Recent school and church shootings have people saying things like, “It’s strange to think these people thought they were going to have a normal school or church day. Innocent people moving along with their lives as usual. Now, it’s over for them. Why would God allow that?”
I certainly understand that feeling in a very personal way. I had the same experience when my husband left one morning for his normal work commute and never came back, leaving me a widow with a newborn and a two-year-old. It was just a normal summer day. Many people were headed to the lake for the weekend, but my life as I knew it was over.
I remember taking a shower (my only 10 minutes of silence) and saying to God, “I know I’m just a servant in Your kingdom, and I don’t deserve an answer from You. You are God, not I, and You are just to allow whatever You see fit. But would You be so gracious and merciful, please dear Father, to tell me why? I could bear this burden if I only knew why.”
I believe God answered my cry for understanding in many ways. I have seen how the circumstances of my husband’s passing have ministered to and even rescued others. And after these horrific public tragedies, I know there are others out there asking the same question: Why would a good God allow this?
As Christians, we need to be prepared to respond to those who come to us for answers. As I pondered these questions myself, I thought it might be helpful to put together a guide to help us talk with those around us. Here is a list of biblical principles that can give us a basis for understanding.
1. God did not bring death into the world. Man did.
(See Genesis 3 and 1 Corinthians 15). Adam and Eve were both created as eternal beings that would not experience death. They were warned by God not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else they would die. But they did it anyway. It was at that moment death entered the destiny of man. God did not create man to die but to live forever with Him in perfect communion. It was Adam who chose death, and he has passed it down to each one of us through the nature of our flesh.
So no one can blame God for bringing sin or death into the world. That is something each one of us is responsible for through the participation of our own sinful lusts and desires. The world has evil in it because we brought it here.
2. God uses suffering to bring about good.
“Okay,” someone might say, “so God didn’t bring about the suffering, but He let it happen when He could have stopped it. Why?” There are many reasons why God allows things to happen in our lives, but there is one basic reason—to bring about the greatest ultimate good.
I’m sure that sounds contradictory to most. We spend our whole lives trying to avoid suffering and pursuing what we think will make us happy. In America, the “pursuit of happiness” is an unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence, the foundation of our entire country.
It is a common assumption that because God is good, His job is to bless us with worldly happiness all of the time. It is true that God delights in doing good things for His children. As Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). But God also allows suffering to bring about good in a variety of ways. Here are three examples.
a. God brings good through suffering by showing our need for a Savior. Pain exposes needs. A pain in your stomach means you need food. A pain in your chest means a lack of blood. The pain of death shows the need for everlasting life.
Most of us walk around taking life for granted, but mass shooting and dangerous hurricanes remind us we could die at any minute. It’s in our vulnerability we realize we need a Savior. A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, emphasis mine). The mourning drives us to the only place we know we can find life after death—the cross. Even though death was brought through one man—Adam, life after death was brought through one man—Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15).
b. God brings good through suffering by blessing believers. Christians are called to rejoice and be glad in our sufferings. In Romans 5:3-5, Paul writes, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Consider the story of Joseph who had eleven older brothers. They hated him because he found favor in his father’s eyes. The brothers sold him as a slave in Egypt and told their father he was dead. Years later after experiencing false accusations, prison, and other sufferings, Joseph became a ruler of Egypt, more powerful than anyone but Pharaoh, and the people loved him. His brothers were forced to come to him for financial assistance, and they were afraid of Joseph’s revenge. But Joseph responded with these words in Genesis 50:19-20: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .”
Joseph saw the purpose for his suffering and God’s sovereign hand. Had his brothers not sold him into slavery, he would have never become ruler, and the people of Egypt would not have been saved from starvation. Joseph met his wife in Egypt; his sons were born in Egypt. Even though his brothers meant their acts for evil, God’s plan was for the greater good.
Don’t get me wrong. Tragedies are not good in and of themselves, but good comes from what God can use those sufferings to do in our lives. As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB, emphasis mine). Suffering for the sake of suffering is not what God has in mind when He allows us to sustain difficulty, but there is a reason why we go through it.
c. God brings good through suffering by teaching us compassion. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, compassion is a Latin word meaning “to bear suffering.”1 And that’s exactly what compassion is—to carry someone else’s burden.
The catch is that to have compassion it can only be learned through suffering. We no longer just listen to how another person feels, but we understand it. Personal anguish softens our hearts to the hurting and downtrodden. After having been hurt ourselves, we can see the ache in others and identify with their wounds. We can live Romans 12:15, “Weep with those who weep.”
Second Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
When you see your suffering as a way of finding empathy for others, a phenomenon takes place. Suddenly the hurt is no longer just a burden to carry, but it becomes a tool to help you seek others whom you can help by lifting their load. As Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, said, “We will never know why bad things happen, but we can discover what good things can emerge from them. Affliction is often the messenger of God’s deepest truths.”2
3. Suffering moves us.
We Americans can be a complacent, stubborn people, often overlooking evil we should battle. Sadly, it takes something horrific to make us get up and move. When we see innocent people dying, we shouldn’t sit around shaking our fists at God, but rather allow it to move us to fight evil, defend the defenseless, and come together in unity. It shows our need for prayer and spiritual strength. When we experience these kinds of tragedies, we can no longer sit complacently by in our softly cushioned homes and deny that evil exists in this world. It’s time to humble ourselves before God, not turn our backs on Him, and pray for healing.
Let us not forget the principles found in the words of God in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Tragedies should only press us closer to Christ, the only place where we will find true healing from this kind of darkness in the world.
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1 Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, http://www.m-w.com/
2 Bright, Bill, His Intimate Presence: Experiencing the Transforming Power of the Holy Spirit. (Orlando, Fla.: New Life Publications, 2003), 41.