This is undoubtedly a question all of us have asked at some point in time—a question many are asking right now. In the midst of a global pandemic that seems to be preying upon the most vulnerable members of society and some who are seemingly healthy, it’s a legitimate question. When bad befalls the good, it enrages our sense of justice and we ask how a good God could allow such a thing to happen. The problem, however, is that the question is flawed. Why? Because it begins with a faulty premise. But even if it didn’t, it still wouldn’t change the answer.
Earlier this week, I watched a cartoon with my kids that reminded me of this question. It told the story of a man who lived long ago who was very wealthy—prosperous in every way. In the age of agriculture, when land was the basis of wealth, he owned hundreds of acres and thousands of animals—7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 donkeys. Additionally, he had 10 children and many servants. He was so wealthy, in fact, that he was considered the wealthiest man in the region where he lived, but in an instant, it all came crumbling down. Within a very short amount of time, he was informed that raiders had stolen his oxen, donkeys, and camels and killed most of his servants, that a lightning storm had killed all his sheep and that a wind storm had collapsed the house of his eldest son where all his children were feasting and killed them all. We can only imagine the devastation he must have felt in that instant. To make matters even worse, though, he later developed painful boils that covered his entire body from head to foot. Unfortunately, however, the pain didn’t end there. This man lived in a time when it was common belief that bad things happened only to bad people—or as a punishment for having done evil things. Consequently, three of his best friends showed up and rather than consoling him, they proceeded to insist that he must have done something to deserve it all. Not even his wife comforted him—her only advice was to “curse God and die.”
If you are unfamiliar with this story, it tells of Job in the Bible, and we know that Job didn’t do anything to deserve it. In fact, if anything, it was his righteousness and godliness that garnered him all the attention. God gave Satan permission to bring all this hardship on Job simply as a test. Satan’s ultimate goal was to get Job to deny God, which he never did. In the end, God not only restored Job’s fortunes, but gave him twice as much as he had before. But what is most interesting to me about this story is the conversation that happens between Job and God when God finally reveals Himself to Job. Throughout his suffering, Job wondered why God allowed everything to happen and insisted upon his innocence (see Job 31). When God finally replied, however, the answer was not what Job expected. Rather than giving him a direct answer, God responded with a series of questions and challenges to humble Job—to give him proper perspective.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…Who determined it’s measurements?…Or who shut in the sea with doors…and said ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?…Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?…Have you entered into the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail?…What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?…Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind? (Job 38)
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (Job 40)
“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” (Job 41)
How would you respond to these questions? Would they suffice you if you had suffered so much? Notice that God never tells Job why he allowed him to suffer. He never tells Job how Satan came to Him or about the exchange that happened between them that concluded with God allowing Satan to bring destruction upon Job and his household. In light of this, let’s look at Job’s response.
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)
In the process of God’s questioning, Job seems to realize that God is ultimately sovereign. Consider this, by what right can we claim anything we have? Do we have any right at all to any of it? Does not everything we have come from God? Therefore, does God need our permission to take it away? Who are we to question God and his purposes? My children get to experience the benefits of my hard work as I provide for them, but they don’t technically have a right to single thing they have. While I have a responsibility to provide for them, they have no right to demand certain clothes, certain food, or that we live in a certain place or that I buy them certain toys. Those decisions are mine and mine alone. That said, I want to provide the best I can for them because I love them and want the best for them, and while I may give them the ability to decide from time to time, I do not relinquish my control in the process. If this is the case with parenting, how much more so for God, who created all things. I am but a man. God’s ways are much greater than mine.
Do you sense the answer to the question?
Jesus gives us further insight in Luke 13:1-5 while he was teaching a crowd of people:
“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
So what is God’s response to why bad things happen—even to “good” people?
Earlier, I mentioned the original question is flawed. Why? Because it begins with the assumption that we are “good.” But by whose definition? Most of us are “good” by worldly standards, but we fall way short of meeting God’s standard. Isaiah says that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags and Paul says in Romans that there are none who are righteous. Not one! Romans 3:23 says “for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None of us can say that we have NEVER lied, cheated, stolen, lusted, coveted, or elevated some worldly thing to be more important than God in our lives. The reality is that we have all broken God’s law. It may have begun with Adam and Eve, but we are all guilty. And what do we deserve as a result? Romans 6:23 tells us the consequence of our sin is death.
So the reality is that we live in a fallen world—a world where bad things happen—sometimes for no specific reason other than because the world is broken due to our sin. Moreover, in light of God’s law, we likely deserve far worse than what we have–but that is the grace of God, that He gives us what we don’t deserve.
If this answer doesn’t suffice, consider this—God didn’t even spare his own son. There was only one perfect being to ever walk the face of the planet and God willed that He should be crucified to pay the debt for all mankind. So if God didn’t even spare his own son from immense suffering, why should we expect him to spare us? God had a specific purpose for Christ’s sufferings and He likely has a purpose for ours as well, but He never guarantees an explanation. He simply admonishes us to repent.