This is a good question and a really important one. I just want to start by acknowledging that there are so many painful things in life. If you are going through something bad, I am so sorry. What I will try to do is answer this as best as I can, but let me just admit upfront, that what I’m going to write will not be the perfect answer, nor will it be the complete answer, because I am not God. He is the only one who can answer this in a complete way. So what I say may not make you feel better about what you are going through, but I do believe what I say to be true, and yet not complete in its entirety, as God could answer.
There are several views, some people say, ‘Well I don’t believe in God and so who determines what’s bad and what’s not bad. Bad things just happen.’ That’s one view. Some people say, ‘Well there’s karma. You do good things, you get good things back. You do bad things, you get bad things. So, obviously if there are bad things happening to you, you did bad things.’ Let me give you the biblical perspective, at least as I see it.
The reason that this is such a big problem is because I would argue that there is a lot of unintentional false advertising when it comes to being a Christ follower. Let me explain.
There are many churches, Christian radio stations and Christian organizations that are great, but have saying or slogan that says something like, ‘Life is better with God’. This is true if you define “better” the right way. The problem is that so many people today define “better” as “I’ll never get cancer, I will always get the promotion, and nothing bad will ever happen to my kids.” That is simply not true at all. In fact, Jesus said in John 16:33,
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
There is no promise that if you do life with God, it’s always going to be trouble free, and it’s always going to be better. If you believe that, you are going to have a problem when you talk to Job, who was blameless and upright in every way, and yet lost everything that mattered to him for a season in his life. You are going to have a problem with John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus, and yet, was beheaded in prison while Christ was nearby and did nothing about it. You are going to have a problem with Paul who was as faithful as anybody in Scripture and yet was beaten and stoned and left for dead over and over again. And you are going to have a problem with Christ who did nothing wrong and suffered for our sins. Life is not always better with God if you define better as problem free. So let me give you the biblical perspective of why bad things happen. There are five major reasons.
1. The first reason is because our world is corrupted by sin. It’s called “The Fall” and you can read about it in Genesis chapter 3. This world is not what it was in the Garden before sin. We are under the curse of sin in this world, therefore sinful things happen.
2. There are times when God may be testing us. God may allow or cause challenging things to happen in your life because the testing develops perseverance, develops character, and develops your faith (Romans 5:3-4)
3. There would be times when our spiritual enemy, Satan, is attacking. If you are a Christian, you have an enemy. His mission is to steal, kill and destroy anything that matters to the heart of God. We are in a spiritual war and there is an enemy on the attack. (Read John 10:10 and Ephesians 6:10-13)
4. There is also “free will.” For us to truly love God, we cannot be robots programed to love. We have to have the free will to choose to love or choose to reject God. Because of free will, there’s the possibility of us doing good, there is also the possibility of us doing evil. Without free will, there is no love, but with free will comes the possibility of doing things wrong. God constantly asks his people to choose correctly (see Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
5. Lastly the foundational problem with this question is, the question is flawed. Why do bad things happen to good people?
And the answer is bad things do not happen to good people, because in reality none of us are good. Many of you are going to fight back right now and say, ‘No, but they’re good people, I’m a good person.’ In the eyes of God, none of us are good people and we have to understand that. Our heart is deceitful above all things. We are flawed, we are sinful. In the eyes of God, our best attempt at righteousness is as filthy rags. We are not good people. Bad things do not happen to good people, bad things happen to bad and sinful people. Still, many of you are going to fight against this and you’ll be tempted to say, but God is not fair. And I’m going to say, absolutely He’s not always fair. He is always good, but He is not always fair. He is always good and you must start with the goodness of God, not the goodness of man, because man is sinful, God is good.
When you start with the goodness of God, then you will thank Him that He is not always fair. Because of instead of asking why do bad things happen to good people, you’ll ask the better question, which is, why do good things happen to bad people? That is the essence of the Gospel. God is always good, He is always just, but He is not always fair. If He were fair, He would give us what our sins deserve. If you are a Christ follower, you do not get what your sins deserve, you get eternal life through Christ.
Psalm 103:10-12 shows how God is not always fair. The Bible says:
God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. He is good, but not always fair. For as high as the Heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
If you want to say, ‘Well, bad things should only happen to bad people,’ Jesus is the perfect example of the best person who ever lived, and yet the worst thing happened to Him. Why? So that the best thing that could ever happen would happen to us, the worst people who have ever lived. Our sins could be forgiven and we could spend eternity in Heaven with God, something we do not deserve and could never ever earn.
If you are facing tragedy right now, and you do not see the goodness of God, let me just say this. The goodness of God is not as easy to see when times are going the way you want. The goodness of God is always most evident when tragedy strikes. If you are hurting right now and do not see the goodness of God, it could be because you do not truly know God. It’s in tragedy and human suffering that the presence of God becomes most real. If you are hurting and don’t understand, or not experiencing His goodness, it could be because you don’t know Him. You don’t have to understand everything that happens on earth and you never will. But His presence is with you and will comfort you in ways that only He could do. If you don’t know His goodness, it’s probably because you don’t know Him.
Could I pray for you? God I pray right now for the person who is hurting. For the person who is deeply grieving, God I pray that your presence, your goodness, would be evident in the middle of their human suffering.
And God for the person who may not know you, I pray that you would use this day to draw them into a relationship with you, that they would truly know your goodness. In Jesus name I pray.
For more about the series, “Things that Make You Go Hmm” go to www.RidgeFellowship.com