Megachurch pastor and author Michael Youssef advised his congregation Sunday not to give in to “false guilt” when asking God “why” a tragedy occurs, insisting that “questioning God is OK.” But, he warned listeners not to believe that all tragedies are caused by sin, a mindset that he says is found in some churches today.
For the third sermon in a multiple-part sermon series titled “The Visible Hand of the Invisible God,” the 73-year-old founder of The Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia, insisted that “the storms of life” aren’t always caused by sin and warned against “pagan thinking.”
He warned that this type of thinking impacted disciples during Jesus’ time and some of His followers to this day.
Youssef directed the audience to John 9 when the disciples asked the Messiah why a man was born blind.
The disciples questioned Jesus if the man was born blind because he had sinned or if his parents had sinned. Jesus replied in John 9:2-3: “‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”
“How do you sin in the womb?” Youssef preached, reiterating that this man was born blind. “This type of erroneous thinking is even prevalent in some churches today. Jesus said: ‘neither him nor his parents.’ It’s just that God would be glorified in this.”
“We are very quick to draw conclusions about other members of the body. We are quick to pass judgment on other members of the body. We are quick to connect dots. These dots don’t even exist,” Youssef emphasized. “We are quick to tie all sin to calamity. That’s wrong.”
The Egyptian-born preacher said another thing that happens in society and culture today is that many are angry with God because of the tragedies happening in their own lives.
Frequently, he said, people in these scenarios might not even acknowledge God or believe in God. But in times of calamity, they become furious with Him.
“You’re fighting someone who doesn’t exist?” Youssef said he once asked someone he talked with who didn’t believe in God but was angry with God.
Over his nearly four decades of pastoring, Youssef said that congregants often take their anger out on him when they are angry with God.
In households, Youssef said he has noticed that when a family member is angry with God, they tend to take out their frustration on the godliest member of the family. This happens because anger is often accompanied by guilt, which causes them to act a certain way.
“All the anger that we see from people who are in a homosexual lobbying group or the transgender lobby; I’m not talking about those who are caught up in the lifestyle who really don’t know how to get out; I’m talking about those who are expressing anger, and they are hell-bent on teaching that stuff to our children as young as 5 years old,” Youssef reasoned.
“That comes out of guilt. That anger is out of guilt. They are created in God’s own image. And they know what they’re doing is contrary to creation. … And that's guilt; they don’t know it. Their burning with guilt,” Youssef proclaimed. “[They] show anger towards God because God is invisible, and they vent on God’s children — the believers — call them bigots, call them every name in the book.”
Sometimes, the guilt that people experience is due to the death of others, which “always” brings guilt to the surface.
When a loved one dies, Youssef said, people tend to wonder what they should have done or what they should not have done or what they should have said or what they should not have said.
The pastor has seen people grieve at funerals not only over the loss of their loved ones but also over their sense of “guilt and failure in the face of the inevitability of death for everyone.”
Youssef assured that “God is not the author of evil,” but he permits tragedy to happen to His Children to allow for His glory to be displayed. And while there are tragedies, he said, there are always blessings.
At the beginning of the sermon, he said he often finds that “blasting of life’s storms and the blessing of God sort of go hand-in-hand almost.”
“Life’s high and low, they are close companions,” he said. “The triumph and the tragedy often follow each other.”
He finds that life’s tragedies are always accompanied by blessings because “God specializes in restoring fragments of life into something more beautiful and more meaningful.”
“Most of us have been through some storms in life. Some have experienced storms that are very shattering. … And yet many of us can testify to the fact that with the blasting of the storms of life, there was a blessing from the Hand of God,” he said.
“Our God specializes in remaking beauty out of ash. Our God specializes in giving garments of praise instead of sackcloth,” he preached. “God is not through with any of us yet. If you’re sitting here breathing, God is not through with you yet. He’s got some great plans for you.” (33:58)
Youssef assured that people should not feel guilty when they question God.
“The question ‘why’ is very natural. … Don’t let a legalist tell you, ‘Oh, you should not question God.’ All of the great heroes of the Bible — it would take me a day to name them all — all have asked ‘why,’” Youssef explained.
In Judges 6, Youssef said that when the Midianites were desecrating Israel, Gideon asked God why He allowed this to happen.
And when Job, who was a man of wealth with a large family who had considerable influence, lost his fortune and family overnight, he asked God why he was not stillborn.
He added that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, questioned God while dying on the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?”
“Please do not put yourself under false guilt when you ask ‘why.’… When you see your highest dreams [being] crushed, when you see your highest hopes crash, when you find yourself hanging upside down in life as it were, [the] natural question is ‘why.’ It’s OK,” Youssef rationalized.
“This question pounds on the doors of Heaven a million times a second … from hospital beds, from lonely bedrooms, from graveyards, from pillows that are stained with tears, from places where individuals and families are experiencing their own private Gethsemane. And God hears them all, and God receives them all, and God answers them all.”
He said that God hears a person questioning “why” right away, and other times, He will not seem to hear the question immediately and will not respond for many years. Youssef said God will sometimes say: “wait until you come home to glory.”
While many people know, experience and live in God’s “abundant blessings,” the pastor said that life often takes a turn that is unexpected and often tragic.
Youssef said there have been several times he experienced an unexpected series of events in his life that was “God’s blessing” and then “God’s blasting.”
In March of 1964, Youssef said he went through a period when he turned away from God because he was running away from God’s calling on His life. Despite what he described as his “period of rebellion,” on March 4 of that month, Youssef said he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
“And the joy and the ecstasy — yes, it is ecstasy and the joy of my salvation — I was on high,” Youssef recounted. “In July of that year, my mother, who risked her life to have me [and] had prayed me into the Kingdom, died at the age of 55. … God’s blessings and life’s blasting.”
On another occasion in 1990, Youssef said his church had been active for a few years, and he had witnessed the “amazing blessing” of God, and many souls were coming to Christ every week. The church had been growing in “leaps and bounds.” But over two weeks, he watched his 15-year-old hovering between life and death in the Children’s Hospital Intensive Care Unit.
“And soon, God intervened and heard the prayer of the congregation, and He was so gracious to us, and she came out of [the] hospital, and we rejoiced in God’s blessing,” Youssef said. “The following week, we checked my wife into another hospital nearby for a serious operation.”
“You see, God’s blessings and life’s blasting go hand-in-hand. I’m never going to tell anyone how I prayed during those weeks because it will not edify you. … I didn’t even tell my wife. I didn’t tell anybody,” he continued.
“But the thing that I can testify to you today is that God did not fall off his throne because of my sorry prayer. He didn’t. He’s still on the throne,” he added.
Youssef said it was “amazing grace” that in the middle of his sorry prayers, he felt the love and embrace of the Lord in ways he never had before.
“It’s the grace of God,” he said. “God’s blessings and life’s blasting all at the same time.”