Part 1: The practical response
This is a difficult question to answer because it’s quite possible that you or someone you know has suffered some type of loss or trauma in your life and you are trying to understand why it happened. The truth is no one really knows why bad things happen to good people. Only God Himself really knows the answer to that. As the Apostle Paul explains, “Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.” (1 Co 13:12)
In other words, there will be a time when we will have complete understanding. We just don’t have that right now. However, there are things we DO know, the most important of which is that God under- stands the pain we go through when tragedy strikes. The Bible tells us that two thousand years ago, when Jesus walked the earth, one of his closest friends died prematurely. The man’s name was Laza- rus. When Jesus saw Lazarus’s sister crying, and heard the weeping of the others at the funeral, the Bible says, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
A few moments later, Jesus actually raised Lazarus from the dead, and turned their grief into joy. But he still wept. Even though he knew Lazarus would soon be restored to those who loved him, he wept. Jesus, the Son of God, wept. Why? Why did he weep?
Jesus wept because God hurts when you hurt. He shares your sorrow. He does not sit on some dis- tant throne, uncaringly letting bad things happen to you, or to those you love.
When bad things happen to you, he shares your grief. If you’re hurting right now, God is hurting with you. If you’re crying, his heart is weeping with you. If you’re angry about the bad things you or someone you love is suffering, he is angry too, because that’s not how he designed this world to be. His original design did not include bad things happening to anyone. God DID, however, design us in such a way that we had the freewill to either follow God’s original plan or do things our own way. Man chose to deviate from God’s plan and do things his own way which resulted in the imperfect world we know today.
The good news is that the Bible tells us that a time will come when there will be no more tears, no more death, no mourning, no crying out, and no more pain.” (Rev 21:4) That is God’s promise to those who choose to enter into a relationship with Him.
Part 2: The philosophical response
Just to put things in perspective, no one is completely good, according to the Bible. In Romans 3:23 we read, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That means no one is “innocent.” True, some people commit more heinous offenses than others, but we have fallen far short of God’s absolute stan- dard of conduct. Perhaps the only adequate answer to the question of human suffering is the cross. In it God enters into suffering with us, taking the worst of it upon himself—the suffering for our sins.
Scripture tells us the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). That’s what we deserve. Anything else we receive is the gracious gift of our loving heavenly Father. In fact, he has already gone to great lengths to keep us from the greatest hardship of all—spending eternity in hell apart from him. By sending Jesus to take the penalty for our sin, God made it possible for us not only to escape punishment, but also to experience the joy of life with him.
One of the secrets to contentment here on earth is an eternal perspective. This life is temporary. But if we know Jesus Christ, our real home is in heaven, and that is where we will spend eternity. Any suffering we experience here is incredibly trivial compared to the joy that awaits us. Paul wrote to the Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Jesus himself guaranteed that life would be hard—hardest, in fact, for those who follow him! Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Later, after his resurrection, Jesus also told them, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Paul calls God “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
We can take further comfort in the knowledge that our suffering is not meaningless. In spite of the way things appear at times, God is in control, and he uses our hardships to accomplish his purposes, both in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Job didn’t know why he was suffering, but we see in Job 1-2 that God was in control of everything that was happening to him. God’s purposes were being worked out through Job’s hardship.
If we have an eternal perspective, we can rejoice when God is glorified even if it requires that we experience difficulty. Sometimes God glorifies himself through our suffering by providing a miraculous escape. Other times he gives us strength to endure in the midst of it.
If we ask God to give us his perspective on the difficulties in our lives, he will assure us of his purpose in allowing them and his presence in the midst of them. We will be able to affirm the words of Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
It would be nice if God explained to us, specifically, why he allows this bad thing or that bad thing to happen, but he doesn’t. But we can trust that He is with us through the suffering. More than that, He has plans to heal your heart, turn your grief into joy, and deliver you and those you love from this painful world we live in (Romans 8:18-21).
Adapted from Where Is God When Bad Things Happen? by Dr. Luis Palau, Doubleday, 1999.
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