Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?
Perhaps the most prevalent question throughout all Christianity is, “Why does God let bad things happen?”
We hear it featured at funerals, shootings, robberies, and many other atrocities. The answerer often gives a response that is less than satisfying. Today, I hope to attempt to give closure to this question by consulting scripture and my own experiences to find an answer to the question of why God lets bad things happen.
Firstly, when did bad things begin to happen? Any experienced follower of Christ has heard the story of the Fall about a thousand times, but I think it would be prudent to examine it for the context of today’s inquiry. Genesis 3:16-19 gives us the consequences and resulting suffering as a result of falling to temptation, “To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,” ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”
In these verses, we see the twisting of two important aspects of our lives: child birth and work. Before the Fall we can assume that child birth would not have been painful. In fact, the joy of childbirth that we experience despite the pain might have been even greater, elevating the entire event to one of pure mirth. Similarly, work used to be something we loved to do. The quote saying, “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life,” is a lie. Work is still work, and even if you do what you love, it still consumes you and tires you out. And our reward? We get to eat thistles and thorns until we turn to dust.
So then, why must we deal with these difficulties? I believe the answer to this question was answered well by a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, we took our blessings (what was given to us before the Fall) and turned them into a curse (the resulting childbirth and work pains). What used to be pleasurable has now turned into what kills us. This is squarely our fault. Our sinful nature leads us to pervert the promises of God into curses. So now we have answered why bad things happens, but why specifically does God let them continue to happen?
Firstly, I should point out that I do not have all the answers. My mind and God’s mind are two vastly different places. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection
as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Secondly, to begin to tackle this question, I present to you a verse that directly addresses it, “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3). This verse establishes that God uses bad things for His glory. For instance, 9/11 was a horrific event, but it caused many people to lean into Christ. Romans 8:28 reiterates this point, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is within turmoil that we find the peace of God.
Thirdly, God uses bad things to build us up. “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19). We can go to school and learn all about how to repair a car, but there are no fruits until we actually repair a car. Bad things test our ability to apply what we have learned through our collective studies of the Word. It is a chance for us to rise to the occasion or crumple.
Fourthly, God uses bad things to help us build others up through our suffering. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). We suffer so that others may look up to us and take solace in their own sufferings.
Fifthly and finally, we are promised a greater reward that makes our suffering irrelevant. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). We receive the reward of being used to reveal God’s glory through our suffering. It is not for the promise of reward that we should suffer, but for love of others and God.
We will continue to experience suffering. We are not called to revel in suffering like we enjoy it. However, we must respond to bad things in the manner in which Christ did. Jesus cried and asked
God to take away the cross, but also asked that God’s will supersede his own. When we experience bad things, think of it as an opportunity to put your training to the test and show that the reason bad things happen is because we have an amazing creator who will swoop in and use them to change the world.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3. Fortress Press, 1997.
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