There are two really odd stories in 2 Samuel 6. They raise up the age old question; why do bad things happen to good people? Or inversely, why do good things happen to bad people?
2 Samuel 6: 2-8
David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. Uzzah and the Ark and David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah.
Umm, excuse me, what? Poor Uzzah. Let’s keep reading.
2 Samuel 6: 9-11
David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
So in these two stories, we have a faithful young boy, who tries to protect the Ark of the Covenant, die because he touches it. And we have a man from a traditionally bad family (Obed-edom is an Edomite, descendants Esau) prosper because the Ark is kept at his house for a time. We even see this in the life of David. While David was at his most faithful, his best friend Jonathan was killed in battle, causing David great pain and sorrow. And while David was at his most entrenched in sin, the kingdom was experiencing one of its greatest periods of prosperity that the people had ever known.
What are we supposed to learn from this passage? If we read this at face value with an inerrant perspective, I guess it’s that God can do whatever God wants to do whenever God wants to do it…I guess? And while that may be true, I don’t know how helpful it is. We have to learn to read the scriptures deeper, or better yet, let it read us deeper. Face value is the easiest way to engage in bible reading, but in my opinion I don’t think it’s the best way. I know that may rub somebody with a traditionalist view the wrong way, but many of us want to engage with the Bible honestly and earnestly. Not begrudgingly, with a perspective that was forced on us.
Often, our tendency as humans is to “spiritualize” or “theologize” good or bad things that happen to us. And the writers of the Bible are no different. We have to make sense of the things that we experience. I don’t know if you remember this, but one of the dominant conversations in Christian circles after Hurricane Katrina was about how New Orleans had it coming because of the way the city engaged in Voodoo and Mardi Gras debauchery. We get this idea from (in my opinion) a poor theology called Retribution Theology. The simple idea that the righteous will prosper and the wicked will suffer. That God in real time enacts judgement based on our daily decisions. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe every action has a consequence. Every decision we make has an outcome, good or bad. But these two stories we read are exactly counter to Retribution Theology.
I wonder what Jesus would say.
As He said this, some people told Him the latest news about a group of Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem—a group not unlike Jesus’ own entourage. Pilate butchered them while they were at worship, their own blood mingling with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus: Do you think these Galileans were somehow being singled out for their sins, that they were worse than any other Galileans, because they suffered this terrible death? Of course not. But listen, if you do not consider God’s ways and truly change, then friends, you should prepare to face judgment. Speaking of current events, you’ve all heard about the 18 people killed in that building accident when the tower in Siloam fell. Were they extraordinarily bad people, worse than anyone else in Jerusalem, so that they would deserve such an untimely death? Of course not. But all the buildings of Jerusalem will come crashing down on you if you don’t wake up and change direction now.
As he went along, he (Jesus) saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Here’s what Jesus is saying. Things happen. Good and bad things happen to people in every walk of life. And I love the extra step that Jesus takes. This happened so that God would be glorified, the man would be healed, and so that the people who knew him would experience the goodness of God. Uzzah didn’t die because God was angry with him. He died from an unfortunate accident, and David mourned for him. And Obed-edom didn’t prosper because of his family history. He caught a lucky streak. So, this week when you blow a tire, or find $50 dollars on the ground, or find out that a family member has cancer, remember that things happen. And this very moment is an opportunity for you and everyone around you to experience the glory and goodness of God.