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Questions People Ask the Church: God, Why Do Bad Things Happen?

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After 20 years of being a pastor, I've discovered that that there are five basic questions people both lost and saved ask of the church. The first and most significant question I've heard over those twenty years is, "Where is God?" The question is often expressed as a prayer of desperation and a cry for divine companionship.

The second significant question I am asked is, "Why do bad things happen?"

I'll never forget the day sitting in a hospital waiting room with a young couple from our church, as they waited for word from the sergeon. Their six-month-old baby needed open-heart surgery if she was going to live. I'd like to be able to tell you that God reached down with His mighty healing hand that day and performed a miracle. But things did not go well that day and their baby died. It was heart-wrenching as they brought that pale, lifeless little body out to the parents.

The mother was hurt and angry. In her eyes I could see that she wanted answers to unanswerable questions. She wanted that baby and God knew that. How could a good God who knows everything and has all power allow that baby to die?

Most people conceal their anger and frustration, even when their losses are gut-wrenching, but every minister and most lay people have faced the question, "Why do bad things happen?" A baby born with a terrible defect; a soldier killed in battle; a teenager paralyzed in an automobile accident; a child dying of lukeimia; Auschwitz and My Lai; and famine and war and plague and bloody revolution in all of it we ask how an all-powerful, good, and loving God can permit such horors.

The church is always at the cutting edge of the question. We need to give a reasonable answer. I can't give you all the answer you might like today, but we can start.


            1. question #1: does God afflict His children with pain and suffering in order to teach us a lesson?
                1. of course not
                  • ILLUS #1 Let's use a human analogy. Does a loving and wise parent correct a wayward child by inflicting pain and suffering upon the child? You discipline the child. That discipline may take the form of physical action such as spanking or sending them to their room or taking away a priveledge. But a normal parent does not cause the child to be in an accident, or introduce a malignancy into their body, or bring some other life or health-threatening event to pass. Is it fair for us to assume that God does operate that way? More importantly, is it biblical?
                2. what many believers perceive as God punishing them is merely the Christian reaping the rewards of a sinful habit
                3. this leads us to ask another important question
            2. question #2: does God allow His children to experience pain and suffering as a result of their own foolish or rebellious actions?
                1. of course
                  • ILLUS. Again, let me use a human analogy of a parentchild relationship. There are those times that a parent may allow a child to make a decision which the parent knows may bring about a painful situation for the child. You know their decision is going to cause pain to them. But as painful as it is for you as a parent to allow the child to go through the experience you know that it is the only way the child may learn and hopefully mature. It's kind of like the rich lady who was trying to talk to an acquaintance on the phone. In the other room her small child--spoiled beyond belief was making a fuss. A bumblebee had flown into the room and was buzzing about. The child wanted the bee, but the nanny was keeping the child from acquiring its prize. The mother yelled into the room for the nanny to give the child what it wanted. A few moments later, there was a loud scream and the child began crying uncontrollably. "What did you do?!" the mother angrily asked the nanny. To which she responded, "I simply let the child have what he wanted."/


            1. preachers often must respond to: "If God is a loving God, how can he allow evil to flourish in this world?"
                1. the earth is full of natural disaster, political upheavals, catastrophes, economic hardships, accidents, illness, untimely death and abundant wickedness
                2. it ain't God's fault!
            2. man is responsible for every bit of pain and sorrow, evil and difficulty we experience


            1. men suffer because of their own sinful nature and evil actions
                1. man is a sin-soaked creature
                    1. we are willful beings endowed with the freedom to choose between right and wrong, between good and evil
                    2. the problem is we frequently choose wrong!
                2. our fallen nature closely allies itself on the side of the world the flesh and the devil
                    1. this is what the prophet Jeremiah is referring to when he writes: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Jeremiah 13:23 (NIV)
                    2. the result?
                    3. most men walk "after the flesh" rather than "in the Spirit"
                3. when that happens, spiritual principles which God has put in place take over
                  • Galatians 6:8-9 "For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (KJV)
                4. most of our pain and suffering come as a consequence of our own sin
                  • ILLUS #2 I was in my first pastorate right out of college. I had been there for a couple of years. One day I got a phone call from a church member. I member of our church was in the hospital with cancer. When they gave me the name I did not recognize it. It turned out that this man was in his 50s. He had made a profession of faith as a child, and had been baptized into the church. At some point he dropped out and, to anyone's knowledge, had not been to church anywhere ever again. When I visited him in the hospital, I discovered that he was full of cancer and was going to die. It was in his nasal passages, his lungs, his larynx and a few other places. As I talked with him it became obvious that he was mad. He was made at God! I'll never forget as he looked at me. Anger was flashing in his eyes and he said, "Preacher, I've always been a good person. Why is God punishing me like this?" In my youth and inexperience I really did not know how to answer him and so just kept quiet. I later learned from family members that he had been a heavy smoker since he was a teenager. For the last ten years of his life he had smoked 4 and 5 packs a day.
                5. even among believers, most of our difficulties are a result of following our old sinful nature, and yielding to temptation
            2. men suffer because of the sin of others
                1. a fine Christian family is driving down the road, going home from church
                  1. a drunk driver tops the hill on the wrong side of the road and hits the church-going, Christian family head on. Both parents are killed. Two children are critically hurt and left orphans. It's so tempting for good Christians to say, "God, it's so unfair." "God it's not right." "God, why did you let this happen?" "Lord, what did they do to deserve this fate?"
                2. the point is, they didn't do anything to deserve that fate
                    1. the sinful actions of another person brought pain and suffering to a family and a church who loved them
                      • ILLUS. The classic biblical example of this situation is found in David's sin with Bath-Shebe. David and Bath-Shebe were in the wrong, but who paid for it? Uriah!
            3. lastly, men suffer because of a fallen creation
                1. Christians must remember that the world's situation today is not the result of God's original plan
                2. God did not build illness, disaster, upheaval, catastrophe, hardship or even death into His original creation
                  • Romans 8:19-22 "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."


            1. this is Paul's observation in Romans 5:3-4
                1. why can believers "rejoice in our sufferings?"
                2. because ". . . we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
                  • ILLUS. During the week of Easter, I watched one of the great old Hollywood Biblical epics. It's title is Quo Vatus. It's about a Roman General who falls in love with one a beautiful slave girl who is a Christian. Through her life and the testimony of other Christians Quo Vatus becomes a Christian himself. For this faith he earns the wrath of Nero. Nero has burned Rome, placed the blame on the Christians and is busying entertaining the masses by delighting them with mass execution of believers in the Roman arena. After one episode where hundreds of Christians have been thrown to hungry lions, Nero goes down into the arena to examine the corpses that are left. To his amazement, many of them are smiling! They suffered and died with joy.


            1. someone once said that "Suffering is always bitter and that suffering which is unjust is doubly bitter."
            2. but hey, life is like that
              • ILLUS. In a "Born Loser" cartoon, Ziggy is standing in front of a window with a sign above it reading "COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT." The person behind the counter is telling Ziggy, "I don't want to hear about it."
                1. there is not a person here tonight who has not experienced the sting of an apathetic "so what" attitude as a response to their pain or suffering
            3. Philip Yancy, in his book The Gift of Physical Pain writes: "Nothing in the Scripture hints that we Christians should expect life to be easier, more antiseptic, or safer. We need a mature awareness of the contributions of pain, and we need the courage to cling to God despite the world of pain and sometimes because of it."
                1. listen to what the author of Hebrews says:
                  • Hebrews 2:10 "For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."
            4. if the King of kings and Lord of lords was made "perfect through suffering" we should not be surprised that the grace of God can also lead us to a higher plain of spiritual maturity through the difficulties of life
              • ILLUS. One of the great English poets of the 17th century was John Milton. At the height of his writing career, his eyesight began to fail. Had he not been a devoted follower of Christ, he might have become bitter. Yet, as the darkness closed in on him, Milton, in what he called his "Sonnet on Blindness," squarely faced the problem of suffering and tribulation and resolved to rise above it. Of his blindness he wrote "My soul was thus bent to serve more acceptably my Maker." Proof of God's wisdom in sending Milton this great hardship is found in the fact that after the light faded from his sight, he produced that great epic, Paradise Lost.
                1. how you allow pain and sorrow to affect you depends upon the state of your spiritual life
                    1. invariably, those believers who have a consistent walk with God will see difficulties and suffering as one of many of God's tools as a character developing tool toward spiritual maturity
                    2. on the other hand, those believers who are backslidden and nominal in their faith will see the same difficulty as God's punishment and will pray for


            1. what's the difference you ask?
                1. theologically, there is an enormous difference
                    1. when the NT speaks of punishment it is almost always referring to the fate awaiting those who refuse to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ
                      • 2 Peter 2:9 "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:"
                        1. this is but one of several examples
                        2. the word punishment here carries the idea of vengeance and retribution
                        3. obviously this is not how God deals with Christians
                    2. when the NT speaks of chastisement it almost always refers to God's disciplinary actions in the believer's life
                      • Hebrews 12:5-9 "And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!"
            2. in the Bible the term chastisement usually refers to reproof or discipline inflicted by God for one to obtain some specific results
                1. education, instruction, and training Job 4:3; Ps. 6:7
                2. corrective guidance 2 Tim. 2:25
                3. discipline, in the sense of corrective redirection Prov. 22:15; Heb.12:5-11; Rev. 3:19


            1. King David wrote, in the 119th Psalm:
              • Psalms 119:67 "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word."
              • Psalms 119:71 "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes."


            1. notice the progression
                1. suffering produces perseverance
                    1. perseverance or patience in the KJV refers to cheerful endurance which leads to a consistent way of life
                    2. it refers to not to a passive take-whatever-comes-your-way kind of attitude, but and actively overcoming through faith
                2. perseverance leads to character or experience in the KJV
                    1. the word applied to metal whose impurities had been purged by fire
                    2. in the Christian experience Paul is referring to a tested and approved life
                    3. it results in a trustworthiness gained through tempering
                3. character leads to hope
                    1. the word means to happily anticipate
            2. what are we to happily anticipate?
                1. the answer is found in vv. 6-11
                2. it is in the reconciliation received by faith in Christ and all that goes with it

CON. Seldom does God use a person greatly who has not been hurt deeply. - A.W. Tozer

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