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Why does God let bad things happen?

Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?
how to avoid the trap of bitterness

Have you ever wondered, Why did God let me suffer that injury? lose my job? have a car accident? forget that appointment? have a fight with my spouse? let my parents get divorced? let me be born with a defect?

How can a God who loves me allow me to experience pain and suffering? It just doesn’t seem to add up. When bad things happen, we want answers.

The truth is, you can’t know all the reasons why God lets bad things happen. We live in a world that is marred by sin, so difficulties and disappointments are bound to cross our path. Nevertheless, if you ask God for discernment, you can begin to understand why He allowed something to occur. You can also discover how God can redeem the situation and bring benefits to your life as a result of suffering.

Scripture teaches us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28; see also Jeremiah 29:11). Searching for God’s answers and learning to view “bad things” as “good things in disguise” are disciplines that God wants His children to develop as they mature spiritually. (See I Corinthians 2:14 and Romans 8:1–17.)

Accept God’s Grace

Unless you accept God’s grace to deal with suffering, inevitably you will become bitter. However, if you choose to trust God to bring about His purposes through the suffering, you can avoid the trap of bitterness and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. (See II Corinthians 5:7 and II Peter 3:18.)

You can be confident that God will not allow anything to happen to you without His permission, and He will not let any “bad thing” happen that will not ultimately bring you more good than destruction. (See I Peter 4:12–13, Romans 9:14–24, Isaiah 55:8–9, Job 1:6–12, Genesis 50:20, and Psalm 121.)

Discern the Benefits of Your Suffering

As you seek to discern the benefits of your suffering, it is important to ask six general questions:

1. How can this situation help me understand more about Christ?

Jesus suffered much. He was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He was ridiculed, betrayed, beaten, humiliated, abandoned, and falsely accused. Do you think Jesus was ever tempted to be bitter toward those who caused His suffering? Of course He was. In fact, the Bible says He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

“Without sin”—here is the difference between man’s “natural” responses of anger and bitterness (sin), and Jesus Christ’s responses of trust and perfect obedience to His Father’s will. How, then, can we face temptation without sinning? The next verse in that Scripture passage gives us the answer: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus showed us the right way to respond to suffering. In your hard circumstance or tragedy or heartbreaking disappointment, you can learn to respond as Jesus did. As you study God’s Word, be alert to Christ’s responses when He suffered. Follow His example as God guides you by His Holy Spirit, in each situation you encounter. Through your suffering, you can understand more about your Savior.

2. How can God use this situation to produce humility in me?

God hates pride. (See Proverbs 6:16–17.) On the other hand, “by humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life” (Proverbs 22:4). Therefore, when you suffer you should look for ways to learn humility. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

Do you know why God let the children of Israel wander in the wilderness for forty years? The Bible tells us some of those reasons: “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy 8:2, emphasis added).

3. What character qualities can God develop in me through this situation?

Your heavenly Father wants you “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). As the Lord gives you grace to respond to each circumstance like Jesus would respond, you will develop Godly character. The Bible tells us that even the Son of God learned obedience through what He suffered. (See Hebrews 5:8.)

Carefully review the list of character qualities as you ask yourself, Which ones could be developed in my life as I respond correctly to this circumstance?

For example:

  • Could I learn patience as a result of this circumstance?
  • What can this situation teach me about the need for alertness?
  • How can I learn obedience as a result of this situation?
  • Could this suffering motivate me to express gratefulness for things I’ve previously taken for granted?
  • Can I develop more compassion for others because of this experience?
4. Is this situation God’s loving discipline to correct me?

Have you disobeyed your heavenly Father? Because God loves you, He will chasten you as a Father chastens a son. (See Hebrews 12:5-11.) It is important to remember that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness …” (Hebrews 12:11).

If the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, repent. “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

5. Is this preparation for future leadership?

The life of Joseph provides an excellent example of suffering that thoroughly prepared a man to fulfill his destiny to be a great leader. For example, when Joseph served Potiphar, he learned to be a manager; when Joseph was betrayed and abused, he learned firsthand the value of justice and mercy. Both of these benefits, as well as many others, were ultimately part of God’s plans to prepare Joseph for leadership. Is God allowing your suffering to prepare you for leadership?

6. Did this happen because of the iniquities of others?

We also can suffer as a result of others’ iniquities. For example, children frequently must deal with the consequences of their parents’ wicked choices. If your employer makes foolish decisions, you will probably suffer too. If your spouse is ignorant of, or rejects, God’s design for marriage, both of you will suffer.

Scripture gives us many examples of suffering that came as a result of others’ wickedness. For example, at one point in time, Israel experienced severe famine for three years. When King David finally asked God why He had let this famine (i.e., this bad thing) occur, God explained that the famine was the consequence of decisions made by David’s predecessor, Saul. When King David brought restitution to those who had suffered injustice at the hand of King Saul, God ended the famine. (See II Samuel 21:1–14.)

Although you cannot completely avoid suffering that comes as a consequence of others’ sin, you can avoid becoming bitter about it. That choice is yours.

List of Possible Benefits of Your Suffering

To avoid the trap of bitterness, compile a list of benefits that God wants to bring about through your suffering. Using the questions above and the list of character qualities as tools, ask God to show you ways that He wants to redeem your suffering.

Often the benefits you discern will motivate you to respond to your suffering with joy and peace as you trust God to fulfill His purpose for your pain. Jesus Christ Himself endured the suffering of the cross for the joy of the rewards that were to come through His obedience and sacrifice. (See Hebrews 12:2.)

Discover How God Wants to Bless Others Through You

Jesus commanded us to love one another. (See John 15:12, 17.) God doesn’t want merely to bless you through your suffering; he also wants to bless others. One of God’s goals in allowing suffering is to get your focus off of yourself and encourage you to respond to the needs of others.

God’s perspective encompasses the world: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Through your suffering, He wants to broaden your perspective to be like His.

When God allowed Joseph to suffer, He didn’t merely bless Joseph in the long run. He blessed Joseph’s family, and He blessed nations! “And God sent me [Joseph] before you [Joseph’s family] to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God . … God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people [the entire nations of Egypt and Israel] alive” (Genesis 45:7–8, 50:20).

Embrace Suffering as a Path to Spiritual Maturity

Learn to look “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Follow Christ’s example and recognize the benefits that can come from your suffering. As you do so, you can avoid the defilement of bitterness (see Hebrews 12:12–15) and become better equipped to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).

“They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6). By His Spirit, God can give you life and peace—in every situation—as you look to Him for the answers.

Read Testimonies About "Why God Let Bad Things Happen"

Material about why God lets bad things happen is found in A Comprehensive Course in Effective Counseling, Booklet Five.

For Further Study

Comments

Lee

I think one thing people miss about this topic is that God doesn't cause bad things to happen to you. James 1:13 says :"When under trial, let no one say: “I am being tried by God.” For with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone."

It is true that he allows bad things to happen but he doesn't cause them. But according to the verse, it's pretty clear that God doesn't cause bad things to happen.

Aaron Lyon

How can a good God allow bad things to happen?
This question has been asked by both believers and non-believers alike. This question is often asked in times of deep despair and mourning. It is often used in our own judgment of God, as if that were possible. It is often used by many as proof that he doesn’t exist. I’ve pondered this question many times myself throughout my life. As a child I was angry at God for allowing terrible things to happen to me and even today as an adult it often hinders my ability to place my trust completely in Him.

Recently, I came to a different realization as to why God allows bad things to happen. Many years ago when my father passed away I remember receiving the call from my step-mom telling me that my father had drowned. When she spoke the words the thing that struck me most was the finality of it all. He was gone and I would never hear his voice again, never hear his laugh again, never feel his touch again. The finality of it all is what struck me to the very core of my being.

After pondering the finality of death, I began to realize that when we ask how a good God can allow bad things to happen we truly do not know what we are saying, we truly do not understand the implications of what we are asking. The day that God says “enough” and puts a stop to bad things happening in this world is the day when the world as we know it ends. At that moment there will be no more second chances, there will be no more time, there will only be a final judgment of mankind. If our good God stopped bad things from happening today how many people will be instantly standing before a Holy God with no hope, no savior, no ability to stand in his presence. The deafening sound of weeping and gnashing of teeth of all of those who did not accept his offer of reconciliation through his Son Jesus.

Then some may ask Why then does a good God choose to punish people? The truth is that decision is ours to make, any punishment we receive from God is our own choice. We have a choice to acknowledge God exists and to admit our shortcomings. We have a choice to accept his plan of reconciliation through his Son Jesus. We decide. We choose out fate. He respects our choice even when it pains Him. He is willing that none shall perish and He sent His Son Jesus into to the world not to condemn it but to save it through faith in His plan.

We ask Him in this life how he could allow bad things to happen because we only know our current circumstance. Our view of life is limited to the window of time in which we live, and we can only feel our own pain or the pain of those closest to us. God must see things much differently as He has seen the beginning and the end, He alone knows what it will mean for generations of people, for all of mankind, when He finally decides “enough”. He alone knows the full meaning and consequences of His decision to stop the suffering. The finality of any such decision by God is a very sobering thought and one that should not be pondered lightly.

Child Of God

Isaiah 45:7- I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. KJV
God is Creator of all and can do all He pleases. Praise the Lord.

Anonymous

Thank you for the word

Karina

Thanks for explaining this. I think all people wonder this. I know some people who have experienced great tragedy, who have questioned their faith.

Yonas

Thank you !

Thomas

If God has the power to intervene and alleviate some of our suffering, wouldn't He ultimately be at least partly responsible when He doesn't?

I have only received suffering and pain in my life, and God hasn't once been there to strengthen me or help me. So I don't trust Him. When I don't trust him, it's almost impossible to pray an earnest prayer, because what's the point? Same thing with praise, worship and song, they're all pointless when the words are empty and hollow. And how can it be any different when I don't trust in God's goodness? The only "goodness" I receive from him is suffering.

But still, to whom could I go, there is noone else but him..

bvanderford

Dear Thomas,

 

Our heart grieves with you as you face these struggles and challenges in your life.  We want you to know that we care about you and  desire to help in whatever way possible. We would like to try and give you some answers to your questions which we pray will assist you as you seek the truth on these matters.

 

I would like to focus on your first question you asked, "If God has the power to intervene and alleviate some of our suffering, wouldn't He ultimately be at least partly responsible when He doesn't?" Before we can answer this question however, one must ask, "Why is their suffering at all?". God did not create suffering. He is not the author or maker of suffering. He takes no joy when someone is hurting and in pain. In fact, scripture is clear that He grieves over the very things that we grieve over and that those who inflict suffering will be judged and receive the just punishment they deserve for their wrong doings.

 

So why does suffering continue and where did it come from in this first place? Suffering is not something God chose for man, but rather a choice which man chose for himself that has affected every aspect of life consequently. As you may be very well aware, Adam and Eve chose to willfully disobey God's command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequences of their sin did not just impact them, it has impacted everything and everyone that came after them (see Genesis 3).

 

Part of the consequences of their sin was that there would be pain and suffering in the world, but why? This was not because God wanted to punish them during their entire existence on earth, quite the contrary. The pain and suffering that would come as a result of our forefathers' decision of disobedience, was actually to help them turn back to God and realize their great need for total dependence upon Him. The reason why this is significant, is because God created mankind for relationship; when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, it wasn't just a violation of God's law, it was a violation of an intimate relationship He had with them and their commitment to that relationship.

 

God knew that without consequences to their sins, they would live for eternity selfishly for themselves which would only bring more suffering and hurt. It was through the pain of the consequences of their sin, that God intended for them to return to a relationship with Him. However, as you have probably already experienced, returning to a relationship with God does not instantaneously take away hurt and pain. 

 

The reason for this is primarily twofold: 

 

1) God Desires All Mankind to be Saved

God's ultimate desire is that all mankind would come to a saving knowledge of His love and salvation in Jesus Christ. One of the ways He does this is by using difficulties to bring nonbelievers to Himself.  Even though the pain and suffering one may be experiencing may not be a direct result of a particular sin they committed, every person must come to the point of realizing that all, including themself, need forgiveness of their sins and to experience the salvation of Jesus Christ.  

 

With this in mind, it is helpful to understand that pain and suffering are a result of three primary things: our fallen nature, what we do and what others do to us. The first step however to properly responding to suffering, regardless of who caused it or where it came from, is personally getting right with the Lord by confessing our sin and wrong to Him. Without coming to God first for our healing and forgiveness, there is no way we can properly respond to any other challenge we may face, regardless of where it came from or who instigated it. Once we have received God's forgiveness and have His power and life abiding within us as a result, it is then that we can begin to properly respond to each trial that comes our way.

 

2) Growth in the Body of Christ

The second primary reason why God allows suffering to continue, is so that the Body of Christ can grow. God knows that even after salvation, we as believers need to continue to develop in our faith, trust and total dependence upon Him in order for Jesus to be fully expressed through us. One of the ways God can accomplish this in us, is by allowing tests and trials in our lives to remind us that we need Him everyday. If we submit to Him through each one of these experiences, not only will He give us the grace to get through the trial, but He will ultimately be glorified as we continue to draw closer to Himself and reflect more of His image (see James 4:6-10 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

 

A good example of this can be found in the life of Joseph. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. Notice Joseph’s response to his brothers after having experienced years of suffering and pain at the hand of the Egyptians, "And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." (Genesis 50:19-20) Joseph was able to have this type of response, even after the horrendous tragedies he had faced, because he did not trust himself but instead trusted the One who knew "the bigger picture".

 

At the time of Joseph's suffering as a slave of Egypt, he did not know why God was allowing all of these things to happen to him and what God was ultimately doing, but he didn't have to. What Joseph did know from past history, is that God was trustworthy and that even though he did not know what the final results would be, He could still be trusted. As a result of Joseph's faith and perseverance in the face of suffering, God was able to use him to save  the entire known world from starvation due to a famine. It was because of Joseph's trust in God no matter what and his refusal to become bitter, that he could look his abusive brothers in the face and make this amazing statement, not blaming them but giving glory to God.

 

It is in this same way that every born again believer must trust God. The way of a Christian is not easy, but God never promised this to us. However, God has made it clear that the suffering we are experiencing now, is only for a moment in light of eternity and if we respond by looking to the Lord instead of ourselves, we will receive rewards in heaven which will not be taken from us (see  Hebrews 11:24-26)!

 

We hope and pray that what we have shared with you is an encouragement as you continue to look to the Lord for your help and strength.

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