If God is so good, why is this happening?
A Baptist preacher will ask a question he says causes some people to lose faith. Then he will seek to answer it.
Why do good things happen to bad people?
The Rev. Jay Richardson, pastor of Ridgeland's Highland Colony Baptist Church, will address that question during a five-part sermon series that begins Sunday called: "If God is so Good: Questions about God, Evil and Suffering."
"The inconvenient truth is not that God has introduced evil and suffering into our perfect world," he said. "It's that we have introduced evil and suffering into his perfect world.
"We decided to do this series a number of months ago because we thought it would be something of interest, not just to the people who are in our church, but to people who don't go to church and may be struggling with the same issues," Richardson said. "(It) infers the question: Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world."
Richardson will also address the following questions: Why does God allow people to suffer? With all the evil and suffering in the world, how can God exist? Why doesn't God stop the suffering? And, is God so cruel that he enjoys seeing people suffer?
"It is perfectly OK to ask those questions," he said. "God is not put off by those questions. Those same questions were asked by the prophets. I always point people to what Jesus said on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'
"I'm not sure there are ways to satisfy every one of these questions, but there are ways to answer them," he said. "The greatest answer is that he sent Christ into the world as the answer to this evil and suffering. We've got to begin to develop a more eternal perspective that we are a part of a great narrative that will work out and will end injustice."
It's a topic pastors are often challenged with addressing.
"I have come to see that the real question needing to be answered is 'Why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?' said the Rev. Sammy Burns, who leads Grace Covenant Baptist Church in Columbus.
Good things happen because of God's grace. Bad things hapen because of man's sin and 'the resultant curse on the whole created order,' he said.
"Whatever intellectual problems we mignt have with, it, the doctrinal truth that cannot be explained away is - that God does all things, whether we call them good or evil," Burns said. "He is not the author of sin, but even uses man's willful sin to accomplish his holy purposes."
The Rev. Jim Adams III, a youth minister at Jackson's New Hope Baptist Church, said he is frequently confronted with questions about good and evil
"My answer is complex but simple," he said. "Almighty God designed a plan for us that did not include any 'bad.' It was all good. But the one additional thing God gave us was the ability to choose."
Bad things happen because we choose them, Adams said, a lesson dating back to Genesis.
The topic crosses all religions. John Berg, president of Iskcon Mississippi Inc., the International Society for Krishna, addressed it.
"In Bhagavad Gita (a sacred Hindu scripture), Lord Krishna describes the materialistic mentality as being proud, conceited, arrogant, harsh, angry and ignorant of the real self - the spiritual self that exists beyond this material creation," he said. "Thus, our suffering is a product of this material energy."
Berg said The Vedas (India's ancient scriptures) declare that humans are meant to rise above this inferior material nature and spiritually obtain eternity, bliss and knowledge.
"Everyone meets with good and evil in this world," he said, "and we all experience our share of happiness and suffering, but we are like fish out of water here. Our real home is where there is no evil or suffering, and this human form of life is meant for attaining that kingdom of God. Each of us must work for this.
"When civilization emphasizes this understanding, then its citizens will learn to transcend evil and suffering suffering and put an end to questions of insinuation that it is God's fault and not our own for the suffering we undergo and the evil we meet."
The Rev. Chuck Culpepper of Jackson's St. Alexis Episcopal Church recalls one evening while working as a fill-in chaplain at a local hospital in Austin, Texas, he was approached by a young man in his 20s who had received bad news.
"He had come to the hospital complaining of stomach pain," said Culpepper, who was a seminary student at the time. That afternoon, the doctors told him that he had stomach cancer, and that it was too widespread for effective treatment."
Culpepper said he waited with him until his family . arrived, and that the young man remarked: "In my neighborhood, there are guys my age who just hang out on the corner all day drinking beer and smoking dope. They steal and hurt people.
"I get up everyday to everyday and go to work to support my wife and two kids and do my best to be a good person. Why is God doing this to me?"
Culpepper said he told him that he didn't believe God was doing it to him. He said he told him he believed the cancer was the result of "natural causes, by the way the universe works, and that I believed that God hated his illness and his suffering."
Culpepper said he told him, "I didn't know why bad things happen to good people, but that in Christ we know that God shares our suffering and more, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
"It has been reflection on human suffering that has moved my spiritual focus from God as a general concept to a focus on Jesus Christ," he said.
"In Jesus, God participates in human suffering, including the sense of abandonment by God. Without the reality of God's suffering, the theological implications are, to me, unbearable."