I have to admit: I find my own answer a bit difficult to swallow when I see some of the horrendous things that happen in this world. This is one of the hardest questions asked of Christians over the centuries. Much better minds than mine have had trouble with it, as well. Many of the Psalms are variations on this question (examples: Psalm 6, 13, 74, 79). Still, this wouldn’t be a “Tell Me Why” website without at least making the attempt, so here goes…
Jesus Leads the Way
Of all the worst possible things that have happened in history – Holocaust, hurricanes/earthquakes/tsunamis, wars aplenty – what is the absolute worst? How about the death by torture of God’s own Son? He not only allowed that to happen; He planned it! And the Son, Jesus 1, agreed with it, even while acknowledging how devastating it was (Luke 22:39-46). Why? Because our salvation was worth it to Him.
God’s Goals vs. Ours
Our goals usually include life, health, safety, comfort, fulfillment 2. God’s goals are different: He wants us to be close to Him, moving ever closer until we join Him in Heaven (John 14:1-3, John 14:20). Sometimes having too much of the stuff we want interferes with that goal. So He takes the stuff away, for our own good. Or, He may cause, or allow, something that hurts in order to get our attention, to get us to reverse direction and turn back to Him.
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.C. S. Lewis
Choices and Consequences
Some bad things are a direct result of our own choices. This doesn’t have to mean that God throws punishing lightning bolts at us. It could be as simple as “If you jump off a building, it’s going to hurt”. That’s just cause and effect built into nature. This could be said of other poor choices we all may be tempted to make: drugs, alcohol, overeating, under-exercising. It’s also true in the moral realm: lying, cheating, gossiping, stealing. Predictable unhappy results simply follow.
Side note: I think that much of what is seen as God’s “rules” – the Ten Commandments, etc – are His telling us not to touch the hot stove. He’s trying to protect us from getting burned. He’s guiding us in the right paths that will lead to the best chance for happiness, if we will only trust Him and listen. (See Psalm 119 for 176 verses of how God’s law leads us toward the best life.)
Punishment and Redemption
Sometimes, the bad stuff really is punishment. For instance, after centuries of warnings, God allowed the Israelite people to be completely conquered and hauled off into captivity for 70 years. His goal, however, was still their good, their redemption. When they returned to their land after the Babylonian exile, the Israelites were (finally!) completely cured of their idolatry. They became emphatically determined to never again come close to worshipping the idols of their neighboring cultures.
Broken and Sinful
Some bad things are the result of other people’s choices. We are all sinners, rebels against God. Our world is broken because of our sin and rebellion. One symptom of that is treating others badly, and they suffer as a result. We may be on the receiving end (and may also sometimes be on the transmitting end!) of sinful choices. God only allows what He plans to use for ultimate good (Romans 8:28), but He still respects the free will that He gave when He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). He doesn’t just smack-stop us from doing all of the dumb, even evil, stuff that occurs to us.
Training and Building
Then again, some bad things have no direct cause that we can see. Illnesses and accidents just seem to happen out of the blue. Why would God allow things like that? Maybe, at least sometimes, it’s because we need to encounter and survive hardship in order to become stronger. Think of a child having to do homework, or an athlete training hard. The seemingly-bad-at-the-time experience is actually for our benefit.
The book of Job is the story of one man who did everything so right that God bragged on him, yet he still suffered horribly. Through the suffering, he proved that his trust in God would stand the test, and come out stronger in the end.
God Shines Through
John’s Gospel tells of another possibility: Concerning a man who was born blind, Jesus was asked “Who sinned, him or his parents?”. The answer was “Neither, but this happened so that works of God might be displayed in him”. Then He proceeded to heal the man and restore his sight. (John 9)
Another similar demonstration of God’s glory was when Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus was dying. He didn’t go to heal Him immediately. Instead, He waited until after Lazarus was buried, when everyone knew that there was no hope. Then, Jesus went…and raised him from the dead! Still, even knowing the miracle that would happen in just a few moments, Jesus cried with the family for their pain at the (temporary) loss of their brother. (John 11)
The Apostle Paul was one of the most prominent leaders in the early church. He founded churches throughout the Roman Empire; about half of the New Testament books are his letters to those churches. But even he had problems: See the long list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. He also had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” (no one knows exactly what he meant) that he says God gave “to keep me from exalting myself” in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. When Paul asked for the problem to be removed, God’s reply was “No, my grace is sufficient for you”. In the end, Paul was able to write:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.Romans 5:3-5
It will be Worth It, and He’s with us Through It
God can use any of these bad things to result in something unexpectedly good. We look back and realize what that experience has contributed to our lives. Maybe we are better equipped to face future challenges, or maybe we now have what it takes to help someone else going through the same trial that we did.
Sometimes, though, we won’t be able to see the benefit until we are looking back from Eternity. And regardless, right now it just plain HURTS!! But He asks us to trust that:
- He loves us, so…
- He wouldn’t allow it without good reason, and…
- He’s right there with us.
Footnotes and Scripture References
- (who is also God)
- Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”
- If you read the Psalms mentioned at the start of this post, you’ll see that all of them end with statements of trust and/or praise. The Psalmist had learned these lessons also!