“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 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.” – 1 Corinthians 13:9, 12
12:39 AM, July 20, 2012. The first calls come into 911 dispatch in Aurora, Colorado. 90 seconds later, police arrive on the scene at theater 9 at the Century 16 Cinemark multiplex located at 14300 E. Alameda Avenue in the Town Center at Aurora shopping mall. What they find is nothing short of horrific.
Eighty-two casualties were reported on the scene, including twelve fatalities ranging from a 6 year-old girl to a 51 year-old father. Seventy people were hit by bullets while four people had eye damage from tear gas and eight were injured trying to flee the theatre.
“If God really existed, this would never happen.”
The public outcry was immediate and unanimous. “How could this happen?” some asked. “Why didn’t someone see this coming?” others questioned. And then there was the ever-present chorus from the non-Believer choir: “If God really existed, things like this would never be allowed to happen.”
All of these reactions are normal. Inoperable disease, mass murder, unwanted divorce after 30 years of marriage, an inexplicable automobile accident in the middle of the night, an airplane crashing into a mountainside during a snowstorm … so many innocent, good people senselessly hurt, lives destroyed.
How could a loving God allow such pain and sorrow to exist? Perhaps there’s no God at all, or maybe stuff just happens, even to Believers. “Why, God? Why me? Why us?”
This is the heart of our fifth and final installment of things we think are in the Bible but really aren’t:
#5 BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
On the surface, it actually makes sense. “Good” people are tested by God and “bad” things happen to them for lessons to be learned. There must be a reason.
Addressing this subject, Rick Warren writes: “This ‘why’ question is human nature, and we all ask it. We have this misconception that if we understand the reason behind our pain, then it will make the pain easier.” As rational beings living in the Post-Enlightenment Age, we can explain anything if we just understand it.
Yet, this very same “why” question isn’t new; it goes back millennia.
It was asked by Job and by David in Psalms; Jesus cried it out from the cross; Giovanni Boccaccio wrestled with the question during the Renaissance; and it was especially relevant during the last century, with global conflicts including two World Wars, the massacre of Jews and others at the hands of the Nazi regime, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, seemingly endless famines in Africa, the Khmer Rouge killing fields, the scourge of AIDS, the travesty in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo War.
And this century didn’t start much better. First came 9/11 and now the Syrian slaughters, and on and on. Why do all of these horrific things happen if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The straight answer is this: except in cases of His direct intervention (for instance, the Creation Event, or the Flood Event, or the protection offered to Moses in fleeing Pharaoh, or especially the birth, ministry, execution and resurrection of Christ), God does not directly cause or prevent either the “good” or “bad” things that happen to humans, natural or manmade. Let’s explore this with three quick observations.
First, God is not the creator of evil and suffering. While God exists eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit entwined in a perfect relationship of love, humans were created with free will to either experience or reject that love. Love requires a choice.
We ask: “But doesn’t God know before hand? Can’t He stop it?” The question, while real, misses the larger point: even in situations where we may be the innocent victim of someone else’s madness or a savage disease, the reality of free choice must run its course, otherwise we humans are little more than mindless automatons.
Second, evil and suffering, while tragic, are used by God for His greater purpose in drawing humans to His presence. As Paul writes in Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Notice Paul doesn’t say how God creates good from bad circumstances, or when any of us will personally see how it plays out. Nor does God promise this to everyone. He makes the covenant that our suffering can be turned to good if we commit to following Him.
Finally, we each decide if suffering makes us bitter or strengthens our faith. In times of deep crisis, especially after we’ve prayed as deeply and most convicted as we can, it’s natural to feel disappointment, anger, or even disbelief when those prayers are not answered. The death of a child to cancer, a heart attack in the middle of the night, a business failure leading to bankruptcy … senseless pain. Why, God, why?
On May 3, 1980, 13-year-old Cari Lightner, was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver in Fair Oaks, California. Her mother, Candace Lightner, could understandably have fallen into endless despair and grief, bitter at the world. Instead, she quit her job four days after the accident and founded Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). She turned tragedy to good by taking action. “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
Jesus said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
God doesn’t want us to need an explanation; He wants us to need His strength, to need a Savior, to need comfort and support. He wants us to trust His will completely. He asks that we surrender everything to Him – even our grief.
Tragedy will strike; suffering will come; we will struggle and wrestle with pain. But if we run into God’s grace, we’ll discover peace in our hearts for today, strength for tomorrow, and the staggering assurance of eternal life.