God desires you to…

accept Him as your Savior,

be committed to Him as LORD,

dare to step out in faith,

trust Him when facing impossible circumstances,

have hope in Him in the midst of tragedy,

honor His name in the face of adversity,

obey His Word in spite of ridicule,

stand as a bold witness for Jesus Christ and the Bible,

be sensitive to the leading of His Spirit,

persevere in faith and determination until His purpose is fulfilled, and

remain faithful until He returns.

– Bill Rudge

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).

Finding Hope in Tragedy

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

No one is immune from the tragedies of life.

This year, our community mourned the death of two high school students and came together in support for two more that were in critical condition after a severe traffic accident while on their way to a Young Life meeting. These four girls were well known, much loved and touched many lives. My family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I used to coach one of the girls who died.

As I spent time at the school talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together. It is in moments like these where we learn the most valuable life lessons and are reminded of the importance of community. Not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens.

Along with the idea of community, I am reminded of the importance of being intentional with loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much they are loved; to live each moment with appreciation for the time that we have with our family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know with our words and actions, how much they mean to us.

Through this tragedy I am also reminded of how important it is to live with purpose. Watching the students flow into the room set aside for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear stories of how their lives have been enriched in knowing the girls who had died. These remarkable young ladies were taken from us too early, but they are remembered through those impacted with their kind words and their positive actions.

From the love and support displayed by the faculty, students and the surrounding schools and communities, I saw God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY tends to knock us off our feet, but the WHO enables us to stand back up. Though our understanding may be shaken, our faith in Jesus Christ will not be destroyed. His loving arms embrace us and bring comfort and hope in our times of pain and sorrow.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Looking for Light in the Darkness

In the weeks following the accident, many questions arose as the community tried to make sense of, and find purpose in, their pain and sorrow. In fact, life-tragedies often cause us to feel the impossibility of walking through the brokenness of a situation while overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair.

When I was in college my soccer coach took our team into a cold, wet cave. We had an easy time navigating it until Coach told us to turn off our flashlights and find our way out. What had seemed easy before, became difficult as we repeatedly hit our heads on the cave walls while desperately seeking the exit. Finally, our coach told one of us to turn on a flashlight. The darkness vanished instantly. While the light did not show us the exit, it did reveal the direction in which to go as we made our way slowly forward towards the brightness of sunshine just outside the cave.

To those facing tragedy, the challenge is in trying to find our way out of the dark cave of loss. There is a light that can guide us through the darkness of confusion and pain. The girls who died both knew the Source of this light, for each had given her life to Jesus Christ. Because they looked to Him, their lives continue to shine brightly as a reminder of the ONE that we all can look to: the One who can heal our broken hearts and strengthen our weary souls.

This same Jesus is ready to give light for us all. He hears our cries. He is ready to embrace us in His loving arms and help us move forward through brokenness and pain. While this process may never be fully completed in this life, we have the sure hope that He will one day guide us to that exit to be fully embraced by the true Source of light that awaits us at the end. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know the certainty of a future where He will wipe away all tears; where there will be no more death, sorrow or pain (Revelation 21:4).

Until that day, may the legacy of these girls continue on in how we choose to live. Like them, may we embrace the light that Jesus gives so we, too, may be a light for others.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12).

No matter where you are in your life, remember: The WHY may knock you to the ground, but the WHO is always there to help you stand back up. God has throughout the past, and will continue to, prove faithful as He turns tragedy into triumph.

Note: The preceding is taken from BJ’s previous blogs and already has reached thousands of people across the U.S. and in 28 countries.

We have received permission from the parents of the girls involved in this tragic accident to share the following:

from Lexi’s dad at her funeral:

“We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support in our community and even distant communities have offered much encouragement, support and prayers.

“I’ve had time to reflect on what has happened and like everyone else, I asked WHY? It does not seem fair that my baby girl can be here one minute and then taken from us the next. WHY?

“Lexi loved her family, friends, teammates, teachers and neighbors. Lexi spoke to you because she genuinely wanted to share this love with you. Remember the pain you feel now and realize this happened for a reason. God wants us to display the best version of ourselves to one another. Please Wear Your Love on Your Sleeve. Lexi wants us to.”

from Danielle’s Cross Country coach Barry McLaughlin:

“Danielle had an unbridled enthusiasm and love for life and for the Lord which was evident to everyone on the team. She was a spark who ignited a desire for those around her to serve Christ and a spark on the cross country team that encouraged others to give their very best. We all still feel the hurt and loss.”

from Leah’s best friend Kylie:

“Leah is a light who shines with a love for God. She loves telling people about Jesus and showing them His love through her actions. Leah is a great friend with a great passion for God and a smile that is contagious to everyone who is near.”

from Leah’s mother from hospital:

When asked in a text from Bill Rudge, “Are you willing to face this tragedy for God to be glorified?” Betsy texted right back, “Yes we are.”

from Emily’s mom from hospital:

“It’s truly the power of prayer. It’s been extremely difficult, but the good Lord is getting us through. You know I really questioned my faith when this all happened. I don’t anymore. If our story can change just one person then I’ve done my job. I told Emily she is going to do something so good and I can’t wait to see what it is. What God has in store for her… I don’t know when but I hope I’m around to see it.”

Looking for Light in the Darkness Following a Tragedy

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

When I was in college, my soccer coach took our team into a cave. Despite being cold and wet, we had an easy time navigating it, guided by our flashlights. However, after being in there for a while, my coach told us to turn our flashlights off and find our own way out. What seemed easy before became difficult as we repeatedly hit our heads on the cave walls while desperately seeking the exit.

I feel this is the place our community has come to, as over the past few days we have been dealing with the tragic death of two of our high school students and the injury of two others; for whose recovery we now pray.  We, too, are in a dark cave, trying to desperately make sense of and find purpose in, our pain and sorrow. In fact, life-tragedies often cause us to feel that we are trying to walk through the brokenness of our situation, while overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair! Personally, I have experienced the pain of my wife suffering a miscarriage; the near-loss of our child at one week of age; a daughter coping with chronic pain that eventually required three surgeries to correct; my mother’s battle with cancer; and currently, having to witness my father-in-law’s daily struggle with liver disease. Experiencing moments like these, we can all find ourselves in a desperate search for any guiding light through the darkness of our situation.

As my teammates and I continued to struggle through the cave, our coach told one of us to turn on a flashlight. The darkness vanished instantly in the brightness of that light. While in itself the flashlight did not show us the exit, it gave enough light to show us the direction in which to go, and we made our way slowly forward to the brightness of sunshine just outside the cave.

To those in my community and to others facing their own tragedies, there is a light that can guide us through the darkness of confusion and pain. Lexi and Danielle both knew the Source of this light, for each had given her life to Jesus Christ. Because they looked to Him, their lives continue to shine brightly in our community as a reminder of the ONE that we all can look to, who can heal our broken hearts and strengthen our weary souls.

For we who remain after a tragedy, the challenge is in trying to find our way out of the dark cave of loss. But we no longer have to navigate the darkness alone. This same Jesus, who gave light to Danielle and Lexi, is ready today to give light for us all. He hears our cries! He is ready to embrace us in His loving arms and help us move forward through brokenness and pain. While this process may never be fully completed in this life, we have the sure hope that He will one day guide us to that exit, to be fully embraced by the true Source of light that awaits us at the end. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know the certainty of a future where He will wipe away all tears; where there will be no more death, sorrow or pain (Revelation 21:4). Until that day, may the legacy of these girls continue on in how we choose to live; like them, may we embrace the light that Jesus gives so we, too, may be a light for others.

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’ ” (John 8:12).

No matter where you are in your life, remember: The WHY may knock you to the ground, but the WHO is always there to help you stand back up.

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

By BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

This has been a very sad and difficult week for the community that I live in. This past Sunday (February 10th), four high school students from our school district were in a severe accident. The accident led to the tragic death of two of the students. As I write this blog, the other two students are in the hospital dealing with a range of injuries. This tragic event has impacted me personally as my family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I use to coach one of the girls who died. In simplistic terms, this has been an emotionally difficult situation to deal with as it has brought me face to face with the reality that no one is immune from the tragedies of life. But despite this reality, it is in these moments where we learn the most valuable life lessons. For instance, I was reminded of the importance of community. As I spent time at the school on Monday talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together as one. Despite our differences, there was singularity in purpose. A powerful reminder that not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that same love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens. I hope and pray that you have others in your life that are helping you bear your burdens, and in return you are coming alongside them to bear theirs.

Along with the idea of community, this situation has reminded me of the importance of being intentional with my loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much I love them. I need to live each moment with appreciation for the time that I have with my family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know, through both our words and actions, how much they mean to us.

A final impression that I have gained from this tragedy is how important it is to live our lives with purpose. As I stood watching the students flow into the room that was set up at the school for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear their stories about how their lives were enriched by knowing the girls who had died. One particular staff member told me that when they first moved here, her daughters had a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings, but that the transition was made easier because one of the girls who had died introduced herself to her daughters and made them feel valued and accepted. This is a great reminder how just a simple word and action can make the difference in the lives of others. While our school has lost two remarkable young ladies, their memories will live on through those they impacted. Their lives were taken from us way too early but they leave a legacy that will continue for years to come.

In the uncertainty of this tragedy, I do see God actively involved. From the love and support of surrounding communities to the unity displayed by our faculty and students, I see God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY will continue to knock us off our feet, but it is the WHO that will enable us to stand back up. Though our faith in Jesus Christ is shaken, it will not be destroyed.  His loving arms are embracing our community and bringing comfort and hope in our time of pain and sorrow.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).