I was sitting on the beach, surrounded by friends and looking out to sea. The water was as calm as a millpond, and the sun was setting, its orange light reflecting perfectly on the water below. The scene was stunning and serene. Yet, the sea is not always like this. At other times it is rough and something to be feared.
Life can be peaceful and joyful; our circumstances just how we would want them or at least as close as we think we can get. But life is not always like that. It has a habit of hitting us hard in a variety of ways.
You lose your job. The house that you’ve made a home is taken away. Your doctor speaks out loud the dreaded diagnosis you hoped you’d never hear. Your heart is wracked with grief at the death of a loved one. People turn on you because of your faith in Jesus. You watch on as others are torn apart by tragedy. These are just a small collection of the difficulties we can face as we live our days here.
Life is not always calm – it is often like a torrential sea bashing against us.
Where does bad stuff come from?
Why is there suffering in this world? The answers are many. We could point the finger at people, whether others or ourselves. So much pain today is a result of human greed, pride and selfishness or even human foolishness.
Similarly, we could talk about Satan. The Bible tells us that he is an enemy of God and is seeking to destroy the goodness of God’s creation. From the beginning, he has sought to bring harm and hurt.
Or we might simply say this is the way the world is. The Bible tells us we live in a world that is groaning and in a state of decay (Romans 8:22). The presence of natural disasters and illness should not surprise us.
Yet, when we look at the Bible, we also see another answer – one that can shock us and send our minds into a spin. Why do bad things happen? The Bible tells us that the ultimate answer is God.
Now, I need to be careful here to explain what I mean. The Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil (cf. James 1:13). It is never right to hold God responsible for sin or the presence of evil in this world. Yet, the Bible teaches clearly that God is a sovereign God. That means he is in control of all things that happen here and anywhere.
One of the clearest statements of this is found in Ephesians 1:11. We are told that God, ‘works all things according to the counsel of his will.’ That means that he orders all things and he is in charge of all things. We are wrong if we try to shrink this statement to only include things that we like. By definition ‘all’ must also include all of the bad things that happen.
The great winds that blow, bringing such devastation; they do God’s bidding (Psalm 148:7-8). The authorities in power – some that work good, others that work evil – are only there because God has put them there (Romans 13:1). Satan’s work, as he acts to destroy and ruin, is exercised within the restraints that God determines (Job 1:12). Even the greatest act of wickedness that there has ever been, the brutal murder of God’s perfect Son on the cross, was an act that had its origins in God’s perfect will (Acts 2:23).
Why do bad things happen? God is a sovereign God. Therefore, nothing can exist or happen outside of his permission and will.
How is this good news?
Let’s be honest. This is not always an easy answer to deal with. When bad things happen, we would love to leave God out of the picture. It is awkward to think that God would have had anything to do with the tragedy I now see or experience. It simply doesn’t fit with the view of God that is stirred in our minds when we read of him as a loving father.
Yet, the Bible doesn’t present God’s sovereignty as a problem to be fathomed out. Instead, it is given to us as a truth to love and to be comforted by in the hard times. How can that be?
Firstly, the fact that God is in control of all circumstances means that nothing happens without a reason. The illness you face or the disaster that has struck is not an accident. It is part of God’s sovereign plan. It is true that often we don’t know why things happen in the way they do, but it is comforting to know that there is a why.
Next, if God is in control then the reason must be good. God is a good God who is just and righteous, merciful and gracious. His will and purpose reflect his character (Romans 12:2). The Bible encourages us to see suffering and hardship in this light. Think of the cross of Jesus. Is there a more heart-wrenching sight than seeing Jesus being brutalised, ridiculed and enduring the excruciating agony of the cross? Yet, we know, God was working for good.
Finally, if God is in control of the bad things that happen then there is hope. The Bible speaks of a day when evil will be defeated, and the brokenness of this world will be replaced with a perfect New Heavens and New Earth where God’s people will live with him forever. If an act of evil were able to exist outside of God’s will, we couldn’t be certain of this future.
A truth to use
What does the Bible say to us as we suffer and experience the batterings of life? None of this is out of God’s control. Not even the smallest part of it has taken place without his permission and will.
Now, I know that this answer does not take the pain away. I do not offer it here in a glib way thinking that once you grasp this truth then life will be easy. Yet, the more we get it, the more we are able to taste hope and experience joy even in the heartache of life.
The book of Revelation was initially written to a church that was suffering and struggling in various ways. How does God comfort them? One of the key themes in the book is the sovereignty of God. From beginning to end, no matter how big the disaster, no matter how real the persecution, God is sitting on the throne of history. This truth brought hope then and still brings hope today.