I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder why God allows bad things to happen; particularly when they happen to ‘good’ people. “Ordinarily, life seems to follow certain laws of cause and effect. People who work hard can put food on the table and pay the bills. Attentive parenting produces responsible young adults. Balanced nutrition and regular exercise generally lead to good health. But for many Christians there are times when this dependable pattern goes awry.” (C.C. James, p.87) We don’t mind so much when bad things happen to bad people- we think it is what they deserve and so secretly are a little happy because “hey, it was coming to them anyway”. But, when bad things happen to good people, it disrupts our logical pattern for life- when we experience a miscarriage, when we see a baby die, when a healthy, fit man has an accident that leads to a severely altered life, when a child from a loving family gets addicted to drugs, when the stock market crashes and we lose all our savings, when a surfer goes for a surf and gets mauled by a shark- we wonder if God is asleep on the job, if He is playing some cruel game with our life or if He is actually there at all. Our theology (knowledge of God) comes to the fore and shows us up close and personal how our beliefs really impact our heart and life, and while we realise the gospel doesn’t discriminate (thank you God!) our flesh still tells us that it is ‘unfair’ and that we ‘deserve better’ (when really without God’s grace, we deserve lots worse).

When I struggle with this, my husband Dave reminds me of four reasons, as outlined in the Bible, why God allows bad things to happen:

1. God uses suffering to reveal our spiritual condition:

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Prodigal doesn’t realise he was completely spiritually bankrupt until he was in the squalor with the pigs, attempting to eat pig scraps. It was this experience in his life that God allowed to happen to the Prodigal son so that the Prodigal’s spiritual condition became apparent to him. He realised he was arrogant and undeserving when he asked for his inheritance and so in humility, he came crawling back to his father pleading for mercy. In the same way, God often allows bad things to happen to show us the truth about our relationship with Him. In the same way, God doesn’t give us what we deserve- He celebrates, He robes us in spotless robes and He calls us His son or daughter- coheirs with Christ.

2. God uses suffering to humble us:

Through the life of the apostle Paul, we see God allowing suffering through their intense persecution and daily trials. As Paul explains:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

(2 Corinthians 11:24-30)

Here, we see that suffering shows us our need for God- that we are nothing in comparison with God. That we must boast in Jesus, not in our own strength, accomplishments or circumstances, for all are merely chaff when compared with the works of our God.
3. God uses suffering to display His grace:
Often in the middle of suffering it is hard to see God’s loving grace blanketing us, yet when we emerge through the blazing fire and look back we can see God was carrying us all along. I think this is why the “Footprints in the Sand” poem is such a comfort to us- knowing that God is graciously providing for us, comforting us and drawing us closer to Himself, carrying us when we question if He is there at all brings us much needed comfort. God uses our suffering, whatever it may be, to display His grace in our lives. God does not allow suffering unless it will accomplish what is good for us, conforming us more into the image of His Son. He would only allow the death of a husband or child if it was the ONLY thing that could accomplish His purposes. He doesn’t allow things willy nilly, He doesn’t make mistakes. He isn’t a spoilt child and doesn’t use us as toys. He is good. He is wise and wisdom is the combination of knowledge and morality. Because God is all-wise, and knows everything, He sets the standard for morality. This doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen, because there are consequences for sin and living in a fallen world and ultimately sin will lead people to hell. God as a just and merciful God enacts justice and one day will ultimately judge, but for those who love Him, God is working all things for their good (Romans 8:28). He is graciously protecting those who love Him and enacting His good plans toward them. And sometimes this good shines brighter as we are graciously refined by fire.
4. God uses suffering to perfect His power:
While we are suffering, God is at work. I think of Job and that story brings such comfort- not because everything ‘comes good in the end’ but because God is working through it all. Satan thinks he has the upper hand, yet through it Job sees more of who God is and God’s power. “Rather than distancing Job from God as expected, suffering intensifies Job’s focus on God. And Satan, after the opening scenes, skulks offstage like an insignificant extra, leaving Job behind to wrestle with God. If we read carefully, the central issue in the story is not what Satan is doing but what God is doing. The plan that falls apart is Satan’s, not God’s. The book of Job drives home the point that God is the central figure behind even the tragic events in our lives. He is the one who is in charge and who holds us in his hands. Not even the devil can touch us without God’s permission, and even then God overrules and works through Satan’s schemes to accomplish good for us.” (C. C. James, p.87) As children of God, we are not immune to the works of Satan, but we are protected- Satan may mean things for our harm, yet God uses them for our God. God has ultimate power and through our suffering this is shown.
It doesn’t mean we don’t wrestle with ‘whys’ and plead with God to turn our mourning into dancing. It doesn’t mean we can’t be upset and sometimes angry with God for allowing the suffering, as long as we bring this anger and confusion to Him and lay them at His feet. His shoulders are big enough and can take it. It also means that we need to see the bigger picture and recognise who God is, what He has done and what He is doing. “Sometimes we see God more clearly in the dark, when he has our undistracted attention and we struggle to know if the hand that rules the night is as good and powerful as the hand that rules the day.” (C.C. James, p.89). The reality of sin is that bad things happen, but when they do how will we meet them? Will it be recognising that God is using the pain to deepen our understanding of Him? Will it be to seek Him more fervently than ever before? Or will we allow the lies of the evil one keep us bitter, full of resentment and keeping us from the arms of the All-powerful Father who longs to comfort and carry us through the pain and the trials. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12a) and what an awesome day that will be!
 * I’m reading a great book at the moment “When Life and Beliefs Collide” by Carolyn Custis James (2001, Zondervan), where these quotes come from. I’ll have a full review up when I’ve finished.

photo credit: Weeping Girl via photopin (license)