(Why) do bad things happen to good people in Luke 13? video discussion

The Sunday lectionary reading for the Third Sunday in Lent in Year C is Luke 13.1–9, where Jesus is questioned by his disciples about disaster bought on people by the wickedness of another, and Jesus extends the discussion into the question of disaster brought on by natural calamity. Though pertinent at the present moment because of the stories dominating the news just now, this touches on a perennial issue in relation to suffering.

See below the weekly discussion between James and Ian as we reflect on the wider issues that this reading raises for us as we think about disaster and hardship, as well as details of this text, what Jesus says, and why Luke records it carefully the way it does.

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37 thoughts on “(Why) do bad things happen to good people in Luke 13? video discussion”

  1. Surely a big part of the sadness of living in a fallen world is not only that bad things happen but that their occurrence is randomly and unfairly distributed? (In fact we know this unfairness begins at the moment of conception where the genetic inheritance we receive at that point will determine, to a greater or lesser extent, how one’s life may turn out). We might suppose that recognition of this unpalatable truth could turn us into stoic miseries; but I think the reality is that it is a truth which, once accepted, sets us free to get on with life without the hindrance of resentment or even bitterness: a life spent in always wishing things were better is going to be lived with dull resignation, while a life spent using to the full whatever talents one has been given is likely to be much more fulfilling.

    And, lest those who enjoy good luck in their avoidance of bad events fail to grasp the whole picture, Jesus warns that the inevitable result of human sinfulness will be death – that their good luck will not last forever – and that the need for repentance applies to them along with everyone else!

    Regarding Matt Redman’s song, is it not the case that the Christian’s delight in his or her relationship with God should be constant irrespective of our mortal life’s events? You might say that such a thing, while true, is simply at variance with what we experience. In which case it’s our Christian experience that is in a lifelong process of maturing towards understanding and living out what is true: Matt’s song should become ever more true to experience as time goes by and if we continue to grow in faith. And that’s one good reason why our churches need the full age range of people – our range of experience means that we can sing all the songs!

  2. Tuesdays are busy for me and I haven’t had time to listen to Ian and James today. I’ll do this tomorrow. For now, to put this `bad things happen to good people’ in an appropriate context for what is happening in the world right now, I’ll share the contents of a circular email we received at work today.

    Condolences– Yulia Zdanovska

    The International Mathematical Union Committee for Women in Mathematics
    Committee (CWM) deeply regrets the death of 21-year-old Yulia
    Zdanovska, who was a silver medalist at the European Women’s
    Mathematical Olympiads (EGMO) in 2017. Yulia was a brilliant young
    mathematician with a successful future ahead of her. The young woman
    refused to leave Ukraine amid the war and, working as a volunteer, died
    in a fire caused by a Russian missile that hit her residential area in
    the eastern city of Kharkiv. CWM expresses its sympathy with the family
    and the math community as a whole, united in mourning and honoring Yulia.

  3. Interesting that there was no mention of Job in the video or in the previous blog post (just one passing refence to the book). Eric Ortlund (see below) has pointed to the demythologised reception history of the book and the role of malevolent spiritual evil, and his own excellent analysis he describes as a “minority report.”

    Also—do you know any study that has done a word study on the differences between the Hebrew/Greek words translated as “sin” and “evil.” We seem to have merged the two concepts in our minds?

    Ortlund, Eric. Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in The Book of Job. Edited by D. A. Carson. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021.
    Sneed, Mark R. Taming the Beast: A Reception History of the Behemoth and Leviathan. Studies of the Bible and Its Reception 12. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022

    • Colin, thanks for referencing books on Job. I’m tempted to order them. Is there a synopsis that will give me a clue to the content ?

      • Hi Steve,

        Eric Ortlund agues that the Behemoth and Leviathan are “symbols” of (I would suggest metaphoric representations of) cosmic evil—and that Job only makes sense with that perspective. That the overwhelming ANE evidence and the internal evidence within the OT is that chaos creatures were considered to be representative of cosmic evil.

        That Job differed in his reaction to the two speeches by God because God was explaining two separate things: Firstly God’s rule over creation (Job 38:1 – 40:5); and secondly the battle with cosmic evil (40:6 – 41.34). Ortlund sees that this battle with cosmic evil explains the dysfunctional chaotic suffering of our world.

        However, you will not learn much about Job from Mark Sneed’s book. His sympathies are with our demythologised reception history—that “[God] is directly responsible for creating evil.” (Sneed, 77). But Ortlund points out that God heavily criticised Job and his comforters for accusing him of evil acts (Ortlund, 166)—it is surely a form of blasphemy?

        I would argue that God created the spiritual realm with free will, as he did with Adam, and both chose the wrong path. To stop free will—if you think about it—would mean stepping into our world to stop every wrong act. Impossible to imagine how that would work?

        Hope this is helpful,

        PS Sneed’s book is £67, Ortlund’s £16. You decide!

        • Many thanks Colin,
          You have saved me lots of money.
          I’m with you on Leviathan, the monster of the absu. Only God can take on the coiling serpent.
          I seem to hold a similar view to Ortlund.

  4. To stop free will—if you think about it—would mean stepping into our world to stop every wrong act.
    I have often seen it suggested that sin is a consequence of giving man free will. This seems to imply that in the resurrection we will either still sin or we will not have free will.

    • Some would ask the question why didnt God create what He is going to recreate in the new age in the first place, where there was no sin or evil? But I suppose that’s a mystery.

      • PC1 – and the `stock answer’ (which probably doesn’t make a lot of sense) is the `so much more’s of Romans 5. That is, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ does not simply restore us to what we were before the fall; the `so much more’ indicates that the result is immeasurably greater – for reasons that we cannot grasp right now and which will be made clear to us in the next life.

        Either we buy that or we don’t – but that’s the general theory.

  5. Yes Colin,
    Thanks for the heads-up on Ortlund’s book. I have a couple of the NSBT which I’ve found helpful.
    Christopher Ash’s commentary on Job seems to be highly commended also. I don’t know if the books differ in their theological underpinnings and direction.

    As it happens, “The Way of Wisdom” by the Kellers from the 13 March is considering Job, under the heading “God’s Order Hidden.”

    13 March HIDDENNESS: PART 1
    “Modern readers may be appalled at this story, yet it shows in narrative form, the asymetrical relationship of the biblical God to suffering.
    “All the bad things are Satan’s idea. God does not actively generate the evils and suffering.
    ” God didn’t create a world with disease, disaster and death in it.

    “The chaotic forces of evil were released when the human race turned from god and the fabric of the world began to unravel (Genesis 3:17-19)
    “But on the other hand, God still is absolute control. God sovereignly limits and directs suffering – on the man himself do not lay a finger.

    “Both these truths are necessary for us to face ans survive the troubles of life with peace.
    “We need to know that God in no way God enjoys seeing us in pain, and yet we need to know that there is a plan behind it…..

    March 14 HIDDENNESS: PART 2
    “God allows Satan only enough room to accomplish the very opposite of what he wanted to accomplish. Satan resents Job and wants him discredited and exposed as a fraud.

    “God hates evil and permits into Job’s life only the evil that will completely defeat Satan’s intention.

    “Yet at the end, Job is never told the plan. He never learns why he suffered.

    “*The Lesson:* God hates evil and suffering and has a plan that will defeat it, but we can hardly see any of the plan. It is hidden too deeply for us to see much of it at all…

    ” The people around Jesus’ cross also shook their heads and said, “I don’see how God could bring anything good out of this.

    “If you knew that your suffering was glorifying God before the angels, demons, and powers and principalities of the world, would that change your attitude toward it? How?

    Prayer: Lord, my human pride makes me feel that if I with my reason can’t perceive any good reason for this suffering, then there can’t be any, Give me the humility that will bring me the peace that comes from trusting you. Amen.”

    • Geoff,

      Thanks for the recommendation of the Christopher Ash commentary—I have just ordered it. Ortlund cites the 2014 version 28 times—I have checked each one and they indicate that Ash supports his own cosmic evil perspective of Job.

      I suspect the Ash commentary is more devotional and it seems it will be a good addition to my library.

    • As a point of comparison John Walton’s commentary on Job is based on this mindset:

      “Classical theologians from Augustine to Aquinas began their theology with God and when they were finished found little room for the demons … [but] unfortunately, many conflict theologians … [believe] that there are such things as Satan and demons. ”

      John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton, Demons and Spirits in Biblical Theology: Reading the Biblical Text in Its Cultural and Literary Context (Eugene, Oreg.: Cascade, 2019), 95, 226

  6. As an aside, It occurred to me that the last messenger to report calamity to Job was in fact Satan himself. Not content with the effect the previous reports had had he intervenes and makes up a story that his children have perished. How often calamity is embellished with a single lie in the hope that it will push us over the cliff; or in Jesus’ case off the pinnacle. The truth is that in times of testing a tiny lie can go unnoticed in a wave of misfortune. Check it out, I’d be interested to see if any agree with me.

      • There seems to me to be a lot of deliberate ambiguity in Job. I think the first messenger mentions the children but is ambiguous about their safety. The last messenger says they were dead but the use of florid language ‘a whirlwind’ seems just too dramatic, in short, a lie. If I’m right The book of Job offers some insights into satan’s subtle methods. Subtlety thrown in along with the slings and arrows. Disinformation.

      • Hello Colin,
        There is a shorter version of Ash’s commentary, on which a series of Sunday services was based for the youth as part of all age worship. It was prerecorded over zoom, if I recall correctly, at the beginning of covid.

        I think Ash is now part of an Anglican congregation, if that matters to anyone. If I also recall correctly, he did a week’s teaching again over the internet, at the beginning of Covid, from Keswick as part of the Convention. It may be available on their website.

      • Colin,
        Is it only an ambiguity if the book is framed as chronological sequence? Whereas, Job 19:17 can relate to the time before their deaths.

      • Colin – I confess that I am as thick as a whale omelette. But the ESV, which you get when you click on the blue link in your comment says `I am a stench to the children of my own mother’. Doesn’t that mean that Job is a stench to his brothers and sisters (not his children)? Unless (of course) Job had an Oedipus complex.

        Or have the ESV translators altered the original text a little so that it isn’t self contradictory? The way the ESV have done it – there doesn’t appear to be a contradiction.

        • I think there are some possible ambiguities in the text – but I think I am with you, Geoff, and Ortlund, that Job lost his children.

          • Colin – thanks for this – and especially directing us towards the Ortlund commentary (I also find this recommendation useful).

            Job is a real person (and not an allegorical character) as Ezekiel 14:14 makes clear. Daniel was a real character – contemporaneous with Ezekiel. Since he puts Noah, Daniel and Job together in the same sentence, we can infer that Noah and Job were also real characters.

            I’m not really into fooling about with the texts. Of course there are deeper meanings, but these only ever enhance the narrative and aren’t in contradiction to the narrative.

            Job is (of course) completely key to understanding the trials and tribulations that believers have to endure – and the reaction of his three companions – which is essentially evil – to assume that Job is suffering adversity as some sort of punishment from God because of his own sin – does look depressingly typical (as evidenced by some of the comments on the previous post). This is dressed up as `…. because we’re all bad’ and other such variants.

        • The Hebrew says ‘the sons [or children, ‘sons’ sensu lato] of my body’. Thus the ESV is wrong. NIV ‘my family’ is just vague. The difficulty arises from mentally adding ‘all’ to Job 1:13. Clearly one can’t do that with the servants in Job 1:15, because after they are killed, there are more servants in Job 1:17 (and Job 19:16). Job 19:17 is another reason not to do it in Job 1:13.

          The NET footnote shows just what liberties translators will take when they fee like it:
          The text has “the sons of my belly [= body].” This would normally mean “my sons.” But they are all dead. And there is no suggestion that Job had other sons. The word “my belly” will have to be understood as “my womb,” i.e., the womb I came from. Instead of “brothers,” the sense could be “siblings” (both brothers and sisters; G. R. Driver and G. B. Gray, Job [ICC], 2:168).

          • Steven Robinson – thanks! That makes sense – and very informative! So the problem is basically adding `all’ to Job 1:13 when it isn’t there. Those of us who don’t know Hebrew or Greek really are at the mercy of the translators!

          • Thanks for the info. If I lost my children and somebody said “there there, never mind. You can always have more” I would think them cruel or totally without empathy. Surely it is easier to read into the story 5hat Job was lied to than to believe 5hat a new set of children were given to him. The lie was perpetrated because Job’s weakness was his need to make atonement continually for them. Perhaps the prohibition to not lay a finger on his body extends to the fruit of his loins?

          • Steve – yes – that makes sense. This was always a difficulty for me with the book of Job – I couldn’t see how it really could be considered a triumph in any reasonable sense; he had lost his family – and getting a replacement really looked like tiny compensation.

            It didn’t occur to me that he had been lied to! but it works – and makes more sense than the alternatives.

  7. Jock,
    “Because we’re all bad”
    Interesting that God doesn’t say to Job, “you are suffering because you’re a son of Adam.”
    Job wasn’t identified as being in the line of Cain or faced with something he did once as a naughty child that made him eligible for persecution by the court of heaven.
    Makes me think that some people are of ‘the Household of faith’ but don’t know it; they just need to hear the good news.
    Example : a lost coin. It is a coin but it’s lost. Those destined for wrath, of the line of Cain, were never lost , they are bottle caps rubbing alongside the lost in the dirt of the kitchen.
    Ps. I still think Job’s children returned to him. They too were lost but were reunited into the family of the justified.

    • Steve – yep – exactly what I think. And we have every reason to believe (from the text) that Job’s children, like Job, were in the number of the Saviour’s family – so if not in this life, then surely in the next.

      • Just want to add another whimsy…
        The sign of the broom is salvation to lost coins but a sign of terror for bottle tops.
        The sign of the crook is salvation for lost sheep but a sign of terror poked into a fox den.
        The sign of the spade to lost treasure…

  8. Thanks Jock for agreeing with me. I think Steven’s comment is very helpful. All we need now is a theologian on-board. I wrote a short story about Job’s children so I’m quite keen to get some help ….should I ever publish!

  9. Job


    “The story of Job conveys the highly nuanced way that godly wisdom should approach suffering…

    “It does not give pat answers which are *moralism* and *cynicism*.

    “The moralist says to the sufferer, “Somehow there is unconfessed sin in your life. You need to repent and get right with God. If you live right, your life will go right.”…The purpose of suffering is simple — it’s there to bring you back to God. (Sometimes that be be so, but not always).

    ” The cynic says, “Life is unsatisfying. Then you die. If there is a God, he’s out to lunch. You don’t owe him anything.”…the purpose of suffering is simple –there isn’t any!

    ” Godly wisdom understands that God has purposes but they are deeply hidden.

    “This keeps us from the smugness of the moralist or the hardness of the cynic—and from the despair that both approaches can bring to the sufferer.

    “Have you reached the point in your life where suffering no longer calls God’s character into question? Do you trust him, even in your pain and discouragement?

    From (March 15)The Way of Wisdom by the Kellers

  10. I think that Job does teach us something very important about how to deal with adversity – which is to get into discussion with a bunch of incredibly brainy friends, who talk very eloquently.

    Job’s friends role up. They are flabbergasted to begin with, but after a while they get used to it and start talking. What follows can hardly be described as a pub discussion – the whole thing seems to be done in iambic pentameter and every single word and phrase that is uttered is incredibly weighty and very well judged.

    Also – I wonder how long the conversation took – especially since, from what we learn, Job probably wasn’t in the best psychological state for a prolonged involved intellectual discussion.

      • Thought that’s what you, we all, are doing! Why else comment?….
        Carl Jung
        Sig F
        Then the LORD answered…”I will question you, and you make it known to me…
        Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it”…Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind…
        Chapter 42 Job answered the Lord…
        and said I didn’t really know you… now I see you, therfore despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

        Pointing forward to the true Job, who truly knows the Almighty Father, the true righteous -suffering- servant, despised and rejected, Satan defeater, where on the cross, evil was defeated by evil in the triumphant, victorious death and resurrection of Jesus. With a greater glory, to birth a new family in him, bringing many sons to glory.

        • My favourite part of the story is when God intervened. Oh, if only we could see the Lord lifted high all the time to shut our mouths. >-<

          But just saying so is saying too much.


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