Bad things happen to people who did nothing to deserve it and sometimes we struggle with that. Especially when it happens to us. But the Bible is full of stories about people, often good people, innocent people, even the heroes of the faith, to whom bad things happened.
Moses was adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter (which saves his life) but later runs for his life after he (accidentally?) kills an Egyptian while preventing that man from beating a slave to death.
Joshua and Caleb do everything right but spend 40 years wandering the desert because everyone else made a mistake.
David is anointed as king but is hunted by King Saul (and the entire army of Israel) and is reduced to what is practically criminal activity (almost a protection racket) while hiding in caves in the wilderness. Later, as king, David once again finds himself on the run when his own son stages a coup and takes over his kingdom.
Naomi moves to a foreign country with her family to avoid a drought, but while there, her husband and both of her sons die.
And Jesus talks with his disciples about a tower in Siloam (Luke 13) that collapsed and killed eighteen people.
None of these people did anything to deserve punishment and none of these things happened because God was punishing them. All of them, however, are examples of how the world “is fallen”, which means that sometimes life just stinks because the world isn’t perfect. Sometimes bad things happen, not because God is trying to punish you, and not because you must have done something bad, but just because sometimes bad things happen. The good news is that while, for his own reasons, God doesn’t always protect us from bad things, we are never alone. God loves us and cares for us, and is with us through the bad times. In fact, God often uses the bad stuff that happens to us to make us stronger, to prepare us for something he has in mind for our future, or to allow us to help others when they go through hard times. What do I mean? Here are two examples:
President Abraham Lincoln was married to a difficult woman. It has been said that by today’s standards, Mary Todd Lincoln would probably be diagnosed as bipolar or to have some other similar psychiatric disorder. President Lincoln could probably have had her locked away in an asylum, but cared for her instead. Historians believe that because of the strength and patience that Abraham Lincoln had built by spending all those years with his wife, he was uniquely able to withstand the mental pressures of the presidency during the American Civil War.
Several years into our first pastoral assignment, I conducted one of the hardest funerals I have ever performed. The man I buried, Lloyd, was active in the church, a member of several church boards, was one of the first to make us feel really welcome in town, and had become a friend. Although retired, Lloyd’s death was a surprise to everyone. He was not in ill health in any way. Nonetheless, his wife awoke one morning to find him dead on the floor. No one really understood why it happened. His death seemed meaningless. I am certain that he was not being punished. God did not “call him home” because God needed another hard worker.
But what God did do was to redeem, at least in part, the pain that his widow suffered. A few years later, another of our dear friends died suddenly. Larry was close in age to my oldest brother and had been an advocate and supporter of my ministry at a time when I really needed one. Larry’s widow suffered just as much as Lloyd’s had, but this time there was a difference. While I might try to be comforting, my wife was still with me. I could say very little that genuinely resonated with her or brought real comfort. But Lloyd’s widow, now more than a year into her healing process, lived just a few houses away. She could speak about faith and healing in ways that I never could. She could understand the pain and loss better than anyone who had not endured such a loss themselves. And so, as painful as it was for both of them, these women were able to meet together and help one another heal. As painful as the experience had been, God was able to use it to help another person to cope with their pain.
We understand that life isn’t always “fair.” We know that sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes bad things happen to good people who didn’t do anything to deserve it. But we must remember that it isn’t our “fault.” Generally, God does not cause bad things to happen so that he can punish us. Bad things happen because the earth has not yet been made perfect.
Bad thing happen because sometimes life stinks.
But through it all, we are never alone.
(Next: Life Out of Control)