January 10, 2021
Lie 2 – “God blesses me when I am good, and he punishes me when I am bad. So, when a bad thing happens to me, I must have done something wrong.”
Last week we stared a new series titled the lies we tell ourselves. We looked at how our lives and our behaviour is shaped by story. But often times the stories we tell ourselves contain lies. These lies keep us from being what we are called to be, being what we are made to be. Part of the hard work of transformation is dig out the lie so we can live out of the truth.
Last week we looked at the lie that we are transformed by the power of our will. The truth is that we are transformed indirectly as our stories change, and we engage in spiritual training, as we experience the supernatural and as we engage with community.
This week we are going to look at the lie that says, “God blesses me when I am good, and he punishes me when I am bad. So, when a bad thing happens to me, I must have done something wrong.”
If you were here, and I was to yell “God is God” you would know what to say –“All the time.” And I would respond “All the time,” and you would respond “God is Good.” We proclaim the goodness of God, but many of us don’t really believe in the goodness of God.
James Bryan Smith, in his book The Good and Beautiful God, tells part of his story. When his wife was eight months pregnant, they found out that there soon to be daughter had a chromosomal disorder. At first, they were told that it would be immediately fatal. But when Madeline was born, it turned out that that particular diagnosis was wrong. She had a chromosomal disorder, but one that allowed her to live for a couple of years. She was born weighing only a couple of pounds. She had a heart defect and was deaf and could not keep food down.
I have walked with parents like this, and it is devastating. James reports during that time that “during that time both my wife and I felt as if we had been kicked in the stomach -repeatedly. It just would not end.”
“One day a pastor I had known for years took me to lunch in an effort to comfort me. While I was in the middle of eating my salad he asked, “Who sinned, Jim, you or your wife?” I said, “Excuse me . . . what do you mean?” He said, “Well, one or both of you must have sinned at some point to have caused this to happen.” I began thinking about the bad things I had done in my life, wondering which one of them could have made God angry enough to give us a child born with terminal birth defects. Could this pastor possibly be right?”
Let me say that I can’t imagine a pastor asking that question. But that question led James down a pretty dark path. Maybe what I have done or maybe what my wife has done. We all have moments we are not proud of.
Madeline lived for just over two years – James reported what I know, People say the stupidest things. Things like, “It’s ok, you can have another child.” Or “I guess God wanted her in heaven more than he wanted her here.” James said, “I was led by these Christian friends to believe that God was cruel, capricious and selfish.”
The pastor that asked who sinned was operating from a story that has been around for thousands of years. Almost all ancient religions were built on the story that says that we have to do something in order to get the blessings of the gods and conversely, if we anger the gods we will surely be punished. It can be summed up by saying that the way God operates is that if you do well you will be blessed and if you sin you will be punished.
Some of the Old Testament seem to portray a God like that – “seems to” are the operative words. But even now, many Christians believe that. I remember when 9/11 happened. Two prominent evangelical televangelists proclaimed that God was punishing the United States for its sinfulness.
I don’t know how many people I have sat with over the years, who tell me about their messy lives – the chronic pain, the bad relationship, the financial disaster, the cancer diagnosis who have told me – I feel like God is punishing me.
Come with me to
Luke 13:1–5 (NIV)
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
The rabbis in Jesus’ day taught that illnesses were caused by the sins of the parents or of the person who was suffering. Because this man’s blindness is congenital—he was born blind—they would assume that the blindness was caused by the parents. But some rabbis taught that a child could actually sin in the womb, so perhaps the man was at fault after all. (Smith, 43)
Look what Jesus does when he is given the opportunity to endorse the prevalent cultural narrative. He does the opposite. He says there is no connection between these people’s sin and what happened to them. They are no more guilty than anyone else.
In John, Jesus is given another opportunity to affirm the story that the culture told.
John 9:1–3 (NIV)
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
According to Jesus, God is not in the business of balancing a cosmic checkbook. Jesus goes on to heal this man. If Jesus believed that the man’s blindness was fair punishment for his sins – or his parent’s sins – he would have walked away. Justice would have demanded it. – Instead, Jesus heals him.
Hear is what Jesus says on the sermon on the mount.
Matthew 5:45 (NIV)
… He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Listen to what James Smith has to say about this verse.
“Jesus is telling us an obvious truth: just as sunshine and rain are given equally to saints and sinners with no distinction, so God gives blessings to all without regard to their behavior. Terrible things happen to wonderful people. Wonderful things happen to awful people. We cannot look around the world we live in and build a case that sinners are punished and righteous people are blessed. Reality simply does not bear this out. There Is No Justice in This Life.”
I know that will not sit well with some of you. I think I know why we gravitate to this narrative of a punishing-blessing God. We like control. This narrative allows us the illusion that we can control our world. That is really appealing in a world that is so chaotic.
But Smith is saying is the same as Augustine said in the 4th century.
“We do not know why God’s judgment makes a good man poor, and a wicked man rich. . . . Nor why the wicked man enjoys the best of health, whilst the man of religion wastes away in illness. . . . Even then it is not consistent. . . . Good men also have good fortune and evil men find evil fortunes. . . . So though we do not know by what judgment these things are carried out or permitted by God, in whom is the highest virtue and the highest wisdom and the highest justice, and in whom there is no weakness nor rashness nor unfairness, it is none the less beneficial for us to learn not to regard as important the good or evil fortunes which we see shared by good and evil persons alike.”
I love his honesty. We don’t know why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, and it not really beneficial for us to ask why. God is still good and just.
I have sat with a lot of people who are asking the question why. The question comes up after a tragic death. It comes up with a bad diagnosis. It is not wrong to ask why. But here is what you need to know, you are not promised an answer to that question in this life. You remember Job. Everything went wrong in his life and he asked the question why. God never did give him an answer to that question.
Augustine goes on and says, “Rather we must seek the good things peculiar to the good, and give the widest berth to the evils peculiar to evil men.”
God does promise that those who love and serve him will know a peace and joy that those who practice evil will never know. We also know that if you are evil and abusive, your life will be devoid of love. Augustine is right we need to seek good and shun evil.
There is such a think as cause and effect in this world. That is not the same as judgement from God. Anger tends to illicit one kind of response where a kind word illicits another kind of response. If you punch a wall in anger and break your hand that is not a judgement from God, that is just cause and effect at work.
But our experience of life is that there are a number of random things that happen to us. Some of them good and some of them bad. And many times we will not be given the answer to the question why did that happen to me.
Why was I born in Canada with good parents? I get to live in a wonderful town and be a pastor of a good church? Why were friends of mine born in Cuba where poverty is close by and life is much harder? We don’t know why. I do know that God is not blessing me because I am good and judging them because they have been bad.
You and I both know that life is not fair. But here is what I want you to know, God is good – and when this life is over, God will make all things right. This life is not all there is. Justice will eventually be done. One day we will fully understand the whys of life. But we are not promised that now. But it is a lie to believe that “God blesses me when I am good and he punishes me when I am bad. So, when a bad thing happens to me, I must have done something wrong.”
Here is what Jesus said,
John 16:33 (NIV)
… “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
The story that Jesus tells you is this, bad things are going to happen to you. In this world you will have trouble. It is not because God is judging you. It does not mean that God is angry with you. It does not mean that God has abandoned you.
In fact, the promise of God is that God will be with you. He has given you the strength you need to walk through the things that you will face. You may not get justice in this life, but you will get it.
But if you buy into the lie that God blesses me when I am good and punishes me when I am bad, it will warp your life. If you think your life is good, because you have been good – you will know nothing of grace – and that is the foundation of our relationship with God.
You will also tend to look down on the homeless, the poor, the immigrant, because if they are in the state that they are in, they must be getting what they deserve. Few of us would say that, but many people treat the outcast in a way that show they believe the lie.
If you believe that the bad that is happening to me right now is punishment from God, it does a couple of things. It tends to separate you from God rather than pushing you towards him, which is exactly what you need when things are going wrong. If God is mad at me there is no way that he is going to answer my prayers – is what we think. The lie distorts our relationship with God.
If we think that God is punishing us, it will often cause us to question the goodness of God. If God is good all the time and he is punishing my kid for stuff I did, how can he be good?
If God is punishing me, then how can I trust him for the things that I need to trust him with? Buying into this lie pushes us away from God.
Now I wish I had a lot longer to nuance this. Does God ever judge us in this life? The answer is rarely, and he always lets us know that that is exactly what he is doing. One of only a very few references in the New Testament to judgement of God in this life is Ananias and Sapphira. You remember they lied to the church as it was newly being formed. But as all judgements from God – there sin was named by someone other than themselves before judgement was rendered. So, if you are sitting wondering if my heart disease is a judgement from God – has it been called out by a person that speaks on behalf of God.
Does God discipline his children? The answer is sometimes. However, the discipline is short term, and designed for correction of something going on in our lives. These things are corrective and loving, not disabling like many of life’s troubles.
Many of you know Lynda’s and my story. Lynda suffered with debilitating depression for a couple of decades. I as the spouse suffered in a different way. I had some pretty dark times that made me question everything.
You see someone you love hurting so deeply and all the questions that I have asked today went through my head. Is God good. Did I do something wrong? Did she do something wrong? Is God punishing us. The over arching question for me was – Why?
I learned that it is Ok to ask that question. I asked it again and again. But I also learned that God doesn’t promise to answer that question – and he didn’t. I also learned the truth of Jesus statement that “in this world you will have trouble.” But I also learned that when Jesus is with you, you can walk through deep darkness.
It was tempting to believe that God blesses us when we are good and punishes us when we are bad. That would allow me to make sense of the situation. It would also allow me to work on becoming better. It took a long time, but I finally got to the place where it is what it is, and I am not in control. The only thing I can do is do my best to draw near to Jesus because he is good even when life isn’t.
I know a number of you are going through things are causing you to ask the question why. It is not a bad question – but you are not promised an answer. I know a number of you are feeling really blessed right now. Don’t buy the lie that this comes from your own goodness.
When life is good, or when life is hard, you can trust in the goodness and love of God. God is good all the time all the time God is good.
If your circumstances have caused you to distance yourself from God, I want to invite you back. Know that God is for you, not against you. Know that Christ will give you what you need to walk through the life you have.
 Smith, James Bryan. The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series Book 1) (pp. 38-39). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Sermon Questions – The Lies we tell ourselves – Part 2
January 10, 2021 –
Lie 2 – “God blesses me when I am good, and he punishes me when I am bad. So, when a bad thing happens to me, I must have done something wrong.”
1. What are you celebrating this week?
2. What is your biggest challenge this week?
3. In the sermon James Bryan Smith story was told of his baby being born with a congenital disease, and a pastor asking, “Who sinned, you or your wife?” What was your reaction to that story?
4. Have you ever had a time where you felt like God was punishing you for something you had done?
5. Read Luke 13:1-5 – What does this story tell us about what the culture said about why tragedy happened? What does this story tell us about what Jesus said about the people who experienced the tragedy?
6. Read John 9:1-3 What does this story tell us about what the culture said about why tragedy happened? What does this story tell us about what Jesus said about the people who experienced the tragedy?
7. Read Matthew 5:45 – what does this tell us about life?
8. Why do you think people hold onto the story that God blesses me when I am good and punishes me when I am bad?
9. Augustine said (Paraphrased) Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people but it is not consistent. Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. We don’t understand this, and it is really not profitable to ask the question why?
How do you feel about that statement? Is it ok to ask the question why?
10. He also said that there is good that happens only to the good, and bad that happens only to the bad. So, we should try to be on the right side of that equation. What are some of those good and bad things?
11. Read John 16:33. What does this tell you about life. What does this tell you about God?
12. If you knew a person who had bought into this lie, what could you tell them that was helpful?