Why Do Bad Things Happen?

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

My 11 year old daughter asked me a question that I am sure all of us have asked at some point in our lives, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to us?” In thinking of how best to answer this question and make sense to an 11 year old, I recalled the story of the “Wolfpack” kids.

Photo by Tabitha Smith

These kids were members of the Angulo family. They lived in a small apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The six sons and one daughter were home-schooled by their mother Susanne, and except for rare occasions they were not allowed to the leave their apartment. Their father, Oscar, was a Peruvian immigrant and he felt New York would “contaminate” his children. In order to protect them from the dangers outside their apartment, he not only kept the door locked, but he possessed the only key to unlock it. In this environment, the father had complete control over their lives, and as the mother stated in an interview, “I felt like I didn’t have control over my choices.” Their father may have created an environment to protect them from danger, but in the process he deprived them of their freedom.

While God is sovereign, He permits human freedom. Thus, He did not create us like puppets, controlling our every move and decision. Nor did he place us in an environment where, like a tyrannical dictator, we were compelled to honor Him. Instead, as we see in the Garden of Eden, He created mankind with the freedom to choose whether to obey or disobey Him (Genesis 3). With the potential of choice came the consequences of choice. As we find in Genesis, Adam and Eve chose to disobey, and with their choice (sin) came the consequences: pain, suffering and death (Romans 5:12; 6:23).

Adam and Eve

At this point, you may be asking the same question my daughter did, “How is it fair for us to be punished for the sins of Adam and Eve?” While it is true that we are all subject to the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin through birth, we are all still as guilty as they are, for each of us has also used our freedom to disobey God’s commands. In other words, each of us is accountable for our own sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). Yet, despite our consistent abuse of the freedom God has given us, He still chooses to be a Father that extends mercy and grace to those who ask for it (John 3:16-17; Romans 6:23).

Why Does God Allow Bad Things To Happen?

The first time I asked this question there was a family which was very close to mine. Their daughter at the age of 13 was diagnosed with cancer. Within a year of her diagnosis she passed away. I found myself asking that very question, “Why?”

If it is true that God is all knowing, then certainly He knows how to prevent this girl from getting cancer. If it is also true that God is all powerful then He should be able to prevent her from getting cancer. And if it is true that God is all loving then He would want to prevent her from getting cancer and dying. Yet, this young girl in the prime of her life, died. Why?

A neighbor wanted to know why her husband of 45 years had to die of cancer and a friend wanted to know why his wife no longer loved him and was leaving him for another man. This very question probably pervades the thinking of every person who has been affected by a natural disaster such as hurricane Sandy.

With a heavy heart I watched the news and witnessed the devastation left by hurricane Sandy several years ago. I was grateful the damage in our area was not as bad as anticipated, but it was hard to see the many people who lost their homes and businesses. A friend of mine called to ask for prayer as their house suffered significant water damage from the storm.

Seeing the images of flooded neighborhoods, burning houses and people without electricity, a particular story stuck in my mind: During the storm, two young boys were killed when a large tree fell into their living room. I instantly thought of my own son and wondered how these families would cope with the loss of their sons.

I wondered why these boys had to die this way. My feelings at that moment were the same way as when I woke up on the morning of July 20, 2012. After going through my morning routine and following breakfast, I turned on the television to check the weather for the day; only then did I learn of the tragic shooting in a Colorado movie theatre. I am sure many of you had the same initial reaction I did, “How could someone do this?” This question (repeatedly asked through every tragedy) leads to other questions, which ultimately leads us to ask: “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”

It is not always possible to give a satisfactory answer for the Why question. But I can point them to the Who! By pointing them to Jesus Christ, I know from personal experience that even in the uncertainty of pain and suffering, we have hope. Several years ago my family faced the painful ordeal of a miscarriage. As I walked with my wife and children through this, the only thing we could hold onto was the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

I shared this hope with a friend of mine who was dying with cancer. When he was healthy, he and his wife did a lot of traveling. I asked him where was his favorite place, and he began to tell me all about Aruba and how beautiful it was; how nice the people were. As he described the beauty of Aruba, it was like he was back there sitting on the beach watching the waves.

A few days later in the hospital I reminded him of our conversation about Aruba, which instantly brought a smile to his face. I began to share with him of a place God had prepared for him that was so much greater than Aruba. I told him about how much God loved Him and how He demonstrated this love by sacrificing His life so that he can go to this place for eternity.

The Heart of Christianity

Like my 11 year old daughter and myself, we may not fully understand in this life why bad things and tragedies happen or why God did not prevent that tree from falling on the house that killed those two young boys. Yet, we can be assured of the depth of His love for us. We can be certain that in the midst of life’s difficulties He is with us – a God who responded to evil, pain and suffering by sending His only Son to die on a cross, offering us the opportunity to live in eternity with Him. We can know the love of a Father Who desires to provide His children not only true freedom, but also eternal blessings. This is the heart of Christianity, and it’s the best explanation of hope to a world full of pain and suffering.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

In the Potter’s Hand

by BJ Rudge, Ph. D.

On the first day that my children took a pottery class, they were given a lump of useless clay. The teacher told them this lump of clay would eventually be turned into a beautiful vase. Despite a few imperfections, that is exactly what happened as my children made that piece of clay into a vase that sits on display in our house.

Many of us feel like a useless piece of clay. We look at ourselves and see no value or worth. However, this is not the way that God views us. He sees who we can become, in Him. Many people forget that the purpose of Christianity goes beyond the moment that we are saved. Instead, our faith in Jesus is an ongoing process where God works in us for the ultimate goal of conforming us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

So the next time you feel like a useless piece of clay, just yield your life over to the Master Potter and let Him mold you into a beautiful vase.

Apostasy

by Bill Rudge

Christianity is under a relentless assault from atheism, Islam and the media. Yet much of the Church is so focused on “pleasing people” that she has lost the power of God’s Spirit.

The Church must return to the biblical mandate of evangelism and missions, lest she be overcome by the apostasy (falling away) foretold by the Apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3 “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition”) and fade into the pages of history as a compromised, lukewarm church (Revelation 3:16 “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”).

Consequences of Compromise

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

Instead of transforming our culture, the church is being transformed by the culture.

Sermons being promoted with sexual images, worship being infiltrated by secular songs, the preaching platform shared with Star Wars characters – yes, these are just samples of the efforts taken by many churches to make Christianity “relevant” to our modern culture. Church growth experts tell us these “adjustments” are necessary if we want Christianity to survive the tides of cultural change.

However, when we approach Christianity in the above manner, three drastic results follow.

First, Christianity becomes a man-centered system of beliefs. Like a person picking and choosing different foods at a buffet, each of us can pick and choose what we want to include in our own version of Christianity: If church is “cool” and “fun,” then we can be cool and still have fun enjoying the things of this world – a far cry from Jesus’ call of self-denial:

If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 16:24, 25).

Second, Christianity loses its power. The focus of bringing people to Christ begins to center around the latest trends and church growth methods. These are supposedly the key to unlocking the hearts of the “un-churched.” As our culture changes, these will also change so that we can maintain a message that is appealing to our audience. Definitely a different evangelistic approach than the Apostle Paul:

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified…and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Third, Christianity loses its uniqueness. When the Gospel is presented with all of the regalia of cultural relevance and excitement, it loses its distinction. Instead of being a channel of transformation in our culture, it becomes transformed by the culture (see Romans 12:2). Thus, the Christian faith becomes merely another system of thought that blends into the cultural landscape. What a sad result when, in contrast, we have the opportunity to share with others the unique message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed (Romans 1:16, 17).

So while we may adapt our method of presenting the Gospel we must never change, water down, distort or cheapen the message. We must not be so “open minded” that we accept virtually any practice, phenomenon or teaching. Instead, be “Bereans” who wisely question, evaluate and discern. Any methodology that alters the Gospel message itself or compromises the way we live out our faith must be rejected. The Lord Jesus will be the final judge of all methods, techniques and teachings, as well as those who propagate them (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Without Excuse

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

I have met many atheists, such as my former college professor who vehemently denied the existence of anything outside the natural world. He spent the whole semester trying to demonstrate the foolishness of believing in God and the Bible. From his perspective, faith in God was devoid of sound reasoning and mere wishful thinking. Although I earned his respect and we had some profitable discussions, he died several years later as a lonely alcoholic.

Many atheists, agnostics and freethinkers claim they have come to their conclusion through rational thinking and by thoroughly examining all the evidence. Despite not having the ability to know everything and be everywhere at the same time, they are certain God does not exist. They often portray themselves as being enlightened and intellectually superior, while those who believe in the existence of God are, in their estimation, delusional and in need of a spiritual crutch.

Atheism leads to self-centered worship,

where man, not God, becomes

the center of the universe.

However, Scripture indicates they are the real fools (Psalm 14:1) and are “without excuse” for denying God’s reality. Consider the insightful words of the apostle Paul:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20).

As Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, not only has God instilled within each individual a conscience that bears witness to His existence, He has revealed His reality through His creation. On the Day of Judgment people will be “without excuse,” or anapologetous in the Greek (“without a defense”) for rejecting God because of a supposed lack of evidence. There is more than sufficient proof that He exists.

The Real Reason

While I have heard many arguments against the existence of God, most admitted their initial reasons for rejecting God were of a personal nature such as unanswered prayer, suffering and pain or unwillingness to change immoral behavior. For instance, while at a soccer clinic I met a man named John. Every time someone would bring up the subject of God, John would get very agitated and start yelling that God did not exist and all religions were false.

After a few days of his ranting, I had a chance to talk with John alone. During our conversation, I discovered why he was so hostile: He had family members who were survivors of the Holocaust, and he could not understand why God allowed this atrocious event to happen. Thus, behind all of his arguments and hostile feelings, John was denying God’s existence because of the pain and suffering his family endured.

The apostle Paul goes on to talk about the second step people take after rejecting God: substituting the worship of the true God to worship something within creation:

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Romans 1:25).

When someone refuses to acknowledge the true God, he sets himself up as God. In essence, atheism leads to self-centered worship, where man, not God, becomes the center of the universe. This is the way John lived his life: He became accountable only to himself. He lived a life of self-indulgence as he pursued all forms of temporal pleasures seeking to find lasting fulfillment. Despite all of his attempts, he admitted he still felt a void in his life and a yearning to find purpose and meaning to his existence.

As John and I continued our conversation, I was able to share with him why I believed in Jesus Christ. I explained how my faith was not a blind leap in the dark but was supported by evidence. I specifically detailed the various Messianic prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus as well as the historical evidence that surrounded His resurrection. When we were done with our conversation, this man who had been so hostile toward God and Christianity looked at me and said, “I never knew there was evidence to verify the Christian faith. In all my dealing with Christians, they never once took the time to share this information with me.”

As the week of the clinic moved on, I continued to build a relationship with John. A few weeks later I received an e-mail: John shared how much our conversation touched his life and that he was now open to further investigation. He closed by stating that just as in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey had impacted the lives of others; so too I had been a George Bailey in his life.

The following are three important principles I use when dealing with self-professing atheists such as John: First, be ready to give a reason for the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15). You never know when a John will come across your path. Second, speak the truth in love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Your motivation should be to represent Christ, not trying to win an argument. Third, get beyond what is being said to understand why it is being said. Remember, behind every argument and hostile feeling is a person like John, who is hurting and in need of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 17).