Common Grace - Part 1

Theme: Good people or bad people?

This week’s lessons teach the doctrine of common grace, and how it should lead everyone to the praise of God and, through saving grace, to faith in Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Isaiah 26:10


A number of years ago a New York rabbi named Harold S. Kushner made a splash in the publishing world with a book entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It was on the New York Times “best sellers" list for months, and its thesis was that bad things happen to good people because God is not omnipotent and things simply get away from him. At the end of the book Kushner advised us to forgive God and, like him, just try to get on with life and do the best we can.

How different from what the Bible teaches! In the thirteenth chapter of Luke there is an incident from the life of Jesus which has no exact parallel anywhere in the New Testament. People had come to Jesus to ask Harold Kushner's question, citing two contemporary examples. In the one example, the soldiers of King Herod had attacked some pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem from Galilee and had killed them when they were in the very act of offering their sacrifices at the temple. In the other example, a tower in the district of Siloam collapsed and killed eighteen apparently innocent passers-by.

The fact that the victims seem to have been innocent in both cases was an important part of the question, because the questioners wanted to know why tragedies like this can happen if God is good and if he is in control of things, as we want to believe. Perhaps he is not a good God. Or is it the case—such things are possible—that these apparently good people were actually secret sinners and that this was God's way of striking them down for their transgressions?

For people accustomed to reasoning as most of us do, Jesus' answer was startling. He replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?...Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

What Jesus was saying was that when we ask why bad things happen to good people we are actually asking the wrong question. The question is not why bad things happen to good people but why good things happen to bad people. For we are all bad people, and good things happen to us every day of our lives. And in profusion! The real question is: Why didn't the tower fall on us? Why weren't we struck down by Herod's soldiers? Indeed, why did God allow such wicked persons as ourselves to awake this morning, get out of bed, go to work, and add to the mushrooming misery of the world?

The answer is grace, of course. God is a gracious God. He is gracious even to sinners. But the answer we are seeking goes even further than these statements. In theological language what we are talking about is common grace, the fact that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45), and the question we are asking is why common grace is so very common. We are asking God's purpose in allowing so many good things to happen to bad people?


Study Questions:

  1. What are some problems with the ideas behind Rabbi Kushner’s best-selling book? How does its doctrine both of God and of humankind compare with Scripture? Instead of wondering why bad things happen to good people, what should we be asking?
  2. What is common grace?

Reflection: What are some ways in which you have recently observed the reality of God’s common grace?

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