Why Do Bad Things Happen?
Since I have been preaching at this congregation, we have seen much tragedy and suffering.
We have seen the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
I was brushing my teeth when Tammy yelled and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought it had to be some type of horrible accident, but then Tammy and I watched as a second plane struck. I knew then it was no accident, and I picked up the phone to call Dad at his office, and I said, “Dad, I don’t know what’s going on, but two planes have hit the World Trade Center.” He went home and watched TV, too.
We remember the horrific scenes of that day: people jumping from the Towers when it became painfully obvious that their lives weren’t going to be spared, a plane’s hitting the Pentagon, another plane’s crashing in a Pennsylvania field, and the sight of those two majestic Towers crumbling to the earth.
By the end of the day, some 3,000 of our fellow man lay dead.
In the coming days, it was so painful to watch husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings looking for their loved ones, hoping against hope.
Throughout it all, the question we wanted answered was: “Why?”
This nation also experienced the worst natural catastrophe in her history. A powerful hurricane—one of the most powerful ever recorded—hit the Gulf Coast, destroying New Orleans and several other cities, and taking many lives. So many of our fellow citizens had no home, no job, and in many cases, no family.
We watched in disbelief as small children were in shelters with their parents’ fate unknown. I watched an interview with one man who said that he was holding on to his wife in the storm for dear life. But he couldn’t hold on forever. Before she was separated, he said, “I love you. Take care of the kids.” He never saw her again.
Again, we wanted to know why.
This morning, I want us to think about “Why Do Bad Things Happen?”
On the one hand, we will never be able to answer that question, because we are not God. Job wanted to argue his case before God—Job 10:1-3. Job gets angry with God and he desire for God to show up so that he would be able to question him—Job 42:1-6.
God shows up, and instead of listening to Job’s questions, God questions Job. God tells Job that He has great creative power—Job 38:1-11. Job gets the point and keeps his mouth shut—Job 42:1-6.
The whole point of the Book of Job seems to be that God is God; he understands why we suffer, and we shall never understand why people suffer. We, therefore, need to rely on God instead of our own understanding.
On the other hand, Scripture provides a few glimpses as to why individuals suffer the way they do. Although God—and God alone—fully understands why we suffer, he provides us a few clues, and this morning, let’s focus on those few clues.
Suffering Comes Because We Live in a Fallen World
Because Adam and Eve Sinned, the world we inhabit is fundamentally changed from what it was prior to their sin.
Eve’s sin is precisely the reason there is so much pain in childbearing: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children” (Gen 3:16). Do notice that there was going to be pain in childbearing prior to the Fall, but the Fall increased that pain. Adam’s sin is precisely the reason man’s work is often painful. Genesis 3:17-19. Do notice that the Lord refers to Adam’s work as “painful toil.”
Think of how much suffering is in this world because of sin.
Sometimes people suffer because of their own sin. How many people suffering from cirrhosis are suffering because of lives of alcoholism? How many people suffering from AIDS are suffering because of illicit sexual activity or drug abuse? (We know, of course, that both of these diseases affect those who have not gotten them through sin).
Sometimes people suffer because of other’s sin. On September 11, 2001, this nation suffered because of the sin of a few fanatics. How many parents spend sleepless nights because of the sin of their children? How many people have been murdered by the sin of others?
Because sin is in the world, people are going to suffer.
Death is in this world because of sin. Romans 5:12-14. People die, not necessarily because they themselves have sinned, but because sin exists in this world. As long as we dwell in this fallen world, we will face suffering, sickness, and death.
Suffering Can Produce Personal Growth
Job recognized that on the other side of his suffering, he would be a stronger person. “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Job here speaks of the process of refining gold; gold is refined or purified by a process known as cupellation. The gold is placed in a crucible with lead and melted. As air is blowing across the surface of the molten mixture, the impurities are absorbed as dross and the purified metal remains. Job is obviously saying that after his suffering, he will be a better person than he was before the suffering.
In speaking about the coming Babylonian Captivity for Israel’s idolatry, Isaiah spoke for God saying, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is 48:10).
“Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater work than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be provided genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet 1:6-7).
John Hick, a well-known theological, has provided a solution to the problem of evil. Much of what Hick says must be rejected because he denies the Fall and the influence of the Fall on this whole issue.
Yet, Hick makes some very good attempts at explaining evil in this world. He says that God has designed this world of cause-and-effect, of suffering, so that this world would be a place of soul-making. According to Hick, man’s full moral capacity could never be developed in a paradise, but for man to reach his full moral potential, he must have problems to solve, challenges to meet, and difficulties to overcome. I think that Hick may have a very good point: Because of the suffering we endure, we are able to flex our moral muscle and become better people.
Are you becoming a better person because of the suffering you endure?
Suffering Can Result in People’s Seeing God’s Works
When Jesus’ disciples encountered a man born blind, they asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:2). The disciples were operating on the assumption that all people suffered as a direct result of their own sins. That was the view of Job’s friends—when they come to Job, they basically say, “Job, repent of your sin and God will take all this suffering away.”
Notice Jesus’ response, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (Jn 9:3). Because this man was born blind, Jesus was able to demonstrate his miraculous power, and the blind man came to believe in Jesus (Jn 9:38).
Through people’s suffering today, the sufferer and others are able to see God’s works. They’re not going to be able to see God’s works in the same way as that blind man or the people in the temple that day did. None of us can raise the dead or heal the sick. Jesus could have; we can’t.
Nonetheless, we can show others God’s love through our love and compassion. So many in the New Testament demonstrated God’s work in just that way.
When the church in Antioch heard that a severe famine was going to come upon Judea, “the disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the others living in Judea” (Acts 11:28). Because of the brethren’s generosity, the brethren in Judea were not only able to live but non-Christians were able to see what Christianity is all about. “You know that through our response to suffering, people see God through us: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Acts 16. The two were severely flogged and thrown into prison with their feet in stocks. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, Paul and Silas around midnight “were praying and singing hymns to God.” When the prison was shaken by an earthquake, the jailer went to kill himself, but was prevented from doing so by Paul and Silas. The jailer went to Paul and Silas, inquired about his salvation, and was baptized along with his household. Had Paul and Silas never been imprisoned, that jailed would have gone straight to hell. But he came into contact with Jesus’ blood because Paul and Silas suffered.
Will we see suffering as an opportunity to show forth God’s works? Will we step up to the plate to help those who are suffering so very deeply? Will we use our own suffering to lead others to Christ, that in our lives God’s works may be seen in us?
I graduated from IBC with a man who had suffered with cancer; as a matter of fact, he had to have a leg amputated long before he came to school because it was eaten up with cancer. The cancer was in remission the whole time he was in college, but it returned a couple years after graduation. It came painfully obvious that Mark wasn’t going to overcome the disease this time, but that it as going to get him. When the hospice nurse would come, Mark would study the Bible with her, and the two were studying at the time of his death.
Mark used his suffering as an opportunity to do the work of God. May we use our suffering in the same vein!
Suffering May be Attributable to Satanic Forces
Satan and his angels have been known to cause a great deal of suffering.
Remember the Book of Job? Job, at several points in the book, blames God for what’s happening: “The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; god’s terrors are marshaled against me” (Job 6:4). Job, as a character in the story, doesn’t know what the reader knows—viz., that Satan, not God, is inflicting him.
Notice what Jesus said when he healed a woman: “Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Lk 13:16).
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).
It always troubles me when I hear people saying that tragedy is God’s will. A child is killed in a head on collision by a drunk driver, and her parents are comforted by saying, “It was God’s will.” That thinking makes God the perpetrator of evil, and he is nothing of the kind! I’ll agree that the accident may have been the will of a spiritual being, but Satan, not God, is that being.
Suffering May be Retribution
We know that God punishes wrongdoers, and Scripture strongly suggests that he doesn’t always wait until this life is over to do so. Notice what Jesus said about the punishment coming upon Jerusalem: Matthew 23:35-36. “We know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, ‘The Lord will judge is people’” (Heb 10:30).
But doesn’t the Lord wait until this life is over to punish? Not necessarily.
Speaking of pagan homosexuality, Paul said, “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received I themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (Rom 1:27). “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his [flesh], from [the flesh] will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal 6:7-8).
Think of all the biblical illustrations where people suffered in this life because of their sin. “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance” (1 Chr 10:13). The Captivity of both the Norther and Southern Kingdoms occurred because of sin. Concerning the Northern Kingdom: 2 Kings 17:6-7. Concerning the Southern Kingdom, notice what Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 1:5: “Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease. The LORD has brought her grief because of her many sins. Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe.” Ananias and Sapphira died because they lied to the apostles, thereby lying to the Holy Spirit. Speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus said, “This is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written” (Lk 21:22).
The difficulty today is that we no longer have prophets to tell us if events are divine retribution. We don’t have a prophet, inspired of God, who can arise and say, “The word of the Lord came to me: Here’s why this is happening.” Therefore, there is absolutely no way to know whether events are divine retribution or not. Yet, I am not at al certain that that says retribution doesn’t take place in this world any longer.
Notice what Jesus said about the Galileans whom Pilate killed and the eighteen who died in Siloam (Lk 13:1-5). They were no worse than others, but all men needed to repent. All men need to repent. Have you repented?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.