Why bad things happen to God's people
Why do tragedies happen to God’s people, especially those who have lived an exemplary life of faith and service? If God is good, why is there so much misery, suffering, persecution, and injustice in the world? My hope is that the fresh perspectives from this study will open your heart and mind to the unexpected ways God chooses to deal with you and me.
These are questions that, if you and I are honest, have troubled each of us at one time or another. Simplistic answers such as, “We live in a fallen world,” “It is God’s curse on sinful humanity,” “It is the devil’s fault,” or, “It is God’s permissive will,” may contain elements of truth. But they do not always settle the deepest questions of our hearts.
In my experience, there are two chief reasons why we go through very difficult times—and both of them are for our ultimate good.
The first is a condition we can do something about—the sin of independence.
The second is something we have no control over—God’s initiation of hardship out of His desire to raise us up to a new level of intimacy with Himself.
When I face my own problems or challenges of any kind, I like to read and meditate on those characters in the Bible who have walked a similar path. I find it helpful to ask myself questions like What was their response to this challenge? Was it ultimately a good response? Can I learn from their mistakes? Was there a sin in their life that God is seeking to highlight in mine? If I follow the right path, what will I experience at the end? That's one of the reasons I love the book of Job. It gives a wonderful example of a man trusting God in spite of all of life's hardships.
Independence of God
Adam and Eve are our first parents from whom we inherited our spiritual nature, which is why we must begin with them. The problem with that Adam and Eve was not that they wanted to be like God. Actually, that is not a bad motivation. However, they wanted to be like God without depending on God. This basic problem we all face is what the Bible calls “the flesh,” “the carnal nature,” or “the old man.” It is our desire to function independently of God.
In the course of ministry and counselling, I have met people who have travelled halfway around the world to get away from some problem in their lives. I often end up telling them, “You can’t run from your problem because you take your basic problem with you wherever you go. It is inside you and you can’t run away from it. You can travel all the way around the world—but you take it with you.”
If the problem of all humanity is one of seeking to be good independent of God, what is the solution? The solution is to reverse the process of the Fall. The Fall started when Eve and then Adam distrusted God’s goodness and tried to be independent of God.
One reason they fell into this trap was that they trusted their senses more than the Word of God. Genesis 3:6 tells us:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…
What happened? She discarded her faith in the invisible Word of God and trusted her senses instead.
Here is our first step in reversing the effects of the Fall: we must believe and trust in God’s goodness. I am continually amazed at the number of people I encounter who call themselves Christians but do not genuinely trust God. They really do not believe God will do them good. They believe that if they surrender to God, He’s going to ask something awful of them or allow something terrible to happen.
Many people say, “I’ll trust God if He does this or that.” That is not trust. Trust is surrendering when you do not know what He will do. I have trusted God time and time again for more than fifty years. My testimony and encouragement to you is that He will do better for you than you will do for yourself. We should have no reason not to trust the goodness of God. Why? Because God has already demonstrated His love. As Paul says, He gave Christ to die for our sins (see Rom. 5:8). You need no other proof of God’s love than that great act of mercy and love.
The second step for us in reversing the effects of the Fall is this: we must lay down our independence and declare our dependence on God.
The third step in reversing the process of the Fall is: believing the Word of God more than our own senses. We must reverse Eve’s mistake.
The second reason why we go through very difficult times is God’s desire to raise us up to a new level of intimacy with Himself. This second reason is at the very core of the story of Job.
Let’s examine just how Job responded—both to the enormous personal tragedies that he suffered as well as to the unwelcome accusations from his friends. As we watch how Job responded, may we learn from his example!
When Job lost his children and all his possessions, his first response was reverent submission. He said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). When Satan afflicted him with boils and he was sitting on the ash heap, his wife advised him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). But Job replied, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10) The Scripture tells us that in all his trouble, Job did not sin nor charge God foolishly.
The death of my first wife, Lydia, was the hardest experience I have ever been through. However, Job’s response gave me an answer to my loss: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” If we can trust God to give, then we must also trust Him when He takes away. For me, this resolved the doctrinal problem of my loss. I still needed to deal with the personal emotional crisis. But I was not upset with God over what had happened with Lydia.
Job’s second response was a long lament in which he makes statements that are difficult to understand (see Job 3). In this discourse, Job really releases his feelings—and I believe that is absolutely the right reaction. Our goal is not to avoid anything that is going to hurt us. Stoicism is an alien, un-Christian doctrine.
Job also affirmed his righteousness. He would not back down in the face of all his critics and their accusations. His friends could continue accusing him, but Job would not accept it. He continued to maintain he had done nothing wrong and that these tragedies had not happened because he had sinned.
Do you know why these things had happened to him? This may shock you, but it was because he was righteous. We might think that is an awful way for God to treat us. However, here is what I believe: God tests us because He is proud of us and wants to bring the best out of us.
I believe other passages bear out the fact that God is confident in us. He has a much higher goal for us than we have for ourselves, and He will not lower His standards. (See James 1:2-3 and Romans 5:3-5.) Many times you might want to beg God to loosen up a little: “God, please take the pressure off.” However, God will not do it. Why? Because He has a purpose for your life, and He is going to work it out. You could absolutely turn your back on God and cancel the process if you chose to. But I trust you would not wish to do that.