In the aftermath of Sunday’s sermon in which the bottom line was God shakes you up to send you out a Good Shepherd stalwart approached me.
“Thank you for that sermon,” she said. “I always thought that it was Satan who gave me cancer but after the message I think maybe it was God doing it because I sure have become more vocal for him as a result. What do you think?”
I thought on the one hand, “Satan doesn’t have that much power,” and on the other hand, “God wouldn’t go to those lengths to shake you up, would he?” In other words, Satan’s not that strong and God’s not that mean. Those were my thoughts. My words were: “Woah, that’s a dilemma. Can I ponder that?” (Because I’m a think to talker.)
My Good Shepherd friend — and I got her permission before writing this post, just so you know — is not the first one to ask such a question of themselves or others. People even asked it of Jesus in John 9:
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. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Isn’t it interesting? We’re concerned with CAUSES (or causERS) and the Lord seems more interested in EFFECTS. Notice the passive voice in 9:3 — “this happened.” Which seems to be the assumption of the bulk of Scripture. Chaos happens. Storms come. Sickness arises. Crises call. On occasions we’re sure it’s God’s doing — usually if it involves discipline that WE needed — but most of the time such pain seems to be consequence of living in a world characterized from the very beginning by sin.
And here is where Romans 8:28 is so helpful:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.
Notice what it DOESN’T say before you dwell on what it does. It doesn’t say that all things are good. Nor does it even that God is the direct cause of all things, evil and good. It instead that God works for good in all things. In other words, he takes bad things — whatever their origin — and massages whatever good he can out of it.
So I suppose in the case of my Good Shepherd friend he takes the “bad” of cancer and massages the “very good” of a more vocal, more committed Christian out of it.
When I know that God is determined to work good effects out of really bad causes, I can leave the “who shook who?” question for the next life. In fact, I think I will.