Why do Bad Things Happen to People?
Many exert great energy in attempting to find the answer to the above question. This is especially true since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, when the Muslim terrorists attacked the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, resulting in thousands being murdered and many families losing husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and children. Why do such things happen? Why is life often characterized by misfortune, sadness, untimely deaths and tragedies of all sorts? The answer, "bad things only happen to bad people who deserve it," is obviously unacceptable and untrue (Lk. 13: 2-5). Bad things happen to all kinds of people. Let us now explore our question "why do bad things happen to people?" in more detail and see if we can find some answers.
Two great sources of influence in this world. When some talk about sources of influence, they simply and only have reference to such matters as the moon, sun, stars, and other planetary influences. They ignore and are often ignorant of the two main sources of influence, God and the devil. Not only do God and the devil exert the greatest impetus over this world, but also their influence is totally opposite, God standing for good and the devil standing for the antithetical evil. Too often people want to blame God for everything that happens. As we shall see, such is shallow and totally incorrect thinking. Such thinking can and does result in blasphemy against the benign God who loves all men and desires man's happiness.
Any study of why bad things happen to people should start, I think, with the ancient case of Job, God, and the devil. Indeed, one of the paramount designs of the Book of Job appears to be to set forth for man the answer as to why adverse events take place.
A brief look at Job. The Book of Job opens with these words, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job. 1: 1). Job was enormously successful and wealthy, to the point that it was said of Job, "this man was the greatest of all the men of the east" (Job 1: 3). He appears to have had it all, a relationship with his God, and a lovely, happy family (Job 1: 3-5). In a short time, however, Job's life changed. This is too often the story of life, one day to the next can present a totally converse situation. Job lost all he had, even including his sons and daughters. An enemy people stole an important portion of Job's livestock, fire burned his vast herds of sheep and servants, the Chaldeans sold Job's essential camels and murdered his servants in charge of them, and a great wind came and killed Job's sons (Job 1: 19). Please be reminded that the suffering and impoverished Job was an outstandingly righteous man. Even though Job suffered these great loses, Job did not "sin, nor charged God foolishly" (Job 1: 20-22). Why is it that Job did not charge God, was not God to blame? Remember that we said there are two great influences: God and the devil.
"6: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. 7: And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. 8: And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? 9: Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? 10: Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11: But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. 12: And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD" (Job 1).
Concerned reader, there are many Bible truths to be gleaned from the foregoing ancient reading (Job is believed to be the oldest book in the Bible). God's sovereignty and providence are plainly seen (vs. 6, 10). Also seen in the text is the origin of Job's troubles: the devil (Job 1: 12).
The devil, the source of all evil, sorrow, and misfortune. Is it really fair to accuse the devil as being the source of all misfortune? Beloved, Adam and Eve were in a perfect paradise (Gen. 1, 2). The devil introduced sin and all the attendant consequences of sin, sorrow, pain, and agony (Gen. 3: 16ff.). It was the devil who was responsible for physical death itself (Gen. 2: 17, 3: 1ff.). Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was a "messenger of Satan," hence, Satan was the source of Paul's physical displeasure (2 Cor. 12: 7).
Some knowing the devil is the ultimate source of man's misery still want to accuse God. "God is sovereign, therefore, he must allow Satan to inflict evil; hence, God is still to blame!" is how they reason the matter. For sure, God does allow much hardship to happen. Does this, then, mean God himself is bad? Could it be, rather, that much misfortune could have a beneficial purpose in the whole scheme of life?
One biblical word used to describe what many call tragedies is the word "trial." There are mainly four Greek words in the New Testament translated "trial." The common resident action of these words is that of testing. One of the four words (purosis) suggests refining or testing by fire. Hence, Peter wrote: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" ( I Pet. 4: 12).
Bad things can also involve good. The purpose of many trials is to prove the faith of the Christian (I Pet. 1: 6, 7). Enduring these difficulties will produce humility and patience (Rom. 5: 3). Remember the "messenger of Satan," Paul's physical infirmity? Notice what was said about it and the fact that the Lord refused to remove it from Paul: "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh " (2 Cor. 12: 7). Paul asked "why suffer and why me?" While the Lord would not remove the suffering from Paul's life, we do read, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness " (vs. 9). Consider Paul's model consequent attitude:
"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" (2 Cor. 12: 9, 10).
The conduct of Christians while enduring trials. "Woe is me, why did this have to happen?" is an attitude and conduct too often characteristic. Some, in the face of difficulties, turn inward and become very bitter. Some blame God and deny him. Notice the conduct that should characterize God's people when they experience trials. "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations ("various trials," footnote, dm); knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" (Jas. 1: 2, 3). After Paul and Silas had been beaten for the cause of Christ and placed in jail, we read thus of their conduct: "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them" (Acts 16: 25). Peter wrote relative to conduct in trials, "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (I Pet. 4: 19).
Beloved, trials are part of this life. Some of the problems, frankly, are brought about by our own sins (Prov. 13: 15). Some difficulties may result from doing what is right (2 Tim. 3: 12). Even though most cringe at the thought of problems and difficulties, man needs resistance and trials to challenge and make him a better person. Without trials, man tends to become arrogant and forget God. Yes, bad things happen to all men, good and evil. Listen to the Psalmist regarding one beneficial purpose of suffering:
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver" (Ps. 119: 71, 72).
God's assurance in difficulties. God does not promise a life free of problems, even for the godly. However, God does promise to provide his people with the means and ability to endure trials and to advantageously use the difficulties of life (cf. I Cor. 10: 13, Ps. 34: 7). In the case of Job, he did not charge God even though all around him insisted that he should. The closing scenes of Job's life inform us that in the end, "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42: 12). When misfortune comes, this is all we tend to see. The calamity, though, is just a tiny speck on a page of paper (our life). The trouble you and I have is that we are so limited in our vision and understanding of things.
Our heart goes out to people, especially those who are seemingly innocent, such as the victims on September 11. However, sadness is often a part of this life. Notwithstanding all the bad things that happened to Job, the very last verse in Job reads, "So Job died, being old and full of days." (To read related material, click on "America Since September 11" and, "The Problem of Evil and God".)