Tuesday, February 9, 2021
While recently reading a fiction book for the general market, I came across a bit of dialogue in which one character asks the other whether he believes in God. He hedges something like, sometimes, but not always, to which she replies, “I do.”
But then she goes on to say that as she grew older, the relationship she once enjoyed as a child, she now didn’t. And her reason: “I thought I understood the way things were supposed to work, but as I grew older, I realized I didn’t.”
She continues her speech to reveal one key reason for her disconnect from God as an adult: “Why would God, who’s supposed to be all good and loving, allow innocent people to suffer?”
This is the question that I think everyone—believer or non-believer—has to, at some point, grapple with.
This character ultimately feels both hopeless and unhappy as she attempts to reconcile her current situation with God’s Word—and the Bible falls short, she says. For this reason, we see her abandon her faith.
As I read this passage, something deep in my soul stirred, so I marked it. The depth of that fictional—and secular—conversation required more thought, more time.
I think the question—posed often in another form as “Why do bad things happen to good people?”—needs to be asked in a different way.
How do we discern what is from God?
When formed this way, I believe the Bible not only gives us hope but also gives us an answer—one we choose to believe by faith in His nature.
So, my answer?
If it is good, it is from God. His Word tells us He gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13; James 1:17).
God, by His nature, cannot give us evil gifts. It is not who He is.
This is the first response I would give to this character—that she has lost her hope and her happiness because she’s begun to doubt the very nature of God, His goodness.
When we come to a place where we doubt God’s goodness, then what we see around us determines how we define God and His kingdom. It becomes impossible to separate what we are experiencing (our circumstances) from our certainty or security in God’s love for us, for humanity.
If He is not good, He is also not loving. If He’s neither loving nor good, then He is easy to blame for all of our bad circumstances, all accounts of evil, all of mankind’s failures.
But He is good. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 119:68, which tells us God is good and what He does is good.
It is who He is—and the only way to crawl out of the pit of hopelessness is to believe this truth.
When we do, it changes our perspective. It changes how we view and answer the rest of this character’s question—why do the innocent suffer? Or, put another way, why do bad things happen to good people?
I’d argue there are three possible reasons—all grounded in the Bible, and I’ll try to be succinct.
1. The first might be our favorite because it takes the responsibility off of us and becomes an easy scapegoat. What is this reason? The devil and his demons. But in all seriousness, the Bible is clear that we have an enemy, an adversary, and he comes “to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). I am not a big “blame it on the Devil” person, but I also think if we don’t understand the very real and present powers of darkness that are at work (Ephesians 6:12), then we are both naïve and deceived.
2. The second is less popular because it is our responsibility, the result of our choices. Since the Garden of Eden, there have always been two choices: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Even chose the second tree (Genesis 3), and mankind today still chooses it, even believers. Our choices have consequences. We may be reaping what we have sown (Galatians 6:7-8). No one likes this answer, but it’s simply the truth.
God redeems us from our sin. He doesn’t punish us for our sin. The Bible is clear about that—Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:23-25; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 2:2).
And yet, these truths also exist. We make choices. And our choices have consequences.
3. And finally—the least popular answer, because it’s both out of our control and hard to swallow: sometimes God simply allows it. We see this play out in the book of Job (Job 2:1-10). The Word also tells us trials are for our testing (James 1:2-4), to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), for our refinement (Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:17), for our sanctification (John 17:17-20; Hebrews 13:12-13), for our good (Romans 8:28-30). None of these processes are easy—or fun.
The truth is, we may never know the reason why.
And let’s be clear here that even if God allows our pain, our suffering, our hard circumstances, our unfair situation—it is not from Him.
Remember, if something is from God, it is good, loving, peaceable (James 3:16-18). These are the gifts He gives. If it lines up with His nature, it is from Him.
And if you find yourself in a place that doesn’t feel good, what can you do?
I implore you, friends, don’t throw in the towel, as this character has done. Don’t abandon your relationship with your Heavenly Father.
Now, in this present circumstances, is the time to press in, to receive His love, His song over you, and to believe in His everlasting goodness and faithfulness.
Won’t you do it? Look for His goodness today.
Each good gift is like a knot on a rope, giving you a place to grip, a way to find footing as you climb out of the pit.
Keep climbing, friends. Keep gripping.