When Bad Things Happen to Good People
It was a lazy summer evening and my Grandmother and I were sitting out on her porch swing rocking back and forth. I would ask her one question after another and my Grandmother always had time to answer my questions and tell me stories. I was ten years old and I loved listening to my Grandmother’s stories. The porch fan was humming and whirring and the crickets were chirping in the warm night air.
The old woman living next door hobbled out on her porch and waved at us. “Has she always lived next door to you?” I asked my Grandmother. “No, she moved here thirty years ago after Blanche and Hugh left,” my Grandmother answered. “Tell me about Blanche and Hugh,” I begged. And that’s when my Grandmother told me a story I have never forgotten.
Blanche and Hugh had moved in next door to my Grandmother as newlyweds in the 1920’s and appeared to be deeply in love. They joined my Grandmother’s Presbyterian church where Hugh became a deacon and Blanche taught Sunday school and cared for the babies in the nursery. Times were difficult during the days of the Great Depression and homeless men often went door to door begging for food. And Blanche was always there to give a hot meal to each hungry person who came to her door.
Blanche was a good Christian: she and my Grandmother became best friends. As the years passed, the couple had three children and Blanche became a devoted stay at home mother. As time passed Hugh was becoming more successful in his business. He was making more money now and not always coming home at night after work. Blanche would wait up and worry.
My Grandmother began to hear fighting next door - Hugh yelling and Blanche crying. And when my Grandmother would see Blanche, her face would be swollen and there would be cuts and bruises on her body. Hugh had become involved with his attractive young secretary. He deserved a better woman than Blanche and he told everyone that she was insane.
Hugh was furious when the courts ordered him to pay child support. As soon as the divorce was final he arranged for a friend to “kidnap” the children for him so that he wouldn’t have to pay. One day the children were stolen from their mother right in their own front yard as they were playing. My Grandmother heard their screams as they were being carried away. Blanche ran frantically after the car in a futile attempt to rescue her children. But for years Blanche did not know where her children were or even if they were alive.
Day after day my Grandmother would watch from her window as Blanche walked the streets desperately searching for her missing children. My Grandmother cried and prayed with her. Divorce was considered a major sin, especially for a woman in the 1920’s and Blanche was not welcome at her church any longer. As a divorced woman many of her old church friends shunned her. Her children and her church had been Blanches’ whole life and now she was alone and destitute. Hugh spread gossip around that she had lost her mind. (a stigma at that time)
Years later Blanche discovered where Hugh had been keeping her children. It had been such a long time that she had been searching for them. With tears of joy running down her face, she ran to her children with her arms outstretched. But the children screamed and ran away from their mother, refusing to see her. Hugh had spent the years telling the children that Blanche was a bad person. That she was insane and dangerous. He had filled their young minds with fear and hate for the mother who loved them so. Blanche sank into a deeper depression and moved away. The story ended as my Grandmother told me that she never saw Blanche again after that.
My Grandmother stopped talking and for a long time we both sat together on the porch in the darkness not saying a word. Finally I broke the silence: “But you said that Blanche was a good person – a Christian?” “Yes,” she answered. “You have to understand that bad things happen to Christians and bad things happen to good people.”
The Bible tells us that if we are Christians we will have to take up our cross and follow Christ. (Matthew 16:24) Bad things will happen to us and we will share in Christ’s sufferings. We skip over those many scriptures that warn us that we will be persecuted – that bad things will happen. But they are there.
Jesus tells us: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of this world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.. Remember …a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)
Jesus seems to be saying that when we belong to Him we belong to His kingdom. He takes us out of this world and we don’t belong anymore. We won’t “fit” into the worlds’ mold and that is why we will be persecuted. He even tells us that sometimes we won’t even “fit” into our own families because of Him. (Matthew 10:37) Even our own parents or children may reject us. What a price to have to pay!
And when a rich young man asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered: “Go sell all you have and come and follow Me,” (Mark 10:21) The rich young man went away sorrowing. The price was too high.
It sounds like following Jesus is costly. There is a huge price to pay. Jesus seemed to be saying to the rich young man (and to us) “Go sell your security. Put Me first. First before career, money, reputation. Let your egoistic patterns pass away – all the things you cling to for meaning, success, validation. Give up the image you have of yourself – the ones others have of you too. Let them all die.” Jesus is telling us that all who follow Him will participate in change. And those who participate in change will participate in death.
Are we willing to let go and let God – die to self – participate in His death. Be crucified with Him? It’s a lot to ask. The rich young man wasn’t willing to pay the price. Are we?