through those four…

People suffer in our world, first of all, because we live in a world of dependable, natural laws.

“The rain falls on the just and the unjust” is the way Jesus put it. The natural laws of the universe are dependable. They are unbending. They operate the same for all people. They are no respecter of persons. Take the law of gravity for example. If a little baby stands up and falls out of his high chair, the law of gravity is merciless. It doesn’t matter that the baby is as innocent and pure as the driven snow—the baby’s goodness in no way affects the outcome. Or here is another example. A good man climbs a mountain. He has been a faithful Christian all of his life. He is active in the church. But there on that mountainside he loses his footing and plunges over a cliff to his death. The fact that he had an outstanding record of living made no difference at all to the law of gravity. It works for the good and the bad alike. There is no distinction. In this particular case, its working caused tragedy. Cause and effect, cause and consequence—they are bound together in dependable, unbending succession. Much of our suffering, therefore, comes from running up against the dependable laws of the universe.

Of course, we have to remember that those same dependable laws are what give order to creation—they make medicine possible; they make engineering possible; they make farming possible; they make learning and scientific advances possible; they make all human progress possible. But they also bring suffering when violated. Jesus spoke to this issue once in the Gospel of Luke. The Tower of Siloam fell killing 18 people and Jesus was asked: “Why? Whose fault was it? Who was to blame?” And Jesus said in response: “It was nobody’s fault. Those people just happened to be standing in the wrong place when the tower fell.” That’s what happens to us. Sometimes we suffer because we happen to be standing in the wrong place when one of the laws of the universe falls upon us, or when we put ourselves in a position where one of those laws works against us rather than for us.

But it has to be that way. We have to have dependable laws or we couldn’t live. Consider the alternative. If the law of gravity were suddenly repealed, our world would become complete chaos. You couldn’t count on anything. Or as Dr. J.S. Whale puts it: “If water might suddenly freeze in mid-summer; or if the specific gravity of lead might at any time become that of thistledown; if pigs might fly or the White House turn into green cheese, our life would be a nightmare!”
So despite all the agony our world’s laws may bring upon us, we would not dare wish those laws away. We simply could not live without them.

Now a second thought. People suffer because we live in a world that is racked with growing pains.

To put it more bluntly, we live in a world where we don’t know everything yet—and what we don’t know hurts us. We are racked with growing pains. We live by trial and error—and sometimes our errors blow up in our faces. You see, the truth is that we are doing things right now that are harmful to us, and that are causing suffering, and we don’t even know it.

Let me illustrate it like this. It wasn’t too many years ago that doctors didn’t have sufficient knowledge of germs, and so they did not fully “scrub up” before delivering a baby—they had no idea that that had anything to do with the fact that so many babies and mothers died. Or during the recent D-Day commemorations on television clips were shown of the movies which were popular back in the 40’s. It surprised me—I don’t know why it should have, but it did!—that everybody in those movies was smoking cigarettes. Everybody! Of course, at the time, they didn’t have any idea how harmful smoking is to your health. So just think of it—the millions who have lost their lives and still lose their lives through ignorance, through what we don’t know, through what we have not yet learned about living in this world. So we are living in a world racked with growing pains.

But then we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we? I mean, the zest of living comes in the discovery, the new findings, the learning, the surprises. Christopher Morley wrote a little piece about this. He called it “No Coaching.”

“I went to the theatre with the author of a successful play; He insisted on explaining everything; he told me what to watch, the details of the direction, the errors of the property man, the foibles of the star. He anticipated all of my surprises…and spoiled the evening. Never again. But mark you, the greatest author of all made no such mistake!”

So we live in a world of surprises, a world of learning, a world of discovery. Some of the suffering we experience comes from the fact that we are living in an unfinished world, a world racked with growing pains.

A third thought. People suffer because we live in a world of risky relationships.

We are relational people. God made us that way. He made us so that we are not merely separate, isolated individuals, but we are woven together by love and loyalty and mutual need and interdependence into families, and friendships, and communities, and churches and nations. This instinctive and inescapable need for fellowship is the source of some of our greatest joys…and some of our deepest hurts.

Most every joy in life involves the element of risk. If you choose to love someone, you are running the risk that they may reject you and break your heart, but love is worth the risk. If you make a new friend, you run the risk that your friend may be false to you or turn on you—but friendship is worth the risk. If you have children, you run the risk that they may let you down and cause you a lot of heartache and some sleepless nights—but children are worth the risk.

Please remember the experience of Jesus. When Jesus called Judas to be a disciple, Jesus ran the risk that Judas might turn on Him and betray Him—but Jesus ran the risk anyway. Risky relationships are woven in the very fabric of life in this world. The more deeply we love, the more deeply we can be hurt—and much of the suffering in our world today comes from these risky relationships between persons and groups and nations. And yet we would never want to miss out on all of the joys of love just because we are afraid of being hurt. Love is worth the risk.

Then fourth. We suffer because we live in a world which gives us freedom of choice.

When God made us, He did not make us as helpless puppets dangling from strings. He made us free. He gave us free will. He allowed us the freedom to choose our own way. The truth of the matter is that sometimes we make the wrong choices, and bring suffering on ourselves and on others.

A man decides he can beat a train to a crossing—he misses by only a second, but he misses. A teenager on a dare chooses to sample a marijuana or cocaine high—a simple choice, but one which may lead to a lifetime of enslaving addiction. A diplomat says the wrong thing—and two nations who have been allies suddenly find themselves at odds. A boy runs away from home to the far country—and a father’s heart is broken. A teenage girl with a bright mind and a brilliant future yields to one moment of passion, has a child, and drops out of school, and bright dreams become a painful memory. A group of men, jealous and resentful of the Preacher from Nazareth, decide that He is a threat to their way of life, and so they conspire to nail Him to a cross.

So much of our suffering in life comes from bad choices—choosing to hurt rather than to help, choosing to hate rather than to love, choosing to retaliate than to forgive, choosing littleness rather than bigness, choosing selfishness rather than Christ. We suffer sometimes because we live in a world of freedom of choices—and we make some wrong choices.

Well…

There is one thing more to be said about suffering in our world—and that is the Good News of our faith, namely, that we are not alone. God is with us in our suffering, enabling us to turn our defeats into victories, and our sorrows into triumphs. We can trust God. We don’t have to be afraid because nothing can separate us from Him and His love. You see, God speaks, not from an easy chair, but from a bloody cross. He speaks as one who endured the worst suffering the world can dish out—and was victorious over it. The cross looked like defeat to the disciples; it felt like defeat to Jesus; it was called defeat by the world, but God made of it His greatest victory. And that victory is ours in Jesus Christ!

Out on the mission field, a little Christian boy lay dying. His pagan father sought, even in the boys’ dying moments, to force him back to a pagan belief. The father said to him: “When you die, where will you go?” The boy replied: “I will go to heaven to be with Jesus.” Then the father said: “Well, suppose Jesus isn’t there?” The little boy answered: “Then I will go wherever Jesus is.” The father pressed his case: “Well, suppose Jesus is in hell?” “Father”, the little boy said, smiling, “there can be no hell where Jesus is.”

That’s what God is trying to say, through me, to you today—simply this: There can be no hell where Jesus is….

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