Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In Part 1, I opened up this topic of dealing with tragedy. Some years ago Christian journalist and author Lee Strobel commissioned a national survey and asked people what question they’d ask if they could ask God only one thing. The number one response was: “Why is there suffering in the world?”
Maybe you’ve never asked why our world is infected with pain and suffering, but my guess is you will when they strike you or a loved one with full force. And Jesus said they are coming. Unlike some other religious leaders who wrote off pain and suffering as mere illusions, Jesus was honest about the inevitability of suffering. In John 16:33 he said, “You will have suffering in this world.” He didn’t say you might—he said it is going to happen.
There are no words to describe the anguish being felt by those who are suffering today—our heart and prayers have, and will, go out to them. There are so many tragic stories, so much pain. And many people are asking the question, Why? Why did God allow this? There’s illness, abuse, broken relationships, betrayal, sorrow, injuries, disappointment, heartache, crime and death. And perhaps you’ve been asking the question too. Why? Why me? Why now?
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
That ‘why’ question is not a new one; it goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th century, when we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.
And the 21st century didn’t start any better. There was 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?
But why? I don’t know—I don’t have God’s mind; I don’t share his perspective. In 1 Corinthians 13:12 we’re told: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” Someday we’ll see with clarity, but for now things are foggy. We can’t understand everything from our finite perspective.
I want to say: God is not the creator of evil and suffering. This answers the question you hear so often: “Why didn’t God merely create a world where tragedy and suffering didn’t exist?” The answer is: He did! Genesis 1:31 says: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
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But if God is not the author of tragedy or evil or death, where did they come from? God has existed from eternity past as the Father, Son and Spirit, together in a relationship of perfect love. So love is the highest value in the universe. And when God decided to create human beings, he wanted us to experience love. But to give us the ability to love, God had to give us free will to decide whether to love or not to love. Why? Because love always involves a choice.
So in order for us to experience love, God gave us free will. But unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from him. And that has resulted in the introduction of evil into the world.
Turn Bitter or Turn to God
Church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life—and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair.
Reid asked him, “How old are you?” The boy said, “Seventeen.” Reid asked, “How many years have you spent in hospitals?” The boy said, “Thirteen years.” The pastor said with astonishment, “And you think that is fair?” And the boy replied: “Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me.”
And he will. God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever. Let the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9 soak into your soul: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage. We’ve all seen examples of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter, to reject God, to become hard and angry and sullen, can cause another person to turn to God, to become more gentle and more loving and more tender, willing to reach out, to compassionately help other people who are in pain. Some who lose a child to a drunk driver turn inward in chronic rage and never-ending despair; another turns outward to help others by founding Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
We make the choice to either run away from God or to run to him. And what happens if we run to him? Above I quoted part of what Jesus said in John 16:33. Now let me give you the entire verse:
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.
In other words, he offers us the two very things we need when we’re hurting: peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future. How? Because he has conquered the world!
Through his own suffering and death, he has deprived this world of its ultimate power over you. Suffering doesn’t have the last word anymore. Death doesn’t have the last word anymore. God has the last word!