If we are honest, everyone on this planet recognizes that there is something inherently wrong with the world. Since the beginning of history, mankind has attempted to provide an answer to the existence of evil. Horrible things happen. When they do, people scramble to understand them in light of their beliefs. Whether they are atheists, agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, or Christians, the problem of evil is too prevalent to dismiss. The question for Christians becomes an even more difficult one: If God is good and loving, then why does God allow (or some would say ordain) bad things? (i.e. Why do bad things happen to good, and even God’s, people?)
When we can’t find sufficient answers, we have a tendency to create our own. Here are a few of the most common misconceptions:
- Bad things happen to God’s people because God is not involved. Technically this is called “deism.” Deism suggests that God does not interfere with the world in any way–everything runs according to its natural course. To be sure, actions have consequences. If you smoke, you could get lung cancer and you could die. Smoking causes cancer. Actions have consequences. However, Christians believe that God is very involved. He didn’t just wind up the universe like some master watchmaker and then step back and watch it run, or worse, walk away completely (Thomas Jefferson ascribed to this belief by the way). As a matter of fact, God invaded the universe with His Son Jesus Christ. The incarnation is the centerpiece of Christianity–God becoming man.
- Bad things happen to God’s people because God is impotent. God either doesn’t exist, or if he does, he is incapable of controlling or stopping bad things. Those who hold this view simply point to the cacophony of evil in the world. “If God is God (and therefore in complete control of the universe), then why did he allow……?” God appears to be impotent–unable to do what is needed to be done in a certain situation. Atheists hold to the extreme form of this view. God is impotent because he doesn’t exist, therefore to explain evil does not necessitate the mention of God.
- Bad things happen to God’s people because of their personal sin. This assumption is as old as time itself. Jesus and his disciples encountered a man who was born blind. His disciples looked at the man, and then at Jesus, and asked: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) The disciples’ assumption was that personal sin resulted in the blindness. This assumption has several holes in its logic. First of all, the blind man, like everyone since Adam and Eve, was born into sin. If his sin resulted in blindness, then all people would be born blind. Second, the blind man’s parents were born into sin just as he was. If their sin caused their son to be born blind, then all children would be born blind.
All of those answers leave us feeling guilty or empty, despairing or despondent.
Why, then, do bad things happen to God’s people?
- Bad things happen to God’s people because Adam and Eve sinned. Genesis 3 tells the story. The serpent deceived Eve. Eve convinced Adam and they ate the forbidden fruit. God came walking in the garden and they hid themselves. For the first time in their lives they were afraid of God. Sin does that. Sin distances us from God. God cursed the serpent, but he did not curse Adam or Eve. (Childbearing became difficult and God cursed the land.) God made clothes for Adam and Eve. The Creator of the universe became a tailor! Since then death and disease, sin and temptation have been the norm. Romans 8:22 says all of creation groans as it waits for renewal.
- Bad things happen to God’s people because suffering stands alone in its ability to draw us into fellowship with God. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Christianity is counterintuitive. How attractive is a faith whose leader is described by Isaiah this way: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (53:3) The hero of the Christian faith was a man of sorrows. When you suffer you are most like Christ. When you suffer, you are in God’s company. C. S. Lewis, in the Problem of Pain, said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
- Bad things happen to God’s people because God uses their suffering to reveal Himself to those who don’t know Him. Jesus’ disciples thought the blind man’s sin, or his parents’ sin, caused his blindness. Jesus’ answer caught the disciples by surprise: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) The blind beggar was a showcase of the glory of God. His parents never saw this coming. Neither did he. Jesus chose to heal him. We don’t know why God heals some and doesn’t heal others. What we know is that God uses the suffering of his beloved children as a showcase of His glory. Jesus spit on the ground, put mud on the blind man’s eyes, instructed him to wash in the pool of Siloam and the man left seeing. The Pharisees complained and the blind beggar became one of the first worshipers of Jesus.
Suffering is inevitable…and so hard. Christians never dismiss it. As a matter of fact, when our brothers and sisters hurt, we do too. Paul instructs us in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” In Galatians 6:2 we are told to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We will never have all the answers (that is, this side of glory)–we will struggle to understand. In those times, we cry together. During those times we shoulder each others’ burdens…and in the process we fulfill the law of Christ.