When Bad Things Happen to God’s People

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17)

In 1981, a Jewish Rabbi wrote a penetrating book, Why Bad Things Happen To Good People. Rabbi Harold Kushner looked at suffering through the life of his son, who was diagnosed with progeria, a childhood disease that sees a child age by decades in just a few years.

Kushner – like most of us in similar circumstances – wondered why. “I had tried to do what was right in the sight of God. More than that, I was living a more religiously committed life than most people I knew. I believed I was following God’s ways and doing his work. How could this be happening to my family?”

We have all asked that question when God brings suffering our way. Sure, it’s comforting to know 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). But that verse doesn’t always hit the spot when we are the ones who are doing the suffering. Why does it happen? And why, as Kushner asks, do the lost and wicked of this world seem to prosper while the righteous suffers?

There’s one thing about which I am sure. I’m not going to definitively answer those questions with the 600 or so words that I have. But I do have a spin on suffering in which I find consolation and through which I can turn to God for help, rather than blame.

The Book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning, the earth was “formless and empty” until God’s creative hand gave form and substance to the world in which we live. (Genesis 1:2)

Well that tells me that he gave our world the laws by which it operates and I think Jesus agrees because he tells us in Matthew 5:18, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”. The Law to which Jesus refers is not just the Ten Commandments, but all of the laws which the first five books of the Bible embrace – moral, ceremonial, and natural.

These laws govern us, and like God, they never change. They make no exceptions for either the righteous or the wicked. Their reliability has enabled cures to be found for dreaded diseases like polio and will continue to enable science to find the answers to problems for which there was to be no hope. Ironically, scientists have used God’s laws in an effort to prove the notion of evolution.

Paul tells us in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” In other words, many of the problems that come our may have nothing to do with God’s perfect will. Instead, they are a function of living with consequences of bad choices, which is just another name for sin. God allows them to happen because He has created a world in which we have the freedom to make choices, even wrong choices. So you see God’s laws always work.

When suffering comes our way, we focus far too much on why it happened. Instead, we should ask ourselves, “what do I do now and who is there to help me do it”? Only then can we begin to look to God for help and stop holding him responsible for all the unfair things that happen in this world.

The Psalmist reminds us: “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalms 121:1-2)

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