For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
I Corinthians 13:9-10
Every day, when I write these messages, I always begin with a verse of Scripture. Sometimes I know the topic and I try to find an appropriate Scripture passage to match the topic. Sometimes I start with Scripture and the topic evolves from there. Sometimes the Scripture quotes are long and sometimes only a few verses. The great thing about Scripture though is that we don’t have to read a lot of it to be impacted. Sometimes just a verse or two is packed with inspiration or information.
For the past two days, we have been reflecting on the topic of why bad things happen to people. We’ve discussed how God created the world perfect, and how the world fell through a lie. As a result of the fall, bad things happen. People get sick, they struggle, they stress, they fail and eventually they die. Yesterday, we discussed three of the root causes that result in bad things happening, even to the best of people. The first cause is our own personal bad choices, such as driving too fast, or eating poorly. The second cause is being victims of the personal bad choices of another. For example, someone else drives a car too fast and hits us, we become victims of the bad choice of another. As an aside, there is one question pertaining to this issue for which there is no answer. And that is this: Free will dictates that we are free to make good or bad decisions. If we decide to make a bad decision, such as a choice to hit our neighbor, we are free to do that. We can swing our fist and inflict harm on someone else. If God stops our fist from harming someone else, or saves someone from being harmed by our fist, that would be a “miracle.” God stops the law of nature and allows something out of the ordinary (extra-ordinary) to happen. If God stops our fist each time, then He has taken away our free will, we become robots at best, slaves to goodness and His control at worst. The question for which there is not answer is, why does God make a miracle sometimes and allow a disaster to happen at other times? I think that is one of those existential questions for which there is no answer.
Going back to the causes of bad things, the third cause is disasters of nature. I refuse to call them “natural disasters” because there is nothing natural about them. God created nature perfect. As a result of the fall, the nature has fallen and now there are disasters of nature, like hurricanes or tornadoes.
There is one more cause of bad things, in my humble opinion, and that is we are equal sharers of an imperfect nature. What does this mean? Let’s say a group of people are sitting in a room enjoying a perfect conversation. No one is doing anything wrong. Everyone is getting along great. Then all of a sudden, someone enters the room and sprays a lot of aerosols into the room, so that the once tranquil air is now filled with clouds of aerosol. The people in the room did not do anything wrong. Yet each person suffers a consequence of the spraying of the aerosol. Someone gets watery eyes, another gets a headache, another starts sneezing, another starts coughing, etc. Everyone suffers a consequence. This is what I call “equal sharers of an imperfect nature.” Others call it “the human condition.” Everyone in the room was equally exposed to the aerosol. However, each had a different consequence. If affected each of them in a different way.
We all equally share impure air and impure water, and we all come from imperfect gene pools. In these challenges we are all the same. Though some have more impure air or more impure water than others. The fact is that we all are exposed to the impurities of the world. And it will get each of us in a different way. Yes, the person who eats poorly is more likely to get heart disease. Yet even the person who eats perfect, if his genetic makeup is a family with heart disease, he or she is likely to get heart disease even if they eat well. Our exposure to impure air, impure water and impure gene pools means that some people will get cancer, or dementia, or heart disease or some other illness, even if they live the healthiest life. Eventually, whether we make good choices or bad ones when it comes to our health, we will all succumb to some disease, which will be the result of the impurities of the world. We will all die, no question about that. And we will die from one of four causes—our own bad choices, the bad choices of others, disasters of nature, or the human condition (being equal sharers of an imperfect nature).
Back to the verses from I Corinthians 13 and why I chose them today. They remind us that we are not perfect. Our knowledge is imperfect, our prophecy is imperfect, our decisions are imperfect, and even in the best of circumstances, our fallen world is imperfect.
When I was 19, my priest gave me the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner. I was going through a tough time in my life and lamenting why bad things kept happening to me. The book was helpful (though the author is not a Christian, so if you take out his ending and instead put in “Jesus Christ” it ends better). Inside the front cover he wrote, “Don’t be a victim, be a survivor. God doesn’t want victims of this world, but survivors of it.” I’ve never forgotten that. I suffer the consequences of my own poor decisions, the poor decisions of others, disasters of nature and the human condition. I have two choices. We all do. Be a victim of them or be a survivor of them. Most of the time (sadly not all of the time) I work at being a survivor of whatever life throws at me. Because as Saint Paul says, “when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.” In other words, when Christ comes, all these imperfections will pass away, and those who have survived will be rewarded. I choose to work for that reward. I choose to put my faith in that reward.
Why did the hurricane hit South Florida and not the Tampa area where I live? I don’t know. I don’t believe that God blessed us and harmed others. This is one of those questions that we’ll probably never know. Same is why does someone narrowly miss getting hit by a car (has happened to me before) while someone else is hit and killed. There are lots of questions that have answers. There are many that do not. The key is to avoid making the decisions that lead to bad consequences, and also having a “survivor” mentality for the things that happen for which there is no blame, other than a disaster of nature, or being equal sharers of an imperfect nature.
Lord, we do not understand everything because we are imperfect. Only You are perfect. You understand the things we cannot. Please Lord help us to be patient with the things we cannot control, to understand that sometimes there are no answers, to be survivors of the world rather than victims of it. Help us to do our part by making good decisions. Help us to be forgiving of the bad decisions made by others. Spare us from disasters of nature, and comfort us when we fall victim to them. And give us strength as we battle the human condition. Again, help us to be survivors and not victims, secure in the faith that when You, the One who is perfect comes, all that is imperfect will pass away. Amen.
Choose to be a survivor, and not a victim!