Nineteenth-century British judge Charles Bowen proved that he was as dire a poet as he was great a jurist. But his ditty has profound theological implications still, perhaps even as his case law becomes history:
The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
Bad poetry, yes, but lots of good theology there. Think of recent floods and hurricanes: were Christians any better protected than non-Christians? Did the waves hit only homes owned by bad people? No. Homes were hit, regardless of the spiritual status of the owner.
Christians often suffer worse precisely because of their faith, especially if they live in countries where Christians are persecuted. Being a believer in many parts of the world today can cost you your job, your liberty, and quite possibly even your life—though, as the apostle Peter reminds us, persecution should be for our faith, not for being obnoxious (1 Pet. 2:19–20).
Thankfully most of us in the West don’t not face a tap on the door from the local police, although if Britain is any measure, the future status of practicing Christians is no longer something we can take for granted. Still, there are theological issues that Bowen’s ditty encapsulates.
Our secular world puts in in terms of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But in Don Carson’s essential work How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, it’s clear such phrasing is theologically illegitimate. Spiritually we are all sinners, which is why we need salvation in the first place. We are not good. We are fallen, every one of us.
And we live in a fallen world.
It’s a world in which it rains as much on God’s people—the just, or as we would prefer to put it, the justified—as on everyone else. If we live in a flood plain (as is the case with large swathes of rural England), we will get flooded if it rains too much, whether we’re Christians or not. If we live in areas of the United States prone to being hit by hurricanes, the same applies.
On the micro level of individual lives, it’s no different. There’s sickness and death, and sometimes they seems inexplicable to us. But these things too are consequences of the fall. As with Job, who didn’t know why he was suffering, much seems inexplicable to us.
Our Constant Help
While pondering some of these things, my Bible reading happened to be Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
This is who God is. This is our final destiny. We are never alone. We are ultimately kept from all evil, and we have eternal life. God is personal, and he is the Lord who made heaven and earth. The God who created the universe neither slumbers nor sleeps, and he is my keeper. Eternity really is forevermore.
Angry at God?
The default human reaction can be anger—we think we make ourselves feel better by kicking the poor cat. But does our anger at God actually change our circumstances? One could argue it makes things worse, as we have anger added to our pain or sorrow, and anger at our only hope. Without God we are truly sunk.
My wife wanted to see the centenary of her father’s birth in August 2018. She died in June. In one sense she missed it, and of course I had to celebrate without her. But her father was also a Christian, and a friend cheered me by saying, “Well, that means they were able to commemorate it together.” And that’s true. Nothing brings my wife back. But one day she and I will be reunited, her suffering and my sorrow eternally over. That is not feeling, but fact.
Let’s by all means get angry against sin—the ultimate cause of floods, hurricanes, and death. But let’s praise the God of our salvation, without whom everything would be truly hopeless. We suffer here on earth, but we’re never alone. We don’t need an umbrella.