In a review in Sunday’s New York Times of a book about cancer, there is the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who was visiting Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 and survived the bombing. Burned and half deafened, he went home to Nagasaki and survived that blast too. He died in 2010 at the age of 93 of stomach cancer, possibly triggered by a diet of salted fish.
The moral, the reviewer suggests, is “You never can tell.” Indeed you cannot. Life is filled with ups and downs. This summer, I drove up north with a good friend to help him do some work. On our way back, in the Central Valley on the 5, a car just blew past us. My friend said, “He’ll get his.” Which led to a conversation about karma and justice and whether we get what we deserve or not.
My friend suggested that what goes around comes around. That those who do ill will suffer somehow – “He’ll get his” in other words. I asked him if he thought he was a good person (He is a very good person!) and he said, “Most of the time.” I then asked if he thought he would be rewarded for the good he does. He said, “Not necessarily.” So, I replied, “Only evil is repaid, but not good?”
We did not come to agreement in the end, but it raises the question of why bad things happen to good people, and why good things happen to bad people. I wish the universe were constructed so that justice would naturally and inevitably occur. But it isn’t. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, the Bible claims, and that is true.
So, it seems to me, we have a chance to rectify things and work for justice, reward good, and punish evil (or at least try to correct and counter it). It means we make this world better or worse by our actions.
Twelve years now, and counting, since September 11, 2001. There is still terror in the world, fueled mostly by religious fundamentalism. Jefferson said we hoped to counter every kind of tyranny – even that of our own making. It is up to us. Things will happen – you can never tell – but we are not powerless.
So let’s get to work.
Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson