Why Do Bad Things Happen?
By Donald S. EwingONE OF the most frequent questions that leap from our hearts, I believe, is this simple one: "Why?" Why has financial disaster struck after I have so carefully planned, worked, saved, and reinvested? Why is my baby taken in infancy without ever having a chance to live? Why has this missionary labored his whole life with a foreign tribe without seeing a single convert? Why?
II Corinthians 12:7-10
Let's look at the very nature of the question. We know that bad things, whatever they may be, do happen to people. So, when we ask why, what we are really asking is, "Why is it happening to me instead of to someone else?" True, no one wants to admit that, but in all frankness what else can we mean? If we just ask, "Why is it
happening?" that would be one thing. But if "to me" is implied in our query, then we are in effect suggesting that I do not deserve that which is happening to me. That, of course, is foolishness. Each of us deserves a sentence of death. Anything less is God's mercy.
I wonder if we would understand the answer to our question even if it were given to us. Every experience is a fiber taken from the tapestry of life, and one cannot see the tapestry by just examining the fiber. Neither can one understand the purpose of the fiber without knowing the tapestry. For that reason, we cannot really understand the purpose of any given experience in our life unless we can see all the relationships that are involved with our life. Only God can do that. And since we are not God, how can we know why?
Alternate current. Have you noticed that we seldom ask why when things are going well for us? We only ask why when things go wrong. That is very human, to be sure, but we should at least be aware of it. To put things into the right perspective, we ought to ask why when we are enjoying God's blessings just as readily as when we are facing bad experiences.
The fact is, no one's life proceed on an even keel. We all live on alternating current, so to speak. Sometimes we are up; sometimes we are down. Sometimes things are good; sometimes they are bad. There is push, and there is pull. There is plus, and there is minus. It is that way for everyone; it is the human condition. This is the harsh reality that we must learn to understand and accept if we want to live victoriously. It has been so from the very beginning; it is nothing new.
The Garden. There are those who suggest that if only we can perfect the environment in which we livesocial, political, economic and whateverthen everything will be good and nobody will complain. It did not work with Adam and Eve, and it has not worked since. You do not improve the pig by putting up a fancier fence. That may be a little complex, but you can figure it out if you work on it.
Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment. They lived in total bliss. Everything was just right, and then all of a sudden they were cast forth to live lives of stress and strain, pain and sorrow, tears and all the rest. The cause and result were rather simple with them. They violated God's will,
and they were cast out. God had warned them that the moment they disobey His command, they would surely die. They apparently did not believe it. And so, all these things happened. I doubt if they ever dared to ask why. I think they knew; they knew without a question.
Roller coaster. David was a clean-cut, bright, shining, handsome young man when he tended the sheep out in the fields. His life was simple. But then he became a hero. He slew Goliath and became big in the nation.
Remember how the women came out of the cities, singing and dancing, and said, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands"? Saul didn't like it at all. When he heard the ladies praising David, he decided, "That man has got to go." He began to plot to get rid of David, and David had to flee for his life as a result. He began to experience the roller coaster of life.
David was a great king, but when things were good,, he turned his palace into a place of intrigue. David was a good warrior, but he was not a good father to Absalom; he failed to discipline the son. Eventually, Absalom broke away, raised an army and tried to kill him and supplant him on the throne. Nothing could be harder for a father to bear than to have his son seek to slay him. Absalom was finally killed and David was restored to the throne.
David's why. Despite his heinous sins, David always loved the Lord. He is a strange contradiction, but in a sense he is a picture of us all, considerably enlarged. He lived a roller coaster life that is equaled by very few men in the history of the world.
Read Psalm 13:1,2 and you hear him ask: "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?"
And he wondered in Psalm 22:1: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?"
Why? Why is this happening to me? That's what he was asking. He felt the heavens had turned to brass; his prayers were no longer heard. David asked, "Why God? You know my heart. You know I love you. You know I care. Why?"
You will find this kind of query up and down all through the Word of God. The disciples, no doubt, asked this question that dark and terrible night after the crucifixion and burial of Christ. All their hopes lay dead in the tomb. Why should such a good man die? What would happen to us now? Why?
If you and I were there with that little holy huddle of frightened souls, I submit, we too would be altogether bewildered.
God's answer. But in II Corinthians 12, God shows us through the Apostle Paul why we, as children of His, should not succumb to such bewilderment. The apostle has just revealed that he had the rare privilege of having been caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. He then writes in verses 7-10:And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in theWhy? Why should Paul be given this thorn in the flesh, whatever it may have been, when he has been serving God so faithfully? For one thing, it was to humble him. But more important, he was afflicted so that God's power might be released in and through him. The once proud Pharisee had to become an empty vessel before he could be filled with the glory of God. Accepting that, Paul responds: All right. If that is the way it is, then I will glory in my infirmities, for when I am weak, then through the power of God I am strong.
flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
Contrast. A good illustration of this changed attitude is seen in Romans 7 and 8. In 7:15-24, Paul talks about his struggle with sin, saying in essence: "I do the things I know I should not do. I do not do the things I know I should do. I want to do God's will, but when I will to do it, I find another law within my members warring against this good intention and overpowering it." He goes over it, and over it, and over it.
Not coincidentally, in those ten verses the words "I" and "me" appears over 30 times, and therein lies the source of his problem. He was trying in his own strength to overcome that which can be overcome only by God. When we get down to verse 24, there is this cry of deep hurt: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
Then comes verse 25: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." When he was willing to acknowledge his helplessness and put his problem in God's hands, he began to see victory.
Thus, when we move over into Chapter 8, we find the words "I" and "me" only three times, but the word "Spirit" 21 times. You see, when we cannot handle it, we will ask why. And when we ask why, we will get no answer. If, however, we place it in God's hands, we will not ask why because it will no longer be relevant. We will simply submit to the will of God.
We can think of this section of scripture in terms of a simple outline: Romans 7:15-25 = I and defeat; Romans 8 = Holy Spirit and victory. This is a good outline for all of us on how to handle that question, "Why?"
God's sovereignty. But how can we in practice escape the intellectual and spiritual prison of "Why?" Recognize, first of all, that God is the sovereign Creator. He created everything that has ever existed. As such, He has the right to rule in everything, and that is exactly what He is doing. Nothing else makes any sense. Modern science, when it gets over into origins, is nonsense. You must get into theology before you can find the answer to the origin of things.
God created all things with a purpose, and He has since been working
out that purpose moment by moment in the history of the world. Like any fine tapestry having threads and fibers of many colors, His purpose includes dark and light threads. Indeed, the dark ones in history are just as important as the light ones. The eternal purpose with which God created the heavens and the earth involves, moreover, every child of God, everyone that Jesus died on the cross to save. Therefore, our existence does have meaning.
Refinement. We are created to serve God, not to be coddled. There is quite a difference. We are part of the action, not part of the audience. To be useful, any tool must be formed and sharpened. For the steel that is cut and sawed and chopped and ground, I am sure that is not fun. The forging process that turns it into a sharp tool includes many beatings. Likewise, the hard things that happen to you and me are painful, but they are necessary for us to be useful to God.
Suffering is always for the sake of others; Paul makes that clear. If you do not suffer, you cannot help those who suffer. If you do not know rejection, how can you help the rejected? So, don't forget that God's overall plan calls for our difficulties. Then be submissive, as Paul was. Be willing to rejoice that the hurt will bring meaning and purpose, that lives may be changed.
A partial picture. I spoke at the outset of a missionary who worked a whole lifetime with a foreign tribe without seeing anyone converted. But after he died, another missionary came, and nearly everyone in the tribe was saved. You see, we do not have the whole picture; the tapestry is hidden from us. But it is all known to God, and God wastes absolutely nothing. We must recognize that we are not God, and that "Why?" is a God-question; it is not a good question for human beings.
I would suggest that when you reach one of these ìwhyî places, you reaffirm your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, remembering that He is in total control. Refer the question to Him. Since it is a God-question, He is the only one that can answer it. Then relax. Give it to Him, and you withdraw. o
Dr. Donald S. Ewing is the speaker of the Trinity Pulpit radio program. For information, e-mail at tpulpit@.org or write to the Trinity Pulpit Trust, Box 66, Wayland, MA 01778.
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