Why Good People Suffer – Stavesacre (2002, (stāvz’ā’kər))

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Hot Topics series continues with a hard rock look at a tough question that all of us ask: why do good people suffer?

Stavesacre has been storming the scene of rock and roll since the mid-90’s and their sound has always been a shining gold star among the Christian attempts at loud music.  Their self-titled (or pronounciation-titled?) album was one of their most critically acclaimed and within it, they tackled this subject head on.  “Why Good People Suffer” is an honest and humble dialogue about what this perplexing question should cause us to really think about, listen:

i tell you what i want to
never more than what is safe
i show you what i want to
and the rest i hide away
sometimes i can feel myself leaning
towards the basest of things
am i just a liar? or a killer? or a beast?

should i sit in judgement?
do i have to judge me?

(chorus)
i couldn’t tell you why good people suffer
i couldn’t tell you why the bad ones run free
God showers blessings
on the righteous and the wicked
i only know that that covers me

do i feel like screaming
when the weak fall to the strong?
would i trade my freedom for a cheap thrill?
right for wrong?
and if i could just rid the world of all the evil within
would that include me?
i guess that would depend

who am i?

When you write a song about such a difficult issue it is important to set a tone.  Stavesacre is clearly out to answer a big question with another important question: Is there anyone out there who is really good?  Smartly, he points the finger at himself first.  There is an empathy for those who burn with the flame of injustice.  But the overarching theme to this song is that none of us are “good” enough to judge who should suffer and who should be blessed.

What does the Bible say about this question?

Psalmists write several times about similar questions that they have for God:  God, why do my enemies flourish while I am dying?  God, why have you abandoned me?  God, why is my righteousness not rewarded?  But in each case, the psalmist praises God despite still having unanswered “why” questions.  Job stands in the position of first-in-line, in terms of people who deserve to ask God these kinds of questions.  Yet, his summary of these things is to say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b)

How does Job get to this conclusion and is it the right one?  Let’s allow Apostle Paul to help answer this from Romans 9:

14 Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! 15 For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”

16 So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.  17 For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” 18 So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

19 Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.

Heavy words to go with a heavy song and a heavy question.  The summary of it all is this:  Why does God allow good people to suffer?  First, none of us are good on our own – not good enough at least to have the right to even ask God this question (see verse 20).  Second, all of us deserve to be called “vessels of wrath”, BUT God has chosen out of His love and mercy to show us His grace.

He shows His grace to the entire world every day by holding back the full potential of evil and destruction.  Things could and should be a lot worse.  He also shows His complete grace to those who believe in His Son.  He promises to all true believers an eternal future of perfect joy and a pain-free, tear-free life with Him in paradise.

These answers don’t necessarily make us feel better about today’s troubles.  Sometimes, we even feel like shouting back at God and saying, “Hey!  I need more from You!  More answers and more help!”  Feeling this way is OK.  The Psalmists and Job and others obviously did the same thing.  Acting upon those feelings is a different story.

Just remember one thing: at the end of the day, God is more merciful than we could ever imagine.  He is not cruel, He is holy.  You and I wouldn’t really want a God who didn’t stand up for Himself.  Today, people suffer (good people and bad people alike).  Tomorrow, the heavens will open wide and Jesus will call home His own.  That is a real hope to cling to, no matter how many “why” questions are left unanswered.

What I Thought I Wanted – Sara Groves (2004, The Other Side of Something)

 

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This is my Thanksgiving edition of Truth In Tunes.  I am excited for the holiday season!  I relish the challenge of being calm and reflective upon the meaning of these holidays, despite the barrage of media and retail circuses around me.  As a result, I intend to offer several posts about my favorite Christmas songs starting after this week.

Today, the theme is gratitude (of course) and for this entry I am enlisting the help of long time Christian music artist, Sara Groves.  Musically, Groves’ music has always been hit or miss for me; but lyrically, she stands apart as one of the brightest, and most authentic voices out there.  Her songs teach and preach in a way that often times cut through the usual cliches and token phrases we hear so often in Christian music.

The Other Side of Something is one of her best collection of songs, and “What I Thought I Wanted” cuts to the heart of the art of being thankful:

I passed understanding a long, long time ago
And the simple home of systems and answers we all know
What I thought I wanted, what I got instead
Leaves me broken and somehow peaceful                                                                              I keep wanting You to be fair, but that’s not what You said
I want certain answers to these prayers, but that’s not what You said

 

 

 

When I get to heaven I’m gonna go find Job
I want to ask a few hard questions, I want to know what he knows
About what it is he wanted and what he got instead
How to be broken and faithful…                                                                                            I’m broken and grateful
I want to be broken and grateful
I want to be broken, peaceful, faithful, grateful, grateful

It’s true, this song is more about being grateful amidst the trials of life, instead of being thankful for turkey, family and our nation’s historical roots.  But, for the believer, thanksgiving and gratitude are key marks of our faith that go well beyond an annual tradition.  If we aren’t challenging ourselves to cherish gratitude throughout each day of the year, then Thanksgiving becomes hypocrisy.

I’ve always been struck by how much contrast there is between this holiday and how we as a society operate the rest of the time.  We are a thin-skinned people, with our consumer-centric mentality and our heartless lawsuits, etc.  Complaining, competing and debt dominate our decisions and opinions; yet, these things are all gratitude killers.  But then, for one moment in the year, we all appear to drop our guards, gather together as family and friends, and reflect on what we have….At least, until the football game starts and the midnight madness trip to the stores rekindles our regular state of being.

I know, I’m such a killjoy, right?  Look, I’m guilty of everything I’m talking about here and so I point the finger at me first.  And, no, football and shopping are not inherently evil.  Let me just say that comparing my life and my world around me to the life of Job (as Sara Groves talks about in this song) brings about a stark contrast that results in conviction for me.  In the fray of his trials, which will always be more extreme than yours or mine, Job was able to say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  But blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job was broken yet grateful.  We are all going to experience trials in our life where we go through brokenness.  Who knows, maybe you are there right now and this Thanksgiving feels a little awkward or scornful for you.  You probably don’t really feel like being thankful, despite the face that you put on for others.  Well, I’ll tell you a little secret to everlasting, authentic gratitude: it’s Jesus Christ.

Colossians 2:6-8 puts this secret into the form of a promise and an encouragement: “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powersof this world, rather than from Christ.

This isn’t a state of gratitude that we can accomplish instantly or even overnight.  But in time, God’s promises, fueled by His unending well of grace and love for us, will prevail and we will see that authentic gratitude is the only real thing left in our hearts.  Let Jesus chip away at the gunk around your modern heart and mind, so that this reality of peace and thankfulness that only comes through Him can begin to reshape you.

What we thought we wanted in this life is nothing compared to what we have in Christ our Lord!  Give thanks for that!