A while back I received another great question via Facebook Messenger*: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The absolute best answer I can come up with is “I don’t know”.
I wish I had a better response. I wish that there was some obscure Bible verse that we’ve all skimmed over that holds the key. But as far as I know, there isn’t.
And the whole “God is making everything happen for a reason” thing is probably true in the big picture, but in the here and now it rings hollow. It’s hard to throw around platitudes when we’ve got things like natural disasters, random acts of violence, and childhood cancer.
There are some questions that you get answered and others that you sort of carry around with you. The poet David Whyte has talked at length about this. I think this is one of those kinds of questions. As you carry it with you, this question of suffering, it gives you compassion for others.
Looking around the internet lately there seems to be this newfound interest in Stoicism. A big part of the appeal has to be the approach to pain. I’m not an expert by a long shot, but at the heart of this philosophy seems to be a mental bracing against suffering. You know something bad is going to happen to you, so you grit your teeth and harden your will.
This attitude probably does make the suffering a little more bearable. But it has an unintended result: it decreases your capacity for joy. As hard as life is, I want all the joy I can get.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about Christianity is that suffering is woven right in. And it’s not just part of the deal – it’s at the very heart of it. Jesus didn’t come as a conquering hero but as a suffering servant. His invitation is to pick up your cross and follow him.
But where Jesus is going involves more than suffering. It involves death and resurrection. And the power of his resurrection is so much greater than any human suffering.
Like everybody else, Stephanie and I got really taken with This Is Us. In the first episode, a doctor is talking to a young man who just lost his child.
“I like to think that one day you’ll be an olde man like me talking a young man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.”
I believe that God is in the lemonade business.
I believe that, if you let him, God will take your suffering, and use it for good. In that sense, even the worst day of your life can become your finest hour. Instead of being defined by your failures and shortcomings and bad things life has thrown your way, you can become a story of how God used even the worst of circumstances to create something good.
I’m not trying to downplay whatever you’re going through. Today literally might be the worst day of your life. And it’s completely OK to be upset or angry about that. But with time, if you let him, I believe God can transform even the worst day of your life into a story of his redemption.
I don’t know how the theology of sin and free will operate. I know there’s evil in the world. I also know that God allows bad things to happen. I’ll ask him about that one day. But for now, I want him to use everything that happens in my life to his glory, whether it be good or bad.
*Please don’t send me anything via Facebook Messenger, unless you’re OK with me replying in about 40 years. I am HORRIBLE with Facebook Messenger. Send me an email, or write me a letter.