[This is a slightly updated version of a column I first wrote back in 2003. Consider it a condensed version of this series. I hope you find this column helpful.]
Why do bad things happen to innocent people?
Like almost everyone, I guess, I have seen really good people, believing people, and children, subjected to crushing difficulties, afflicted by illness, or taken far too early by death. Maybe you’re one of those good or believing people or children who have been hit by undeserved suffering or grief. You may be inclined to wonder, “Where is God now? Why am I left to fend for myself in the face of this overwhelming pain?”
I’m not sure that I have any answers. But I do have a few responses.
My first response is that you’re not alone.
When God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, He underwent suffering. The New Testament book of Hebrews describes Jesus as humanity’s “high priest,” the bridge between God and us. Through Jesus, we have access to God’s help, even in tough times. Hebrews assures us that in Jesus, “we don’t have a high priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
When we’re knocked down by suffering, the God we meet in Jesus Christ “gets it.” God understands our pain. And He promises to be with those who see Him as their Lord “to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The second thing I want to tell you is to ignore those who try to say that every bad thing that happens to you is your fault. It isn’t!
There are times when bad things do happen to us as the result of our bad decisions. There are also times when God, as a loving Father, disciplines us, thwarting us when we rebel against His will. But don’t let anyone tell you that the loving God of the universe is waiting to wallop you with a cosmic sledge hammer for every mistake you make. God is no monster!
Jesus’ followers—disciples—once pointed a blind man out to Jesus and asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus said neither the guy’s parents or he were guilty of a sin that caused his blindness. Instead, Jesus said that God allowed the man to be blind so that God’s glory could be seen in the man. Jesus proceeded to give the man sight. (John 9)
Sometimes, God allows us to keep suffering even after we’ve prayed. But in these circumstances, it's likely that God’s motive is the same as Jesus’ motive for healing the blind man: to let us see Him at work in our lives. One of Jesus’ followers in Bible times was a man named Paul. We don’t know exactly what it was, but Paul said that he suffered from what he called a “thorn in the flesh.” In the New Testament, he says that he asked God to remove it three times. God refused. As Paul explains it, “...[God] told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’” (Second Corinthians 12:1-10)
God makes our suffering count for something when we go through it with Jesus Christ: He teaches how we can rely on Him and He shows His goodness and power to others through us. On this latter point, it’s been my observation that often, as Paul sensed God telling him of Paul's suffering, it’s in those who suffer with Jesus that we most clearly see the presence and power of God.
Only heaven can be described as “paradise” (Luke 23:43). That’s the ultimate destination of all who follow Jesus Christ. This temporary home we call earth and the life we live here will never be a paradise free of suffering. But it is a place where we can know God intimately, experience fulfillment, love and encourage each other, and go through every high and low with God beside us.
Suffering may never make sense. But God’s love is always there for us.