Several years ago Harold Kushner’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease and the family learned that this child would only live until his early teens. The Kushner family was faced with one of life’s most difficult questions: Why, God? Why did this happen to us?
Years later, Rabbi Kushner wrote a straightforward, elegant book dealing with the doubts and fears that arise when tragedy strikes. Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People is a classic that offers clear thinking and comfort in times of sorrow.
Of course, humor permeates all of life, and not long ago I saw a meme on Facebook, posing that same question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The satirical answer? Because good people do stupid things.
I’m not sure that this is not just a satirical statement. It has some truth to it. Bad things happen to us for a variety of reasons – and one reason is people are stupid.
You may have heard of the Darwin Award – every year a news group selects people who have exhibited extreme and verifiable stupidity.
Here are some examples:
1. When his caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in
would-be robber James Elliot did
something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the
trigger again. This time it worked. Long Beach, California
2. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from one hospital to another had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The hospital staff fell for this. The whole staff! The deception wasn’t discovered for 3 days.
3. Alfred had trouble with termites at home. He had heard that natural gas was dangerous, and figured it would be a good, low-cost way to fumigate his house. So he shut the doors and windows, turned on the gas, and spent the night in a nearby camper trailer with his wife. The next morning he stepped out of the trailer, took a breath of the crisp, cool air, and walked over to his house.
Alfred probably should have put out the cigarette when he opened the door.
The force of the explosion blew him off the porch and into a nearby creek, knocked out the town's telephones and electricity, and blew the doors off a church. It rattled windows and nerves six miles away.
Alfred was evacuated by helicopter to the burn unit at a nearby hospital.
To make matters worse, his house was uninsured. And, apparently termites live in closed-in spaces and need very little oxygen and can apparently survive in an atmosphere of natural gas.
The reason these are funny is because they happened to someone ELSE.
There seems to be an epidemic of stupid behavior in our society.
Now that doesn’t sound very nice does it? My Mom would have hated to have heard me call anyone stupid. So let’s put it in more polite terms – there is an epidemic of UNWISE behavior!
That’s the way the Bible puts it. The Scriptures never say, “don’t be stupid,” but it is always telling us to “seek wisdom.” And when you get right down to it, these are essentially the same thing.
I hope none of us have blown up our home in an effort to get rid of our termites, but all of us have done things that were unwise.
We let that suspicious mole go unattended for far too long, or ignored the lump that turned out to be cancer. We failed to save money for our kid’s college or our own retirement. We bought things we could not afford and charged it on credit cards that now overwhelm us. We failed to study for the test that we know is going to be given tomorrow morning or we slacked off of a project that was due at work. We did not attend to the needs of our husband or wife and we let our marriage suffer. We text while driving, engage in unsafe sex, leave the purse on the front seat of an unlocked car because we are going into the store for only a moment… unwise behavior.
James asks the question, “who is wise among you,” and when he does he does not expect many hands to go up with people saying, “me! I’m wise.” All of us need to stop acting so stupid! Or – I should say, all of us need to start acting more wisely.
So how do we secure wisdom?
First, James talks about wisdom as coming from above. All true wisdom is from God. We might get bits and pieces from self help books, or from inspirational motivational speakers, but primarily wisdom is something we secure from God.
Throughout the Bible, there is a difference between the wisdom that God gives and the wisdom that the world gives.
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)
In fact, Paul went onto say that those who depended on the wisdom of this world were doomed to perish, but emphasized that need to look toward God for wisdom. (1 Corinthians 2:6-10).
The first step in gaining wisdom is not looking at the wisdom of the world, but rather looking toward God and asking the Lord for wisdom.
This is what King Solomon did. Remember him? Old Testament king who is known as a person of great wisdom. How did he become wise? He asked God for wisdom.
At the very beginning of the book of James, in the very first chapter, James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Now, mind you, to say that the first step is in asking God for wisdom is not a statement of the obvious. Most of us don’t ask God for wisdom. Where do we look for wisdom? We look for it in the world around us.
You want wisdom, then look for it in our nation’s role models, our athletes and movie stars – and there you will find rampant drug abuse and broken marriages.
You want wisdom, then look for it in our music and movies – and there you will find violence and words of hatred.
James says there are two kinds of wisdom. One is the kind the world gives, and the other is the kind God gives.
James says (3:15-16), “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
The Second Step In Gaining Wisdom Is To Put Ourselves Aside and To Put God First.
One of the characteristics of godly wisdom, according to James, is that it does not insist on having its own way! As James put it, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield…” How often have we met someone who insists on having his or her own way?
The wisdom of the world is “me first.”
The wisdom of God is “God first.”
So many of us make unwise choices because we are living a self-centered, rather than a God-centered life.
A self-centered life is not just one in which we simply put ourselves first, but one in which God is eclipsed by our own stardom.
In a self-centered life we see ourselves as the main character in our story, the great star in our decades-long drama. We relegate God to a supporting role whose influence is minimal.
We have taught, and been taught, that everyone is special and unique. After all, there is only one me, and this is my life. The reality is that our lives aren't even about us. God is both the author and the central character of our story, for our stories are just a part of his story.
As Christians we do not live or work for ourselves, or for any other person in this world. We live to glorify and to enjoy God.
When we live for God, we find our actions to be guided by true wisdom from above.
The Third Step In Gaining Wisdom Is To Develop Wisdom By Acting Wise.
Throughout the book of James, there is a sense in which actions help mold the character. It was James who wrote, (James 2:17), “Faith without actions is dead.”
James also writes early in his book, (James 1:22-24) “Do not merely listen to the word of God. Do what it says.”
For James, the inner character of a person is demonstrated in the outward conduct of the person. But the reverse is also true. The outward conduct of a person’s life helps mold the inner character of that person.
James says in our New Testament lesson, (James 3:13) “Who is wise among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
To put it another way, wisdom is a skill, and you develop this skill through practice.
We read about those people who win those annual Darwin Awards and we are amazed! I mean, a man who blows up his house in an effort to get rid of termites? But we all do things that are unwise.
We feel a lump, and we don’t see a doctor. We keep buying things we do not need and cannot afford and we are swamped with consumer debt. We text and drive. We drink and drive. So many things we do are unwise.
In the New Testament book of Ephesians, we read, “Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise,” (Ephesians 5:1).
James teaches us in his book that we find wisdom by asking God for it, by putting God first in our lives, and by putting into practice the wisdom that God provides.