How Can God Be Good When Bad Things Happen?

I remember it clearly. It’s a moment in my life I will never forget.

I had just come back from the evening service at my church, changed into comfy clothes and plopped myself down in front of the TV. My roommate came into the living room, and told me I had a phone call. It was home.

I skipped into my dorm room, anticipating a quick “catch-up” phone call with my mom, but when I turned the corner into my room, I came upon a fairly odd scene. My roommate was there, propping the door open, my best friend who lived down the hall was holding the phone, and my RA was there flipping through our new yearbooks with the Dean of women…this was not exactly an everyday scenario for my room.

I grabbed the phone, and my brother, Jon, was on the line. “Sarah,” his tone was calm, but tense. “There’s been an accident.” My world froze; I don’t remember sitting down, but somehow I was. “Sarah?” my mother’s shaky voice chimed in. “It’s Dan. He’s been in a car accident, honey, and it doesn’t look good.”

My world was turned upside down, and to be completely honest with you…it’s never been the same.

My brother, Dan, was a great man, funny and witty, godly and passionate about ministry. He had served for 7 years as a missionary to Hungary’s youth, and loved every minute of it. He was effective and the ministry grew dramatically through his service to the Lord.

Why?” I asked as I cried myself to sleep. Why does God choose to bring bad things into our lives? And how can He be good when He allows these bad things to happen?

Have you ever wondered this? I know I did, especially during those two weeks when my brother’s life hung between life and death, before God finally took him Home. If God was truly good, wouldn’t life also be good? But it isn’t, is it? No. Instead, a loved one dies. A marriage crumbles in divorce. The words, “You have cancer,” echo in a heart. And we’re left to wonder, Can we see the plans or purposes of God in allowing suffering to come into our lives, turning our worlds upside down?

I believe we can. There are three very good reasons that I have seen for why God allows suffering in our lives. And though our hearts hurt from breaking…sometimes even physically, we can see the goodness of God through the pain.

God allows suffering in our lives to grow our faith.

The story of Ruth is a familiar one to most women. She was a Moabite who married into a nominally Jewish family. She lost her husband of 10 years; and with him, her fortune and her future were gone, and she was left with nothing but a penniless and resentful mother-in-law. The circumstances surrounding her husband’s death were bitter (Ruth 1:20). She had every earthly reason to turn her back on the God who brought this calamity on her life. But instead, Ruth did the seemingly unthinkable: She clung to God in a time of great sorrow. “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you,” Ruth said to Naomi before giving her enduring declaration of faith. “For where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”

In middle of great grief, we can find great comfort from the ever-present peace of God. When Dan’s life hung in the balance, it was passages like 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and 4:7-18 that I read over and over again which were a balm for my heart. Knowing that the circumstances we walk through are for a purpose – to make us more like Christ, to prepare us for our eternal Home, and to enable us to comfort others who will suffer like we have – makes it easier to come to terms with what God is doing in our lives. God does not waste our pain, and He’s not allowing it to happen without working all of it for our good (Romans 8:28-29). He is trying to grow us and our faith in Him, just like He was growing Ruth’s faith. We, however, have the ability to choose how we are going to walk through our suffering. We can choose to become bitter, or we can, like Ruth, cling to Him.

God allows suffering in our lives to bring Him glory.

Mary and Martha: the dynamic duo sisters who were undeniably loved by God, suffered great tragedy in order for the glory of God to be revealed to their entire town of Bethany. In John 11, Jesus was on the road, ministering to people as He traveled with his disciples. He heard the news that Lazarus, a good friend, a faithful man, and a brother to Martha and Mary, was gravely ill. But instead of dropping everything and immediately heading to his dying friend, Christ continued on with his ministry…for two days; He knew what He was doing. “It is for the glory of God,” Christ said, “So that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” When He knew that Lazarus had finally died, Christ decided to visit the family. He was met first by Martha and then later Mary. Interestingly enough, both women accused Christ of the same neglect, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” To be honest, I really get Mary and Martha here. I remember thinking something very similar to these emotions, as if God’s judgment in my own life played out through my brother’s accident. If God loves me, He wouldn’t take away the person I love. The problem in thinking this way is that it’s based on a lie about how God works. We must believe the promises of God over the lies of sin. In the case of Martha and Mary’s suffering, Lazarus’ death wasn’t even about them! It was for the purpose of bringing God glory. John Piper says about suffering, “The chief end of man is to glorify God. And it is truer in suffering than anywhere else that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Many times, crisis happens in our lives to give us an opportunity to achieve our purpose in life: to glorify God.

God allows suffering in our lives to be a testimony to a world who suffers without God.

It is interesting to note that when affliction enters a person’s life, more often than not the book of Job is opened. Why? Because of all the men who have ever lived, Job is the one known most for his suffering. It wasn’t just the financial humiliation he endured or the physical ailments that agonized his body. It wasn’t just the untimely death of all his children or the discouragement of his wife and friends. No. For Job, the combination of it all made him the poster child for suffering. And the real kick in the pants, was that at the very beginning God not only knew, but actually allowed Satan to reek havoc on this man’s life. And for what purpose? Was God just playing a game with Satan and using Job as a pawn? Surely not!

Suffering may be “intended by Satan for the destruction of our faith,” but it is “governed by God for the purification of our faith.” God allowed Satan to destroy Job’s earthly life with suffering so that the watching world could look on and see the testimony of Job’s claim that though every man has trouble in his life, Job chose to see the goodness of God through his (Job 13 – 14).

You see, every life has its own share of suffering. You can’t escape it anymore than you can escape death. It’s a part of life, like breathing. You can’t choose how you’re going to suffer either. It’s not like you can just decide, well, I’m not going to get cancer because I choose not to suffer that way. Or I’m not going to lose anybody that I care deeply about because I don’t think I particularly like that form of suffering. And you can’t simply opt out of suffering because you’re a Christian. Because as Job so aptly puts it, “Man is few of days and full of trouble.” Everyone, everywhere, suffers.

The choice you do have, however, is how you are going to endure the suffering life throws at you. Are you going to be bitter like Naomi? Blame God like Martha and Mary? Or have the resolve, like Job, to see the goodness of God in the middle of your trials? I remember coming to this crossroad in my own life that year when Danny died…several times. And even still, suffering comes along in my life. Another trial. Another family member. Same crossroad. And I have to sit back and really think and pray. Making a conscious choice, I pull out my Bible and I read 2 Corinthians 4 and remember:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay,
to show that the surpassing power
belongs to God and not to us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
So we do not lose heart.
Though our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.

– 2 Corinthians 4:7-10,16

4 thoughts on “How Can God Be Good When Bad Things Happen?

  1. Interesting summary. Very well put. Many use suffering as an effort to explain why God must not exist. But this judgement is based on incorrect ideas about God and what He is like.

    God wants us to learn from our experience and to develop faith. If he continually interfered enough to eliminate all suffering, he would eliminate the need for faith, and he would also take away our own opportunity to learn from our suffering.

    You didn’t mention it specifically, but God gives tremendous value to our own individual agency–he allows us to make choices, even if those choices hurt ourselves or others.

    Wise parents learn this as well in the process of raising children–if we do everything for them, they cannot learn. If they never fell off their bicycle, they would never learn the value of caution and wisdom in making safety judgments while riding a bicycle.

    Thank you for your summary!

  2. Thanks Sarah,I needed to read this .Yes I often wonder why God allows things to happen but I am trying to be obedient and if He will never leave my side, I can face anything, even this. Love you and appreciate you. Margaret

  3. Thanks Sarah! Tonight I was asking God the “why questions” associated with the loss of a loved one. It was a timely reminder for me to trust the Lord and rest in Him. God also used the passages in Corinthians to encourage my family after the loss of our loved one. It was neat to be encouraged yet again by those verses and by your testimony.

  4. Sarah,
    This topic can only be seriously discussed when all available facts are known and disclosed, and many who hold to your viewpoint either don’t know of the information or tend to forget and/or not search for it. Wouldn’t you say that an objective treatment of the topic of suffering must include a rough knowledge of not only how much suffering has occurred in human history but also *who* is suffering? Because when you say that we are tempered spiritually through suffering -as a sort of tool governed by God for a grander purpose- you seem to be presupposing that all (or most) humans live at least long enough to acquire some minimum or requisite level of awareness for such a test to have any purpose or meaning for them at all. This is by far not the case. Modern studies of population estimate that over 100 billion humans have been born (C. Haub 2004) yet only half survived to adulthood, at most. It follows that many of the 50 billion infants and children who died likely suffered, especially before modern medicine.

    Matters could hardly be worse than they have been for humans. Those of us who are healthy, and who were fortunate enough to be born in the right place and at the right time, too easily oversee this fact because it rarely applies in our daily lives. Information, however, counts; and decency dictates that, in dealing with this matter theologically, the quantity as well as the quality of suffering and early death that has occurred among children counts. It seems many people only deal with this topic to various extents when they or someone they love is hurting or dying. Needless to say, this says more about human psychology than it does about reality.


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