Tornados have devastated much of my home town again. I have friends displaced by the tragedy and some whose lives will never be the same. Apart from the tragic, I have relatives who are getting older. Their bodies and minds don’t function like they once did. These friends and family are all good people. Why would a loving God allow something like this to happen?
Wiser minds than mine have explored this topic. Beyond this, I have a predisposition toward the simple answer. I don’t believe that just because something is painful, hard or difficult that it’s inherently ‘bad’ or that the answer to our question has to be complicated, incomprehensible or ponderously deep. I believe God challenges us to search for His answers. I believe He delights when we find them.
My bend toward the simple answer means I risk oversimplifying the issue. That’s not my intent. Some of you face deep hurts, genuine tragedy and life altering circumstances the likes of which I have never known. Please don’t allow the simplicity of my answer to cause you to believe I take lightly the situation you face.
I believe there are two reasons bad things happen to good people, two reasons a loving God would allow people to experience tragedy.
- Even good people make mistakes.
- In many circumstance, for God to keep you from experiencing tragedy, he would also have to take away your ability to choose for yourself. In essence, you would no longer be free. He would have to so directly control your life and choices that it wouldn’t be you choosing anymore. God, in his sovereignty, has decided to risk the probability that you will suffer for your bad choices rather than forcing you into obedience to his will.
Like I said, simple answers, but not necessarily satisfying.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
I meet with a group of friends every week to talk about how the Bible applies to our everyday lives. Recently, we’ve been talking about the book of Job. It’s the story of a man who is successful in every way. He has a strong, loving family. He is wealthy and influential. God points him out as a man who is ‘blameless’. That doesn’t mean perfect. It means that Job avoided willful disobedience.
You may know the story. Satan challenges God. Satan argues that the reason Job is a good guy is because God has so greatly blessed him. God takes the challenge. He gives Satan permission to test Job. In the process Job is left penniless, his children killed, his reputation tarnished and only his misguided friends and nagging wife to ‘comfort’ him. Job is the perfect example of someone who could ask the questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “How could a loving God let something that bad happen?”
The study guide we use identified seven reasons bad things happen to good people, seven reasons God allows tragedy to affect our lives. I’ve not added to the list, but I’ve broadened the explanation. When we face tragedy, understanding the reason can help us formulate our response. Knowing ‘why’ can help us make right choices in the future. So here’s the list:
JUDGEMENT | REPENTANCE
Sometimes people disobey God for so long his judgement falls. They’ve done worse than ignore him, they’ve willfully and deliberately rebelled against him. They’ve rejected his grace, mercy and forgiveness and chosen to do things their own way. They’ve gone past the point of no return. Sometimes our choices demand that justice be satisfied and judgement is the only option.
In the face of judgement the only appropriate response is repentance. Learn these eight words, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” It’s amazing what God can do through a penitent heart. It’s amazing how a marriage heals when you end an argument with your spouse with those eight words. When tragedy comes due to judgement repentance is the only option.
DISCIPLINE | RESPOND
My kids play sports. They discipline and condition their bodies so they will be ready when the coach trusts them with the ball. Be honest. Exercise hurts. Eating right requires a sacrifice. But the gain is worth the pain. The win is worth the effort. Sometimes the bad things that happen to good people are really preparation for something more significant in the future.
Discipline is the tool God uses to prepare us for the next season in our journey. When discipline comes we have to respond. “Yes, Lord. Even if it hurts I will learn it. I will do it. I will follow you.”
PERSECUTION | FAITHFUL
God has made it clear that he values sacrifice more than survival. Sometimes the tragedy we face is the result of persecution. In the face of persecution we must remain faithful. Faithfulness gives us a front row seat to all the promises of God. Faithfulness says, “Because I trust God I will hold on. The story may not end as I expect, but it will end with a miracle like I could never imagine.” If the tragedy you face is persecution, hold on. God is giving you a front row seat to all the promises of His Word.
NECESSITY | ENDURE
Some things just have to be. Childbirth is going to hurt. Medication may minimize it. The end result may cause you to forget it, but when a woman goes through labor they will experience pain like they’ve never experienced before. There’s no real formula for instant gratification for anything in life. Some things just take time. Some take practice. Some hurt. If you face a tragedy of necessity, endure. God will walk with you through the whole thing.
CONSEQUENCES | LEARN WISDOM
You learned it in physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. There’s a spiritual truth here too. Every physical choice has a spiritual consequence. Every spiritual truth influences the choice we make. If you drop something. It will fall. If you hit someone they will get hurt – then mad – and likely punch back. Our choices have consequences. Those consequences are often unavoidable. If the tragedy you face is the consequence for your bad choices then learn wisdom. Don’t make that same choice again. Do it differently next time and watch the outcome change.
NATURAL | SERVE
Our bodies get old. Our minds slow down. There will come a day when my body will simply wear out. It’s natural. Being old isn’t a punishment. Suffering the inconvenience and pain of old age isn’t the price of a misspent youth. Natural disasters fall into this category as well. We live in a world affected by sin. Even nature. The earth will shake, the wind will blow, the water will rise and recede. It’s the natural rhythm of life. If the tragedy you face has to do with age or natural disaster our response is to serve. As long as God gives me breath I can use who I am and what I have for the benefit of others. I can help others through tragedy. I can serve those who are aging and when I’m the one struck down by age I can pray, I can bless, I can honor those who help me.
MYSTERY | BE PATIENT
Sometimes tragedy comes and we simply don’t know why. The miscarriage comes. The accident happens. The diagnosis is unexpected. We don’t always know the why, but we can trust the who. God understands. God loves us and cares for us. I may not be satisfied with the mystery, but I trust the one who holds that mystery in his hand. When you face this kind of tragedy be patient, God’s not finished yet.
I don’t know what tragedy you’ve faced. You may think of yourself as a good person stuck in a bad situation. You may be like Job.
Whatever the case, remember these things:
- God can be trusted.
- Remain faithful – faithfulness gives you a front row seat to all the promised of God.
- Explore these seven reasons. They can be the road map that helps you know how to take your next step.