A mother of four returns home from church to find her husband’s mangled car, just a block from home. As she enters her house, the phone is ringing. It is the hospital telling her to come quick, that her husband has been in an accident. She asks, ‘How bad is he,’ only to have the nurse on the other end of the line insufficiently cover the receiver while asking another nurse, “Shall I tell her?” At that moment, she knows he is gone. She struggles, wondering why he wouldn’t stop drinking, how she will tell her children their daddy is gone, and how they will ever make it through.
After the ending of a tumultuous relationship, a sweet, kind-hearted girlfriend takes him back just one more time. She gives him everything he asks for, including the money in her purse, only to have him return a few hours later to ruthlessly and repeatedly stab her face and body, leaving her lying in a pool of blood. She is found, arms folded, eyes turned heavenward, dead, on her apartment floor.
I stand beside my mother’s/her great-grandmother’s casket as the young girl in front of me pours out her heart. Addiction, abuse, and bad lifestyle choices have caused her to lose custody of her three children, and the only way she could attend the funeral was by obtaining a special pass from rehab. She tells me how she has made up her mind to change, and I tell her how proud of her I am. Just a few weeks later, she is released from rehab and everyone thinks she is finally turning her life around. Then someone makes an offer she can’t refuse, and she decides to go back for one more fix. Something goes terribly wrong, and her daddy finds her dead the next morning, lying on his bathroom floor.
This stuff isn’t made up. This is real life. Each of these is true and have touched my life and the lives of those I love in a deeply personal way. My mother was the young widow with four children; my niece, Victoria, was the kind-hearted girlfriend; and my great-niece, Ashley, was the young mom in rehab. I could go on and on. There are plenty of stories. You could probably share many of your own. The human condition is something we all have in common. Everybody hurts. We all cry. Things touch our lives, and we are left reeling, sometimes to never fully recover.
So, the question is, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
Why does God look on while such things happen? How can a loving God allow such pain to be inflicted upon His creation? We hear of horrific happenings every evening on the nightly news, and we find ourselves asking the age-old, still-unanswered question again and again: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
In spite of the frequency and number of times it has been asked, the question remains unanswered because to answer this question one would have to be able to see into, know, and fully understand the mind and reasoning of God. We know from Scripture that God is high above us, and His thoughts and ways are beyond what we have the capacity of comprehending.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8,9
“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him?” I Corinthians 2:16
“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:1-4
From these verses, we conclude that we can never fully answer the question of why God allows bad things to happen to good people, but as we look at a broader view of Scripture, we can see that God’s original and never-faltering nature is and always has been purely and entirely good.
Our hearts cry, “Why, God?” when bad things happen because deep in each one of our spirits, we believe that God is good. We believe He is sovereign, that He is in complete control, and that He can prevent bad things from happening. So, why doesn’t He?
This world, when first created, was a perfect place where nothing bad ever happened and all was ideal. Even the concept of bad did not exist. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect paradise and named it the Garden of Eden. God said that everything He had created was good, and He gave them one command, “Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” They made the conscious choice to disobey that one command, choosing evil over good, and when they did, they performed the very first exercise of free will. The choice they made was a bad one, and for the first time, the reality of bad was introduced.
In the beginning, bad was never a part of God’s plan. His intentions for His creation were and always will be, all good. If Adam and Eve had obeyed and stayed in the center of God’s original intentions, bad would not have been introduced to their world.
Accompanying disobedience to the command to not eat from that one particular tree, was a consequence. If they ate of that tree, life would forever change for them, and instead of living forever in an Eden on earth, they would die. Not just a natural, physical demise, but also spiritual death. Their sin would separate them from God and create a barrier to their fellowship. Because of their disobedience, they were driven out of the utopia God had prepared for them into a world where Adam had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow and Eve had to bear children through agonizing pain.
We can see that their punishment was self-inflicted and caused by their own unwise use of the free will God gave them. It certainly wasn’t God’s fault at all. He gave fair and ample warning as to what would happen should they use their free will to disobey.
Adam and Eve lived out the punishment for their sin, but their errant actions didn’t just affect them. How wonderful it would have been for the human race if the repercussions had stopped there! In reality, because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, each one of us is born with what Bible scholars call the Adamic nature. The nature of Adam. The propensity to sin and perpetuate the bad choice and disobedience that started in that garden all those years ago. No man is an island. Just as their actions affect us and every other person ever born, our own actions, whether good or bad, affect other people.
Free will is not selective. It is universal and innate. Free will when mishandled breeds bad choices. Bad choices generate bad consequences and repercussions that spill over into the lives of others causing never-ending ripples that affect not only the present but future generations.
In all of the three examples I shared, we can see that unwise use of free will caused the suffering of others. In each of these situations, God could have intervened. He could have prevented the grief and heartache of the sufferers and victims, but in order to do that, He would have had to override the free will of another person. He gave us free will, He CAN override it, but if He did, it would no longer be unbridled and authentic free will. God obviously did not want to fill the role of puppeteer over our lives. He created us with a unique will and the power to choose, and He will not revoke that decision or forcefully control our actions.
In situations like the ones I’ve mentioned, it isn’t hard to see what caused bad things to happen to good people. But, what about the young wife, Sophia, who dies of congenital heart disease? What about another young wife, Melissa, who dies of cancer just months after her wedding day? What about the Christian blogger who suffers horribly from Rheumatoid Arthritis? We are always looking for a cause, aren’t we? When nothing makes sense, and we aren’t able to reconcile what is happening, our first impulse is to blame the One Who could have prevented it.
Joseph in the Old Testament was ruthlessly betrayed by his eleven brothers, sold into slavery, forced to move to a foreign land, falsely accused of a crime, thrown into prison, completely cast aside, and forgotten. At the end of his suffering, God elevated him to the position of 2nd in command in the nation of Egypt. When he faced the traitorous brothers who were the cause of his deep trials, and they feared severe retribution from him, he said this, “Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:19,20
All along, God had a plan and was in the process of orchestrating it in and through the life of Joseph. The fact that Joseph could not see that plan through eyes behind prison walls did not negate the fact that God had and was executing said plan. God always has a plan. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” This doesn’t say that all things will BE good, but it does promise that all things work together for good. Not just the good things, but the bad things, too.
It is like a jigsaw puzzle. When you open it and lay out the pieces, you see bright pieces that instantly make perfect sense and are immediately recognizable. A fuchsia-colored flower, a puffy cloud, a fallen leaf. But, there are also many ugly pieces that seem to make no sense and seem completely out of place and unrecognizable. As time goes by, you put the pieces together, piece by piece, only to see that the ugly pieces had a purpose, too. What looked like a black, pointless piece turns out to be a gentleman’s hat or a hinge on a garden gate. Its purpose is crystal clear once the pieces are fitted together. The beautiful, identifiable pieces sitting right next to the ugly, mysterious pieces in perfect harmony, just like the puzzle maker intended. When the last piece falls into place, you stand back and look at the full effect, and then and then only, does it all make perfect sense, and you realize that every piece was a part of the plan all along.
I don’t understand why the young wife with congenital heart disease had to die, was never afforded the opportunity to live out life with her husband, have babies, or grow old. What I can say is that before she died, she asked him to promise her that he would pursue a musical career. He faithfully kept that promise, and it opened the door to a ministry that is blessing people all over the world. In the aftermath of his deep loss, he wrote a book called, “Hope in Front of Me: Find Purpose in Your Darkest Moments” and started a homeless ministry in honor of his wife, Sophia, called “Sophia’s Heart“, now known as “Better Than I Found It.” His name is Danny Gokey.
I don’t understand why the young wife had to die from cancer, why she was never given the opportunity to live out her dreams or why God chose not to heal her and spare her life. What I can say is that her young husband drew deep inspiration from his pain and wrote a book called, “I Still Believe: Discovering Hope and Healing in the Midst of Life’s Deepest Valleys” and songs like, “There Will Be A Day” and “He Knows.” I hear they are making a movie about his life that will undoubtedly touch the lives of millions. His name is Jeremy Camp.
Joseph Scriven’s first love and proposed bride drowned the day before they were to be married. He moved from his home in Ireland to Canada, fell in love and became engaged a second time, only to endure the heartache of her death just a few weeks before their scheduled wedding. His sorrow propelled him to pour his life into helping the handicapped and destitute. When his mother became ill, and he had no funds to return to Ireland to be with her, the immense anguish in his heart became the birthplace of, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.”
After Horatio Spafford lost his young son to pneumonia, much of his business was destroyed in the Chicago Fire; then a ship that carried his four young daughters collided with another ship, and all four of their lives were lost. Then he wrote the song, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
Maybe instead of asking the question of why God allows bad things to happen to good people, we should be watching to see what happens afterward. Maybe we should start looking for the good things that were birthed from the point of pain. Countless survivors of bad things have overcome their circumstances to go on and share their stories and let others know they are not alone. Their testimonies have resonated with millions who have found hope in the midst of their own heartache.
My Daddy always told me that character is forged in the crucible of pain. He spoke from places of deeply hurtful personal experience and was one of the most humble, kind-hearted, giving, unselfish, compassionate people I have ever known. When faced with life’s challenges, we are given the choice of allowing the anguish to make us bitter or better. My Daddy chose the latter, and it resonated through everything he ever taught me about life.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3,4
From this verse, we can conclude these things:
• Our God is the God of ALL comfort. His comfort extends to every possible bad thing that can ever happen. We do not walk alone. Whether it be divorce or painful separation, the death of someone dear, the loss of a job, a stifled or unfulfilled dream, the loss of a pet, disappointment, embarrassment, shame, betrayal, abuse, shock, financial distress, depression, addiction, anxiety, despair, suicidal temptation, abandonment, ex-communication from a denominational sect, slander, or any other life event, His comfort covers it all and is equally effective in every situation.
• Our God is the Father of mercies! He is merciful to us. The love of God comforts, it doesn’t condemn. He doesn’t blame us for the bad things others inflict upon us. He doesn’t shame us for being victims. His mercy is a healing balm that will wash over every place of brokenness and open wound if we will only stop blaming Him and open our hearts to His healing.
• Once a person has received comfort from God in any particular area of life, they are automatically endowed with a deeper capacity of compassion in that area. Once someone has walked through a divorce, they are much more sensitive, non-judgmental, and understanding toward others who find themselves in that position. After walking through the valley of the shadow of a mother’s death, a person is far better equipped to empathize with the friend who just lost her Mom. The recovering addict whose family left due to his out of control cocaine use is far less likely to ever cast judgment on the teenage junkie he meets ten years down the road. It is amazing how God places specific people in each of our lives who are going through identical pain to our own. This is not by coincidence or accident but is Divinely-appointed providential care both for us and for the person who is suffering what we have already gone through and survived. It holds a lot more weight to look a suicidal person in the eye and say, “I’ve been there. I’m still here. I made it, and you will, too” than to just be able to say, “I’m sorry you are going through this. I can only imagine how you feel.”
Bad things prepare and qualify us for authentically compassionate outreach in our own areas of experience and expertise and make us far more effective as we offer that same kind of comfort to someone else; “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
See how that works? As you look back over your life and recall the bad things that have happened to you, it is very likely you will therein unearth the area of calling God has placed upon your life. When you were suffering most and felt God-forsaken, He was furnishing you with the very tools He would one day empower you to use to help and minister to others.
There are few things more gratifying than to witness the power of God’s redemption of your own sorrow and to see how He takes what was bad and transforms it into the impartation of good.
The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Rainy Day” hold much wisdom and truth.
“Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life, some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. “ Jesus (John 16:33)
Because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden, we live in a fallen world where “bad” has been introduced. To think we will walk through life unscathed by tribulation is unrealistic. It is all in the overcoming. Because Jesus overcame, so will we.
Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? While I don’t feel we can ever fully comprehend the mind of God and our finite thoughts can never be reconciled with the infinity of His, could the answer to this question lie in the fact that God knows good people will use the bad to become better?
Full disclosure – Many of the thoughts I share were born out of a deep, late-night conversation with our dear son, Zach, and he greatly contributed to the thoughts I am presenting here. Thank you, dear Zach, and may God ever bless you for the continual blessing you are to your Daddy and me.
By Cheryl Smith
Cheryl Smith describes herself as a “passionate disciple and follower of Jesus Christ.” She says: “I am married to the sweetest, most patient man for over 30 years…Mama to one miracle son God sent to us after 12.5 years of infertility…Homeschool Teacher who learns way more than I ever teach.I love to spend time with my husband and son in the mountains, sing and play Bluegrass music, and write. I am so thankful for your visit and hope you will visit my blogs: homespundevotions.com/ and biblicalminimalism.com/ It is my goal to encourage you in your walk with Jesus and to inspire you to let go of this world for the sake of a higher call. It is His call that I hope you hear. So compelling, so intense, so far above anything this world has to offer. It is the call His disciples heard as they went about a normal, ordinary day, fishing. It is a call they could not refuse. A call that caused them to drop everything they had and walk away from life as they knew it, without a backward glance. Can you hear it? Are you listening?”
Cheryl is a regular contributor to SGNScoops Magazine.
Read the July SGNScoops Magazine Online HERE