Why does God let bad things happen?

Finding hope in the midst of pain

8 min

Whenever the news highlights the devastating impact of a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster, a common question arises, one that also resurfaces whenever we confront tragedy or painful circumstances in our lives: Why does God let bad things happen? Maybe God allowed you to suffer an injury, lose your job, or have a car accident. Perhaps you have had to live with a physical defect, experience the loss of a loved one, or go through the divorce of your parents. You may have thought, “How can a loving and powerful God allow me to experience pain and suffering?” When bad things happen, we want answers.

The Problem of Sin

When contemplating the painful experiences in our lives or the lives of others, it is important that we understand why suffering exists in the first place. God originally created a perfect world. Genesis 1:31 assures us that everything God made was “very good.” The world was without suffering, pain, or sin. However, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve made a willful choice to rebel against God’s clear instruction. That one act of disobedience not only brought separation from God but also brought sin and its tragic consequences into their lives and consequently, upon the whole world. 

The world now lives under the curse of sin. As a result, we are all born with a sin nature (see Romans 5:12). Because of our sin nature, we are susceptible to being led astray toward ungodly words and deeds. When sin entered the world, so did conflict, sickness, pain, and death. Every one of us carries the burden of that sin—it has wreaked havoc on our world, in our families, across nature, and in our own personal lives. There is a continual battle between God’s perfect design and the effects of a fallen world. Not only do we live in a fallen world, but we also have an enemy of our souls, the Devil, who roams about seeking to steal, kill, and destroy at every opportunity. He hates God and wants us to question God’s goodness. 

Our View of God 

Our understanding of Who God is becomes crucial when we are contemplating the question: “Why does God let bad things happen?” Some people might perceive Him this way: If God has unlimited power and He could quickly and easily put an end to all evil, does that mean He doesn’t love us enough to help? On the other hand, they may say that if God is truly loving, then He must not possess ultimate power, because despite His care and affection for those who suffer, He appears incapable of intervening on their behalf.

The truth is that God is both loving and all-powerful. King David described God when he said, “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: Neither shall evil dwell with thee” (Psalm 5:4). He does not want—or even tempt—a person to commit sin (see James 1:13–16). But God does allow man to make his own choices, to choose right or wrong, good or evil. He did not create mankind to be robots that perform pre-programmed functions. He wants a dynamic, loving relationship with us; but He does not force His love upon us, nor does He demand love from us. This relationship is one of choice. God grants us the freedom to choose between good and evil, allowing us and those around us to face the consequences of our choices. Sadly, many people have chosen to live in sin against God and others. When bad things happen as a result of sinful actions, we must be careful to not blame God for the choices of men.

As we encounter the various trials, challenges, or hurts that will surely come as part of life in a broken world, let’s ask ourselves if we truly know, understand, and, most importantly, believe the truth about Who God is and His character. Then, even if we never fully understand why He is allowing or has allowed bad things to happen in our lives or in the lives of others, by faith we can rest in the truth that He does love us. He lovingly invites us to come to Him, bringing all our pain, confusion, fear, and despair and trust in His perfect, infinite wisdom. We can find peace in His presence. We are never alone! 

He lovingly invites us to come to Him, bringing all our pain, confusion, fear, and despair and trust in His perfect, infinite wisdom.

God’s Plan for Redemption 

Since sin has entered our world and created pain and confusion, and since God is loving and powerful, He must have a solution for the mess we are in, right? He does! God intervened by providing an answer for sin and death when He sent His perfect and sinless Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us (see John 3:16). 

From a human perspective, Jesus’ death on the cross seemed like a tragedy. The Son of God was betrayed, beaten, mocked, ridiculed, and nailed to a cross by sinful men. Afterward, two of Jesus’ followers, devastated that Christ had died rather than liberating Israel from Rome’s rule, wondered aloud how this could be? To make matters worse, they had just heard that Jesus’ body was gone from the tomb! Certainly they were wondering why God let this “bad thing” happen! The answer to their question soon came to them from Jesus Himself: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Sin requires punishment, and Jesus took our punishment upon Himself in order to save His people from their sins. No one expected a suffering savior. 

God turned the most significant act of evil in history—the crucifixion of Jesus, the perfect Son of God—into a catalyst for the greatest good ever accomplished. The Apostle Peter makes this clear: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). Surprisingly, God Himself was overseeing that act of injustice. He had foretold it in the Old Testament; in the New Testament, we see how God orchestrated all the events leading up to this pivotal moment in time, ensuring the completion of His divine plan. God was making a way for the salvation of mankind—rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with Him—through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son!

We can have confidence that God can also take even the most painful experiences we face—what Satan or others have meant for evil against us—and by His healing and redemptive grace in our lives use them to accomplish His purposes for our ultimate good and His glory (see Romans 8:28–32). By His saving grace, He has taken care of our greatest problem—our sin problem—and by His sustaining grace He will give us His strength and wisdom to meet and appropriately respond to every hurt, trial, and need of life (see I Corinthians 10:13, Philippians 4:19, and II Corinthians 9:8). 

God’s Purposes for Our Good

It is important that we understand, believe, and cling to the truth explained in Romans 8:28–29: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

We sometimes mentally translate this verse about God working all things together for good to mean that God works all things together for our personal happiness. But this verse carries a different meaning. After a closer look at these verses, we see that God works all things together for good specifically for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. What “purpose” is being referred to? Verse 29 indicates that His purpose is to conform us, as believers, to the image of His Son!

One of the primary means that God uses to conform us to the image of Christ is through trials and difficulties. When we respond to the trials we face in life with trust and thanksgiving to God instead of with murmuring and bitterness toward God or others, God can use those very adversities to build Christlike character into our lives! What a wonderful truth to consider that God can use everything—even the bad things—we face in life to conform us to the image of His Son if we allow Him to. 

It is essential that we are grounded in the truth that not only is God good, but He also does good. According to Psalm 119:68, “Thou art good, and doest good.” No matter what we face or are going through, we can trust that God is good and that He will bring good from a seemingly bad situation. 

One way God can bring about good in our lives is through help from trusted authorities and other brothers and sisters in Christ who can provide counseling and support, ensure safety, and fulfill the responsibility to “bear one another’s burdens” (see Galatians 6:1–10). Remember that seeking help in times of trouble does not indicate a lack of faith or doubting God’s ability to care for His children. In fact, it can be a significant part of the healing and growth that God has in store for you.

The Good Shepherd

In the midst of pain and heartache or difficult seasons in life, we can find hope from the words of David in Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” This passage magnificently portrays the protective nature of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, assuring us that even in the depths of the valleys—those seemingly bad events or situations—we are not alone.

His rod serves as a symbol of protection, and we can find comfort in knowing that the Shepherd is actively fighting on our behalf, allowing nothing to pass into our lives without His permission. The story of Job serves as a powerful reminder that even Satan had to seek God’s permission before touching Job’s life. God was still watching over Job, restraining evil. The trial or pain may still come to our lives—and it may be difficult—but it does not mean the Shepherd is not on watch. We too can trust that the Good Shepherd is always watching over us, protecting us with His rod.

David’s psalm continues to proclaim: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” David spent much of his life on the run, hunted by many seeking to harm or even kill him. But in Psalm 23:6, he noted that it was God’s goodness and mercy (love) that followed him all the days of his life. Like David, we must place our trust in the sovereign care of the Good Shepherd. 

Have you placed your trust in this Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ? If you are not a sheep that belongs to the Shepherd, you do not qualify to receive the blessings of being in His fold! For those who have placed their trust in the Good Shepherd, the promise of living eternally with Him in Heaven brings further comfort. According to John 10:27–28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” 

A believer’s journey does not end in “the valley of the shadow of death”; instead, it extends to eternity in the presence of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Therefore, as believers, we can find our hope and rest in the knowledge that this earthly pilgrimage is temporary, and a glorious future awaits us. 

Finding Peace in Pain

In times of turmoil and pain, our deepest longing is for peace. However, the peace we yearn for does not hinge on having all our questions answered. Instead, this peace goes beyond human understanding and is given by the God of peace Himself (see Philippians 4:7). This peace is rooted in the assurance that God is orchestrating all things, including our suffering, for our ultimate good (see Romans 8:28). True hope in any circumstance comes only from the God of hope (see Romans 15:13 and Psalm 42:11). 

We read in Psalm 147:3 that God “healeth the broken in heart, And bindeth up their wounds.” God’s healing power alone can truly restore peace to a broken or troubled heart. Don’t allow the bad things you are facing or experiencing to push you away from the Lord; rather, allow your difficult situation to push you closer to Him. Watch as God works mightily on your behalf and for His glory. He is the great Redeemer. Because God is both good and sovereign, we can rest and trust in Him. 

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