I love this song. I really do. It’s catchy, it’s inspiring. But, for me, it’s wholly unsatisfying.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that the platitude that it pays to the listener, much like many theological anecdotes floating in the air lately, doesn’t satisfy the question of why bad things happen to good people.
Now, I’m only offering up my opinion of things. This whole post may prove wholly unsatisfying to you, too. However, if you’d like to read why I find the answer provided in the song lacking, please read on.
I have offered my thoughts in detail on the whole idea of God and evil in my Relation Theodicy paper, also on this website. This post is not a rehash of that paper. Not fully, at least.
The first problem I have with the answer of “God knows this will make you stronger” answer is that the focus is on me. There has been, for some time now, a tendency in the Christian community to focus on we the people instead of God. We like to talk about God, but only in how He relates to us. Understandable. That’s what we know. We see us, we can’t see Him. So, we like to tell each other things like “God is going to use that tragedy in your life to make you stronger, and to teach you a lesson, or so that you can relate to others struggling with that same tragedy some time in the future.” Or, “God loves you and He has a wonderful plan for your life.” And, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That one is often couple with or replaced by “God works out everything for your good.”
All of those maxims of wisdom sound wonderful. They’re encouraging. They help us to not feel like we’re drowning in our circumstances.
But, they aren’t in the Bible.
Yes, there are times that God did use a tragic event in the Bible to teach a lesson to the nation of Israel. But, those were few and far between – and He gave them years and years of warnings beforehand. I talk about this in that paper I mentioned above.
Yes, God does love us more than we can imagine. And, I do believe that He has a plan for each one of us. However, God’s plan is a lot bigger than we tend to think and we are not the center of it. He is. Everything He does is for His glory, and that is a very good thing. Not saying that the movie Bruce Almighty should be canonized and we need to heed all it says (there are problems with the movie, lots of them), but it does show what can happen if we were the center of it all instead of Him (like when Bruce says yes to all the prayers – not good on the whole).
The “never more than we can handle” is a strong misunderstanding of another verse.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
You see, it has everything to do with temptation – not tragedy or “hard times”.
And the other platitude, the “God works everything for your good,” takes from another verse, with a lot of misunderstanding:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
The main misunderstanding here lies in not reading the full context of the passage – which is wholly devoted to encouraging Christians in the face of persecution.
Now, the second problem I have with the answer provided in this song (along with so many others we give to each other) is that it gives a really twisted view of who God is.
Not on purpose, at least I don’t believe that those who often proclaim answers to tragic events along this line do so because they actually believe God is manipulative, dubious, or untrustworthy. The whole point of their encouragement, after all, is that God can be trusted to make everything turn out all right for the person suffering this tragedy.
But, let’s think about what we are really saying here.
Let’s take a situation, a true tragedy, and put this to the test.
As a parent, nothing strikes me more tragic than if something were to happen to one of my children.
So, what if something happened to them? What if someone came along and snatched them away from me – forever.
Even writing that rips at me. I can’t fathom it. I don’t want to fathom it.
But, let’s follow the logic of the “God knows this will make you stronger” line of thought. The implication is that God gave this for the purpose to make me stronger. So, God allowed, at least, or caused (and there is a widespread teaching about how God causes the tragedies in our lives “for the greater good”) my child to die in order to make me stronger for some task He may have for me in the future.
I want that to sink in for a moment.
Could I love a God like that? A God that, on any whim that seems fit to Him (and who can argue what is or isn’t His fancy if He is so fanciful), will kill children to satisfy His grand scheme of things?
I couldn’t. I can’t. And, I don’t believe that God is that way. I don’t see any example of Him being that way in the Bible. (Again, all the tragic things of the Old Testament, I do discuss in that paper I mentioned.)
I do not believe that God causes the tragedies that befall me, my loved ones, or most of us. I don’t believe that He allows them in the way that we think He is a mere gatekeeper that can block or pass whatever He chooses.
And for those that are already starting the questions in their minds about God’s sovereignty, yes, I believe that He is sovereign. No, I don’t believe He is a puppeteer or the “man behind the curtain”. This is another thing I discuss in that now infamous paper.
I believe there is evil in this world, but it isn’t an entity. Just as cold isn’t an energy, but the lack of heat energy, so evil is the lack of goodness. God is the source of goodness. There is evil, because on the whole we have separated ourselves from that source. We are all capable of goodness, but it pales in comparison to the source.
I believe that evil comes in three forms: Moral, Natural, and Physical. Moral evil deals with the choices you and I make. Natural and Physical evils are the result of all of creation existing under a curse because of Adam and Eve’s Moral choice. They wanted to be gods instead of be connected to God. Because God gave Adam and Eve dominion of creation, that separation affected everything.
And, we have the world we have because of it.
But, God didn’t leave it there. God didn’t wash His hands of us and say “You made your bed, you must sleep in it.”
No. His heart broke, and He made a way for that our connection to the source to be restored.
He gave us Jesus.
And, though we think He is slow in finalizing His plan of restoration (and all of creation will be restored), it is assured. It is guaranteed.
So, how do I answer the question about why bad things happen to good people?
We live in a world that was separated from God by the choice of two people. Those choices have affected all of us, and all of creation. We suffer because of that separation, and because of the choices we make against each other.
But there is hope. While God isn’t a manipulative puppeteer that makes us dance on His whim, He is a caring and loving father who will comfort us and strengthen us if we lean upon His strong arms.
He may not have given me the tragedy to make me stronger, I can trust Him that He will walk with me through the pain and suffering and lend me His strength. It isn’t my strength that will get me through, but His.
For, He is able.
It’s Story Monday, and this is a small snippet on the story about us and God. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding today when it comes to that story. So much misunderstanding, that many of us don’t want to think about it most days. We ignore it (the story of God and us), or we don’t believe it. I hope that this will bring a little bit more understanding, and if you do read over my paper that I linked (a few times) in this post, I hope that it brings even more understanding. I would love to hear your thoughts on it all. Leave a comment, or send an email if you’d like.
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