Once upon a time, I stood in a line at the grocery store with a fruit tray in my hands. It was the only item I had. When I got to the cashier, she asked me, “Fun party today?”
“Not really,” I said feeling a sudden lump in my throat. “A friend lost her baby and we have a memorial service today.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “My prayers are with your friend.”
“Thank you,” I said. She rang me up and I slid my card through the credit card machine. As I waited, I saw her hesitate to speak, but then, I guess she decided to go for it.
“Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to us?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Who doesn’t?”
“It’s because God is trying to teach us a lesson. We’ve all done horrible things and he’s showing us through the hurt how far we’ve fallen.”
I remained calm but responded by not looking up at her and snatched back my card. “Ma’am, you are mistaken,” I said. I took my receipt and left the store with the sticky fruit platter.
Of course I didn’t believe what she’d said! To suggest that somehow the mother of that child or her husband had done something to deserve God’s wrath never sat well with me. But even now, years later, I wish I’d had a better response for that very confused woman. I don’t think I knew enough about my faith, then to tell her.
Yesterday a friend’s father, who happens to be a Pastor, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his brain. I went to see them in the hospital. One would think that his faith could be faltering now. He could have been asking, “Why would you do this to me, Lord? Haven’t I been your faithful servant? Haven’t I loved you enough?”
But no. He wore a smile through what he’d described as a “level 8 pain headache” and held my hand and allowed us to pray over him. This man’s faith, and the faith of those who stood around him brought tears to my eyes because he knows the secret:
God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen, as they have since the beginning of humanity, because Satan tries so hard to break our connection with God. He uses the means of this world to shake us.
The very first book of the Bible points to our vulnerability through the story of Adam and Eve. All he had to do was whisper, “Does God really love you? If He loved you, why doesn’t he want you to be like Him? Eat the fruit and you can be like him!” And they folded. They forgot, they already were like God. He created us in his own image after all. Satan wants us to believe that our goodness is somehow performance based. How many times are we shown in life, “Do ______ and you’ll receive ______.”
As parents we tell kids, “Get straight As on your report card and we’ll give you a boost in your allowance.”
As children, we’re told, “Santa only brings presents to well-behaved children.”
As individuals, we’ve come to believe, “If I make no really bad mistakes in life, I’ll go to heaven.”
It’s a good thing that God doesn’t buy into that policy. Because Mother Theresa, St. Nick and even the Pope Himself, couldn’t earn God’s love. So please listen to this next part because it’s really important: God’s love for us is free. We can do nothing to earn it.
I heard it put so beautifully the other day by a pastor called Jim Baker, “Our report card will never be good enough. But it doesn’t matter because we are judged on Jesus’s report card, not our own.”
That’s right folks! He took all of our brokenness to the cross with him and paid for our bad grades himself. Then he gave us the credit for all his straight As and perfect scores in his AP classes as well. God did that for us! If he wants to teach us a lesson, he isn’t going to do it with heartache. HE DOES IT WITH LOVE, JUST AS HE DOES ALL THINGS!
Satan tests us through illness, through our fragile egos, he tests us by natural disasters, he tests us through our relationships with each other. And beware: he tests those of us with the strongest connection to God the most. He knows when the world sees an impactful person lose faith in God, it can make that many more people lose faith as well.
A friend of mine lost her husband to pancreatic cancer this year. She has always been so devout in her love of God, and this devastated her. I remember during a playdate years ago, we had the most beautiful conversation about our faith. So I know how hard it was for her to watch her husband fade from this earth in such a horrific way. But she had prayed for a miracle up until his very last breath. Satan has been working on her every second since to loosen her bond with God. But she wakes up every day, looks her children in the eyes and carries on the only way she knows how, with love and grace in her heart.
Spiritual warfare is a real thing, friends. We see it every day.
If God wanted bad things to happen for us, He would not have sent his son to us, a man born to poverty, who likely knew hunger at times in his life, who had no worldly riches, who lacked a formal education, but still was steeped so richly in his identity of God, that he entered the temples, and boldly claimed Isaiah’s prophecy, healed all the sickness and brokenness he encountered in the world and died a criminal’s death on a cross for doing it. And he begged God to forgive those who persecuted him. This friends, is our ultimate Christmas present. And all our “good behavior” could never earn something that powerful.
So here’s the thing, Jesus already defeated Satan. Satan just hasn’t gotten the memo yet. He still thinks he’s going to weasel his way into our hearts and somehow win this war. He’s working on me. He’s working on you. He wants us to fail. But we need to show him our faith in God is bigger. We accept that beautiful gift of grace Jesus bought for us on a cross thousands of years ago. We won’t allow that evil one to ruin that gift, no matter what he throws at us.
When we understand our identity in God, we will not be shaken by the evil one, only stirred by the Holy Spirit.
Merry CHRISTmas to all of you, friends. Peace be with you.