Why do bad things happen? Why do people, for example, get attacked, or get cancer, or get into accidents? Why do little children die unexpectedly of something as absurd as influenza, or develop serious congenital issues before they’re even born? Why do families fall apart? Why do people slip on the ice and break a hip or fall down the stairs and become paralyzed? Why does God sometimes let spouses be unfaithful or abusive, or parents not be the people they should be? Why do friends let us down? Why can people be unkind or unwelcoming; why do we get looked down on and thought less of for things we can’t really control? Why is there scarcity in life? Why is there war? Why is there oppression? Ultimately, in whatever shape or form it touches our lives, why must we, as human beings, experience pain?
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV)
The short answer as to why there is pain is that it is because of the presence of sin in this world, but there is more, and that pertains to how we respond to the pain that enters our life–what its result is in us. Whenever bad things happen we have two choices–1) we can pull further away from our heavenly Father, or 2) we can draw closer. We can become angry at Him. We can mistrust Him. We can question His judgment. We can doubt His love for us. We can pull back and even become alienated from Him. Or–we can run into His loving arms. But what determines what our response will be? It all depends on the quality of our relationship.
Let’s use my marriage as an example. If I have a strong relationship with my husband–if I know he loves me very much and is always concerned about my well-being, and if he has always been faithful and there is a good explanation for everything he does–I will not panic if he unexpectedly drops off the grid for an hour or two because I know he is trustworthy and there is a good reason why I can’t reach him at the moment. If, on the other hand, he has shown himself unworthy of my trust–well, I probably won’t respond in quite the same way. Do you see? It all depends on his character.
It’s the same with God. If I have a strong intimate spiritual relationship with Him based upon a significant investment in His Word and prayer, I will know my God. I will know that He is–utterly and completely beyond any shadow of a doubt–trustworthy. I will be convinced both of His love for me and of His ability to successfully effect whatever it is He is working out in my life–and I will not fight Him. To the contrary, I will run to Him, and like the apostle Peter I will say “…Master, to whom would…[I] go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. [I’ve]…already committed…[myself], confident that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 MSG)
And that is the crux of the issue: do I know Him well enough to respond with a confidence like that? Do I recognize–and genuinely believe–“…that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate…[me] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)? Do I remember that He has declared, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 NIV)?
Trust in any relationship is predicated on a previous track record of proven character. God, however, is always good; I just may not have invested enough in my relationship with Him to recognize this yet. But if, as the result of an ongoing vibrant relationship with Him, I have come to recognize that He is always good, loving, trustworthy, faithful, omnipotent, omniscient and wise; if I have been able to personally, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8 NIV); if I remember that He has never failed me before; if every time I obeyed Him I found that things have worked out–in other words, if I know from personal experience, “…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)–then I will be more inclined to cling to Him in faith, and trust Him in this situation too.
But why do bad things actually happen? I’m convinced that God allows pain to enter our lives to drive us to Him–to cause us to seek more of Christ, which is not something most of us naturally do. When all seems well we might be content to close our hearts off from God and attempt to navigate life apart from Him; it is only when confronted by that which is bigger than us–that which injures us, or which we cannot solve or get through on our own–that we recognize our need.
I am furthermore convinced that most of us do not comprehend through how much we will have to pass before we get to eternity. The Word of God confirms this. In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas affirmed that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God…” (Acts 14:21-22 NIV)
Each of us has a separate path, but it is the path our Lord has given us and we must walk it. Just as John’s was not Peter’s, yours is not mine and mine is not yours–each is uniquely ours: “Jesus answered, “If I want him to…[fill in another’s path] what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22 NIV) But if we will use the trials and difficulties and pain God allows to enter our individual lives to seek Him more–to “gain Christ and be found in Him,” it will serve its intended purpose of refining us and drawing us closer to Him “…until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19)
Help “our light and momentary troubles…[achieve] for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Help us “…fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Amen.