In light of hurricanes and flooding in recent weeks, a familiar question has popped up, one that resurfaces anytime people face tragedy.
Why does God allow bad things to happen?
This is not only a familiar question, it is an old one. Ancient, in fact. It was essentially the first question asked in the Bible. The Book of Job was very likely the first biblical book penned, and the heart of this book centers on the question of why good people suffer.
Job, who likely lived during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was a righteous man—yet God allowed Satan to take away his children and his great wealth. Job’s response?
Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:20-22).
Satan said Job would lose his integrity and curse God if his health was attacked. So God allowed Job to be struck with nasty boils all over his body. Again Job responded without accusing God.
“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10).
Job’s response doesn’t mean he was content with the situation. He wanted to know why God judges our actions when He can just as easily change things. He asserted his blamelessness. He wanted to know how to appease God’s justice.
It’s at this point a lot of people would simply write God off. While believers hold to the truth that God is both all-powerful and infinitely loving, the skeptic says:
- If God is all-powerful, He must not be loving, because although He has the power to stop evil, He doesn’t care enough to prevent it.
- If God is loving, He must not be powerful, because as much as He cares and loves those suffering, He is powerless to do anything.
Interesting premise, but there is no doubt of God’s power. Look at the universe around us. There is nothing too great for Him or beyond His scope.
And I have no doubt about His love. My own experience confirms His love and grace.
Job wanted to question God, and God responded. He asked Job a boatload of questions to show how little Job knew.
“Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…. Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this…. Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?’” (Job 38:1-4,18,33).
God’s point? Job knew so little of the physical world he could see, so how could he possibly understand the vastly more complex moral world he could not see?
In the end, God never directly answered Job’s question! Admittedly, we don’t like that. We want a full explanation complete with charts and diagrams. But do we really want a God we can explain? Frankly, if we could explain all God does—and doesn’t do—He wouldnt be much of a God.
I will state the one reason we know for sure bad things happen: we live in a sinful fallen world. We are sinful people—all of us. Bad people do bad things. Evil people inflict evil on others.
God stepped into the world in Jesus Christ to address the problem of a sinful world. Granted, not everyone responds to His solution, but through the death and resurrection, God guaranteed a life to come that will be free from pain, suffering, and evil.
“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
That answer sounds like a cop-out to some. It’s easy to talk about the by-and-by, about heaven someday, but why doesn’t God keep the innocents from suffering now?
I don’t know.
But I do know this: I’ve learned to trust God even when I don’t understand. Please don’t view that as a blind, naïve faith, but what I know of God—what I’ve experienced at His hand—gives me confidence to trust Him when I don’t understand.
When I became a parent, I never wanted to give my sons the pat answer, “Because I said so.” It didn’t take me long to realize sometimes that’s the best answer you can give a small child. Their developing brains cannot yet grasp the full complexities of, say, why you just can’t use that plastic card to buy whatever they want. Sometimes you just have to leave it at this. “I’m the parent and you can’t have it—because I said so.”
We need to trust God even as a small child must trust his parent when he doesn’t understand. That’s what Job did.
- “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his” (Job 12:13).
- “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15).
- “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth” (19:25).
OK, I’ve been fairly academic to this point. Christian, it’s time to get personal.
Where is God when tragedy happens? He’s there—in us. We are the body of Christ. We are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:17), and when people see us, they see Jesus.
So when hardships hit, we step in.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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 receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
We show the world who Jesus is—not through our doctrine or religious habits—but as we live and love like Jesus.