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Why Do Bad Things Happen?

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Mar. 06, 2013


It’s hard to believe that it’s been 4 months since Hurricane Sandy (or super-storm Sandy as insurance adjustors like to call it) hit our region - leaving a path of destruction and devastation the likes of which we’ve never seen.  For a majority of us, the storm left us powerless - figuratively and literally.  No electricity (with no idea when it was coming back on) Gas shortages with lines going miles down the road.  And while for a vast majority of us, life returned to a sense of normalcy within a week or two, there are many neighbors in NYC (especially Staten Island) and people up and down the Jersey coast line who are still trying to figure out where to begin to “rebuild” after they lost everything.  Sandy was the second “costliest” hurricane, with over $80 billion in losses.  The thing that was so jarring about that was how suddenly it came.  We heard a storm was moving up the coast.  Having heard Weather channel people freak us out many times before (like with Hurricane Irene last year) many really didn’t think anything too catastrophic would happen.  Then when it did we were really shocked.  The unpredictability of this natural disaster  - hitting with such devastating force understandably leads a lot of us to ask Why did this happen? 

It’s been almost three months since the horror of Newtown Connecticut where 20 little boys and girls and 6 of their teachers were murdered in one of the worst mass murders this country has seen or experienced.  The horror of that event is still unreal.  If you’re like me, I couldn’t even look at the pictures of those little kids and images of their funerals.  The senseless, monstrous, evil that attacked such innocence is just unacceptable.  And while people argue over gun control, mental issues, school safety; while we assign blame and point fingers the more we dig into this case, we find that we’re still left with the question Why did this happen?

We’ve seen and experienced a lot of troubling stuff that we try to speculate and question over… Things we want to prevent from ever happening again. 

Proposing theories and solutions that we hope will better prepare us to withstand whatever it is that come sour way, to various degrees of success.  But we’re still left with that question Why - Why do bad things happen? At the pictures of such devastation and destruction, the faith-filled person asks Why God? The non-believer or skeptic says yeah you who claim there’s a God, who supposedly is all Loving… explain this!!!

Why do bad things happen? - it’s a question that has unsettled people for as long as bad things have happened.. And we don’t have to look at some events of global attention for the question to be asked.  You have a loved one who is suddenly diagnosed with a major health problem… Your spouse’s company announces that things aren’t going so well after all and that more than likely their job will be lost…  Your actually trying - trying in school, trying in your social life, trying in sports, trying in life, and things aren’t working, aren’t going right… With the seeming randomness to these “bad things” that keep happening, where even those who go to Church and try to be good people aren’t immune or protected from being shielded from bad things- there’s more than a few people who ask another question - Well what’s the point?  Why worship a God who allows bad things to happen? Why mid-Lent am I giving stuff up if it’s not going to result in “good karma” or something so that things improve?

In hearing today’s Gospel, you might have thought “did I miss something?” It starts off talking about somethings that have occurred that we are not aware of.  A group of people come to Jesus with a horrific event on their minds that had just happened.  Biblical scholars aren’t quite sure  which horrific event this was.  Pilate, sentencing Jesus to die wasn’t his first hideous act, so sadly there’s a few possibilities that could be referred to here.   Whichever event is being referred to here, what we do know was that once again, these Romans who had occupied what had been the Jews’ land had brutally killed them in their own temple area as they practiced their own religious customs.  And so they wonder -  Why did this bad thing happened?  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus mentions another tragedy that had happened around the same time.  This incident though wasn’t caused by the evil commands of Pilate or enforced by the Roman army.  18 people had been tragically killed in a construction accident in a town called Siloam when a massive stone tower had collapsed on them.  So here was another terrible event that his listeners would be aware of… So just like we find ourselves post Hurricane Sandy and Newtown, have done for us, these events in the Gospel had distracted, upset, confused a lot of people. 

Some people in Jesus’ time - probably some of those in this Gospel story - assumed or believed that - well obviously God hadn’t protected them from these calamities because they must have sinned.  They must have done something in God’s eyes which resulted in him taking his eyes off of them.  

If you take anything from this Homily - If you only remember one thing,  let it be this – Jesus is VERY pretty clear to say how wrong this argument is.

Jesus expands that point by asking: Do you think the people who suffered Pilate’s evil - do you think the people who died in the construction accident were bigger sinners than those who happened not to be at that religious event or not on the construction scene the day of that accident?  

Jesus is trying to break that mentality that believes God is doling out punishments and rewards – that somehow the bad things that happen, the good things that happen in this life are directly attributed to our sins or our good deeds.  

We need that reminder today too.  Cancer afflicts good and bad people. There were some very innocent, holy people who were killed in those same earthquakes as some murderous criminals. And just because we’re at Mass today, doesn’t mean we’re going to ace that test, find that job or win the lotto tomorrow. 

So we’re back to the question of “What’s the point then?”  Does this mean that God doesn’t care?  If he’s not going to take care of us when we’re good and get even with those who are bad, why relate to him. 

Part of the problem is that we know in our own lives we sometimes are good, and sometimes not.  We’re not perfect, and when we make bad choices, when we do evil things, when we choose to sin, our sin affects others. 

Maybe not as dramatic as an earthquake killing 200,000 - but is it a matter of numbers?  My nasty gossip about someone that can destroy someone else’s self image can be pretty devastating to that person.    God cares intimately and personally for each and every one of us.  So he’s concerned about that one as much as each one of the 200,000.  So we don’t have the answers about earthquakes or Tsunami’s.  We cannot control the natural disasters, but we can control our own personal disasters.  Which is why God isn’t punishing us for our sins.   God hasn’t and doesn’t give up on us.

In the first reading today, God reveals himself to Moses. He says that his name is “I AM”. That can sound sort of confusing.  So another way of understanding the meaning of God’s name is I AM THE ONE WHO WILL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR YOU. The Jewish people’s history gives testimony to that. Yes, evil still happened to them - sometimes because of sinful, bad choices they had made, sometimes sinful bad choices made by others.  But in all of that they kept coming back to this promise that God would lead them out of affliction, out of slavery into the promised land. 

In Jesus, the God who has always been there for us comes a step closer—even MORE than a step… God becomes one of us - dwells among us - stays with us.

And Jesus isn’t denying that bad, horrific things happen to good and bad people.  But he’s clear that the evil isn’t coming from His Father and tells us how saddened by sin, saddened by evil God is that Jesus has come to save us from it.   So Jesus the Son comes to remind us we need to get things right ourselves.  That’s what this season of Lent is all about - to repent of the evil we’ve done; to turn away from our sin, our bad choices and turn back to God.    Maybe we need to experience God’s love through going to confession, acknowledging our sins and experiencing the healing that comes from that reconciliation as God removes those places of darkness in ourselves so that his life and light can once again be reflected through us. 

Then the God who has always been there for us - Jesus Christ, His Son who remains with us empowering and strengthening us with the Holy Spirit, can transform us from being stuck simply fixated on asking the unanswerable question Why do bad things happen to being His presence in the world with the call to action asking - What am I going to do about it…