“Why do bad things happen to good people?” We hear that question a lot. It very well could be the oldest cliche in the English language.
As a Christian, we know the default answer: “There are no good people.” Right? I mean, Jesus Himself told the rich young ruler, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
So then, if there is no such thing as a good person, then the question is not legitimate.
But for the Christian – those who have put their faith in the work of the cross and have been adopted as God’s children – the question changes. We do know that we are “not good,” but that doesn’t change the fact that we are God’s possessions.
So for us, the question changes. “Why do bad things happen to God’s people?”
And here is where we come into one of the most confusing aspects of the Christian life.
Right now, I have multiple friends who are Christian and living lives submitted to Kingdom work, yet (although very different circumstances from one another) are dealing with major suffering in their lives. Realizing that in times of crisis people’s emotions are heavily involved, this question can’t just be answered appropriately unless we are first clear on the nature and character of God toward His sons and daughters.
If you are born again in Christ, you are not under the wrath and punishment of God.
God cannot pour His wrath out again on a sin committed by a Christian who’s sin has already been dealt with on the cross of Christ. If Christ took the wrath of God for you, then it would be unjust for God to pour out punishment for that same sin again. Injustice is against the nature and character of God.
The truth is that if you are a Christian, all of God’s desires for you are all out of love and intended for your growth toward maturity in Christ-likeness. In fact, is is because of what we know of God’s grace, through the sacrifice of Christ, that we can understand what God means in the Old Testament when He said things like, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
God ONLY EVER seeks good for His people!
So then, back to the question at hand. “Why do bad things happen to God’s people.”
I suspect that the individual reasons for every bad thing that happens are as wide spread as the bad things themselves, yet I think the one thing that is certain in every one of them is this: God wants to use these things to draw you closer and closer to Himself.
The reality is that if God only ever gave you good things, and showered you with every blessing you wanted, you would lose a sense of love for Him and instead hold a sense of entitlement toward His stuff. That is what happens at the fall of man in Genesis 3, and what is repeated in human nature over and over again, as shown by the example in Romans 1:18-32. God will not stand to have spoiled children.
This is the difference between punishment (which Christ took for us) and discipline, which God promises to all that He loves to keep us from being spoiled brats.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?:
‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,nor be weary when reproved by him.For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,and chastises every son whom he receives.’
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons”
What God wants more than anything else is for you to grow up into maturity as a child of God, and one that will run to Him when things go wrong or when you fail, rather than running away from Him. That is what this discipline is for. God is training us in righteousness as His children.
That thought, then, brings me to one of my favorite passages of scripture: Psalm 51:3-12
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
This passage demonstrates the epitome of Christian maturity: “God, I know that I am a sinner, I have always been a sinner, and my sin is directed against You. I also recognize that You are the only one that can clean me up, forgive me of my sin, and make me new again. God, no matter what that process looks like, don’t send me away. Don’t take your Spirit from me. Keep me close and give me strength to endure.”
That makes a great prayer, and one I wish I remembered to pray more often. However, in my little paraphrase, I did leave out one phrase from the scripture that none of us really want to acknowledge is there. Is is phrases like this that our eyes tend to pass right over because they make us uncomfortable.
“Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”
What? In God cleaning us up and bringing us back to Him, bones get broken? That certainly isn’t the Christianity that most of us signed up for. And yet, in the context of the scriptures there is beauty in the pain that God will bring us. Broken bones CAN rejoice when they’re broken for a reason. Matt Chandler says it like this: “Sometimes God will crush your fingers to get your hands off of what will harm you. And that’s been true in every book of the Bible, in every year in the history of man.”
So why do bad things happen to God’s people? The answer is always to make us better at being God’s people. To put it very simply, when things go right most of us forget about God and don’t pursue Him, but as soon as things go badly, we pray more, we read the Bible more, and we run to Him more looking for hope. So God delights in sending us blessing but He also sends the bad things to draw us in. Or to use the words of J.I. Packer, “And still (God) seeks the fellowship of His people and will send them both joy and sorrow to detach their hands from the things of this world and attach them to Himself’.”
Christian, no matter what you are going through today, I pray that you will be encouraged. God is not out to get you. Quite the opposite. God is for you, and is working things out for your good (Romans 8:28).