A question most often asked by Christians and non-Christians alike is "why do bad things happen to 'good' people?" I say 'good' in quotations because, as Paul writes in Romans 3:10, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one".
In light of that this question is technically, fundamentally flawed, as it presupposes that some people are better or more worthy than others. We all do wrong one way or another, so at a base level and in comparison to a Holy God, no one is any more 'good' than another, which is Paul's argument I believe (but that's probably a whole other blog post for another day).
But that aside, taking the question as it is, and assuming that those who just go about their daily lives not doing anything particularly 'evil' or nasty are to be considered as good people, then why should they have horrible things happen? Why should people who maybe even worship God, and live as best they can in accordance with his commands, get cancer for example? Or suddenly lose a child or spouse? Or have to constantly worry how they will pay the bills month to month?
Isn't God good?
Doesn't he care?
Yes. Yes he is, and yes he does.
Often with these kinds of questions, people will point to Job. If you don't know the story of Job, basically in a nutshell, he was a good, God-fearing man and then Satan challenges God by saying, "stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face" and then lots of really bad things happened to him (like his house collapsing and killing his family etc.) - you can read about all the sudden calamities in Job 1.
But at the end of the first chapter describing all the bad things happening, verse 22 simply says, "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing."
Though there is debate about whether Job is a historical account, or simply an allegorical story to try and give an answer to a similar question, I think the principle of the story is that despite the circumstances of life, we should still praise God and keep ourselves righteous in his sight no matter what - to persevere in faith even when those around us doubt - like Job's wife and friends did:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
But whether it is allegory, parable or historical, the righteousness of Job is one that is noted by God when speaking to Ezekiel, and James writes about Job's endurance as an example of being blessed by the Lord (Ezekiel 14:13-14; James 5:11).
Even the disciples had a similar question in John 9:1-3 when they came across a man who had been born blind, and asked Jesus whose fault it was - the man's or his parents? I find this particularly interesting as the man was born blind, yet they wonder if it was his fault - how could that be? It definitely highlights some interesting theology of the day if there was a general assumption that sin was always someone's fault - like a punishment, even if you were born like that! Jesus simply responds that it was no ones fault, but it was so that "God’s works might be revealed in him" (v.3). This man's blindness was not a divine punishment, but rather just something that happens and something which can be turned around for the glory of God - a sentiment that is echoed in Paul's writing to the church in Rome: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God..." (Rom 8:28). Whatever is happening or has happened, if you love God, then he is actively working to turn all things for good.
Later in the Gospels we find that there were others who had a similar question for Jesus too in Luke 13:1-5, as they also wonder how can God let such bad things happen to righteous and good people (and possibly to try and trap Jesus with a tricky question):
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
The people here are referencing an incident where some Galileans were offering sacrifices to God and while worshipping, they were killed by Pilate (whether directly or indirectly by his soldiers, we don't know), mingling their blood with their sacrifices. You can imagine the outcry here - 'how can such a bad thing happen even to those who were worshipping God!?' Not missing a beat, Jesus has a quick answer for them: do you think they were worse than others? Do you think they sinned more than most? Was this God's punishment on them?
The answer is simple: No.
But Jesus doesn't stop there - in his usual fashion, he turns the question on its head and onto the people asking, and still points out that, yes, they were sinners not unlike any other person, but that wasn't why they died. Bad things happen, but if we waste our time and don't repent and get right with God, then we will all perish as they did - not just physically, as we all will die regardless, but perish in God's ultimate judgement when we stand before him. The point is reiterated by Jesus when he references a local disaster where a tower in Jerusalem collapsed and killed 18 people. No, accidents happen and sometimes they have fatal consequences, but it's not God who caused it or is to blame. These things are no doubt hard and terrible for those involved, but Jesus' ultimate concern and point was that regardless of those accidents and situations, you must make yourself right before God and accept his salvation so you don't just perish in this life, but so you don't also perish in the next (cf. John 3:16; Rom 2:12; 1 Cor 1:18; 1 Pet 3:9).
Whether Job's story actually happened in a historical sense or not doesn't matter. The principle behind it that God allows or sends Satan to mess with people may or may not be true in a general sense (in that every bad situation was allowed by God to personally test you) - it could be the way God operates sometimes, since Jesus seems to be saying in the Luke passage that basically, bad things happen and it's not divine punishment or that you were a "worse" sinner than others. And since Jesus is the 'visible image of the invisible God' (Col 1:15), the general hermeneutical principle (called Christological hermeneutics) is to interpret the Old Testament through the 'lens' of Jesus and what he represents, says and does, we must conclude that Job's experience or story principle isn't the norm in light of Jesus' response in Luke 13.
It may not always seem like God cares or is with you, but often when you are in a tough situation it's hard to see beyond it as it can become all-consuming and blinds us to his involvement. This is when we really need to put our trust in God to lead us and comfort us, as we often forget, God is outside of the situation and can see much farther ahead than we can. He can see where we're going and knows where he's taking us - even if we can't see it at the time, God will lead us faithfully on. Like a small child who can't see much higher than their parents knees, they just take their mum or dad's hand and trust that they will lead them in the right direction and not take them somewhere bad. Sure, where they walk may seem scary or worrying, but the parent can see more and will keep the child safe. God is our Father too, we are his children - so in the scary and hard times, we need to just take his hand and trust his leading. Once you've been through something, you are then more prepared for the next time and it won't seem quite as bad because you'll know that God has your back and is looking out for you (cf. Psalm 23:4).
I'll leave you with this verse from James 1:2-4, as I think it sums up these situations perfectly. Times may be tough, but it strengthens us in the process.
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
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