When bad things happen to good people. A couple of weeks ago, I got e-mail from a friend I’ll just call by her nickname, Hammer. Hammer moved to upstate New York this summer, after having lived in a small Illinois town outside of St. Louis her whole life. Hammer e-mails her friends a lot, and she’s probably the wordiest and most vocal person I know, myself included. Hammer told me (and others) about a longime friend who’d been going to our church for the past six months, who wanted to join our small group, but didn’t know any of us.
Her story was that of a fairly typical twentysomething Lutheran growing up in the 90s: Didn’t catch every break, made some good decisions and some bad decisions. She was successful, especially considering her age, but maybe a bit lonely. She didn’t have very many Christian friends.
I took it hard. Hammer described this girl, and I was about 99.8% certain I knew who she was talking about. Six months and no one close to her age had talked to her? That’s just wrong. So that night, after Wednesday service, I walked up to her. I didn’t care how uncomfortable it felt. I held out my hand and hoped I wouldn’t sound like a bumbling idiot.
“I’ve seen you around but I’ve never met you,” I said. “I’m Dave.”
She smiled. “I’m Emily,” she said.
My hunch had been right.
I had no idea how to invite her to Bible study, but that was fine. Hammer’s mom was right there. “Emily’s interested in your Bible study,” she said. I waved over to some of my cohorts, who came over. We made some quick introductions. My friend Brenna offered to meet Emily at church and drive with her to our next session, since it was in a part of town she wasn’t familiar with.
The next Friday, she was there. She fit right in. Like I said, her story–at least what I know of it–is virtually interchangeable with mine and with most Christians my age.
I flagged her down the following Sunday. She thanked me for inviting her, and said she’d been a bit nervous at first. She didn’t know what to expect–would she find a Lutheran monestary, or would she find people like her?
“You found people like you, right?” I asked.
She smiled. “I think so.”
“Good,” I said.
I saw her again Wednesday. She mentioned her back had been bothering her that day, and she asked if we were meeting Friday. I said yes. I asked for her e-mail address so I could e-mail her directions.
“Good,” she said. “What’s your phone number?”
I know I gave her a shocked look. She chuckled. “In case I have any questions about the directions,” she said.
I smiled and gave up the digits.
On Friday, my phone rang. No, it wasn’t the Charter cable guy I talked about yesterday. That was later. It was Emily. She told me she’d spent the day on the couch, her back had been acting up, and she wouldn’t be able to make it.
I told her we’d make sure we said a prayer for her.
“I was just about to ask if you would do that for me,” she said. I didn’t get the impression she was used to people volunteering to pray for her. Then I asked if she’d gone to see her doctor. No, she said, because a doctor would just give her pain pills, but she’d been to see a chiropractor. Good answer. She said he took x-rays, and he didn’t do anything else but shock her. She said that helped for a little while but she didn’t know what that was for.
“That’s to stimulate the nerves,” I said. “Once he gets the x-rays, he’ll probably pop you with this springy thing to move some bones back in place.” Those are technical terms, by the way. Well, the only technical terms my simple mind can understand.
“So you’ve been to a chiropractor before?” she asked.
“Oh yeah,” I said. I described the procedures a little more. It’s uncomfortable sometimes but helps. Hopefully I put her mind at ease a little.
“Would you do me another favor?” she asked timidly at the end of the conversation. I thought she was going to ask me to build an addition to her house or something.
“Sure,” I said. (What can I say? I’m a sucker.)
“Would you say a prayer for my brother too? He’s moving, and left today, and I just want him to be safe.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “We’ll do that for you.”
I’ve heard thank-yous that sincere before, but they’re rare.
I prayed for both of them that night. I prayed for her and for her brother right when I hung up the phone, then later during the Bible study. That night, before I went to bed, I prayed again. I asked for her to be up and around on Saturday.
Sunday morning, I heard the answer to that prayer. We got to the point in the service when we pray, and one of our Seminary students led the prayers. He included Emily. “That’s nice,” I thought. Then I heard the rest–“Emily, who was in a car accident early this morning.”
Details were sketchy. My phone rang later yesterday afternoon with more details. She’d seen her chiropractor Saturday and had been feeling much better, so she went out. “Early” meant much closer to midnight than 8. She rolled her car and spent some time in ICU.
But she was alive. That was the important thing.
The answers did nothing but raise more questions. Why this? Why now? What did I accomplish by praying for her?
I don’t have any answers. At least not any good ones.
Obviously, the evil one sees her as a threat. Seeing as he’s seen 12 billion different people and has a long memory, something in her rang a little too familiar, he saw an opportunity to take her out, and he tried.
God could have prevented it by keeping her on the couch one more day. I don’t know why He didn’t. He didn’t have to say yes to our requests as quickly as He did.
I could spend all day second-guessing Him like I second-guess Joe Torre and Bob Brenly. It wouldn’t accomplish anything productive. It’s better to look to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 28 instead. It reads: “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”
Including car crashes.
What good can come from this? She’s about to find out what she’s made of. She’s likely to reach deep down and find something she never knew she had.
Why do bad things happen to good people? For the same reason bad things happen to bad people–bad things happen to everyone. They usually seem to make bad people worse, and good people better.