Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?
how to avoid the trap of bitterness
Have you ever wondered, Why did God let me suffer that injury? lose my job? have a car accident? forget that appointment? have a fight with my spouse? let my parents get divorced? let me be born with a defect?
How can a God who loves me allow me to experience pain and suffering? It just doesn’t seem to add up. When bad things happen, we want answers.
The truth is, you can’t know all the reasons why God lets bad things happen. We live in a world that is marred by sin, so difficulties and disappointments are bound to cross our path. Nevertheless, if you ask God for discernment, you can begin to understand why He allowed something to occur. You can also discover how God can redeem the situation and bring benefits to your life as a result of suffering.
Scripture teaches us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28; see also Jeremiah 29:11). Searching for God’s answers and learning to view “bad things” as “good things in disguise” are disciplines that God wants His children to develop as they mature spiritually. (See I Corinthians 2:14 and Romans 8:1–17.)
Accept God’s Grace
Unless you accept God’s grace to deal with suffering, inevitably you will become bitter. However, if you choose to trust God to bring about His purposes through the suffering, you can avoid the trap of bitterness and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. (See II Corinthians 5:7 and II Peter 3:18.)
You can be confident that God will not allow anything to happen to you without His permission, and He will not let any “bad thing” happen that will not ultimately bring you more good than destruction. (See I Peter 4:12–13, Romans 9:14–24, Isaiah 55:8–9, Job 1:6–12, Genesis 50:20, and Psalm 121.)
Discern the Benefits of Your Suffering
As you seek to discern the benefits of your suffering, it is important to ask six general questions:
- How can this situation help me understand more about Christ?
Jesus suffered much. He was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He was ridiculed, betrayed, beaten, humiliated, abandoned, and falsely accused. Do you think Jesus was ever tempted to be bitter toward those who caused His suffering? Of course He was. In fact, the Bible says He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“Without sin”—here is the difference between man’s “natural” responses of anger and bitterness (sin), and Jesus Christ’s responses of trust and perfect obedience to His Father’s will. How, then, can we face temptation without sinning? The next verse in that Scripture passage gives us the answer: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Jesus showed us the right way to respond to suffering. In your hard circumstance or tragedy or heartbreaking disappointment, you can learn to respond as Jesus did. As you study God’s Word, be alert to Christ’s responses when He suffered. Follow His example as God guides you by His Holy Spirit, in each situation you encounter. Through your suffering, you can understand more about your Savior.
- How can God use this situation to produce humility in me?
God hates pride. (See Proverbs 6:16–17.) On the other hand, “by humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life” (Proverbs 22:4). Therefore, when you suffer you should look for ways to learn humility. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).
Do you know why God let the children of Israel wander in the wilderness for forty years? The Bible tells us some of those reasons: “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy 8:2, emphasis added).
- What character qualities can God develop in me through this situation?
Your heavenly Father wants you “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). As the Lord gives you grace to respond to each circumstance like Jesus would respond, you will develop Godly character. The Bible tells us that even the Son of God learned obedience through what He suffered. (See Hebrews 5:8.)
Carefully review the list of character qualities as you ask yourself, Which ones could be developed in my life as I respond correctly to this circumstance?
- Could I learn patience as a result of this circumstance?
- What can this situation teach me about the need for alertness?
- How can I learn obedience as a result of this situation?
- Could this suffering motivate me to express gratefulness for things I’ve previously taken for granted?
- Can I develop more compassion for others because of this experience?
- Is this situation God’s loving discipline to correct me?
Have you disobeyed your heavenly Father? Because God loves you, He will chasten you as a Father chastens a son. (See Hebrews 12:5-11.) It is important to remember that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness …” (Hebrews 12:11).
If the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, repent. “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
- Is this preparation for future leadership?
The life of Joseph provides an excellent example of suffering that thoroughly prepared a man to fulfill his destiny to be a great leader. For example, when Joseph served Potiphar, he learned to be a manager; when Joseph was betrayed and abused, he learned firsthand the value of justice and mercy. Both of these benefits, as well as many others, were ultimately part of God’s plans to prepare Joseph for leadership. Is God allowing your suffering to prepare you for leadership?
Did this happen because of the iniquities of others?
We also can suffer as a result of others’ iniquities. For example, children frequently must deal with the consequences of their parents’ wicked choices. If your employer makes foolish decisions, you will probably suffer too. If your spouse is ignorant of, or rejects, God’s design for marriage, both of you will suffer.
Scripture gives us many examples of suffering that came as a result of others’ wickedness. For example, at one point in time, Israel experienced severe famine for three years. When King David finally asked God why He had let this famine (i.e., this bad thing) occur, God explained that the famine was the consequence of decisions made by David’s predecessor, Saul. When King David brought restitution to those who had suffered injustice at the hand of King Saul, God ended the famine. (See II Samuel 21:1–14.)
Although you cannot completely avoid suffering that comes as a consequence of others’ sin, you can avoid becoming bitter about it. That choice is yours.
List of Possible Benefits of Your Suffering
To avoid the trap of bitterness, compile a list of benefits that God wants to bring about through your suffering. Using the questions above and the list of character qualities as tools, ask God to show you ways that He wants to redeem your suffering.
Often the benefits you discern will motivate you to respond to your suffering with joy and peace as you trust God to fulfill His purpose for your pain. Jesus Christ Himself endured the suffering of the cross for the joy of the rewards that were to come through His obedience and sacrifice. (See Hebrews 12:2.)
Discover How God Wants to Bless Others Through You
Jesus commanded us to love one another. (See John 15:12, 17.) God doesn’t want merely to bless you through your suffering; he also wants to bless others. One of God’s goals in allowing suffering is to get your focus off of yourself and encourage you to respond to the needs of others.
God’s perspective encompasses the world: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Through your suffering, He wants to broaden your perspective to be like His.
When God allowed Joseph to suffer, He didn’t merely bless Joseph in the long run. He blessed Joseph’s family, and He blessed nations! “And God sent me [Joseph] before you [Joseph’s family] to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God . … God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people [the entire nations of Egypt and Israel] alive” (Genesis 45:7–8, 50:20).
Embrace Suffering as a Path to Spiritual Maturity
Learn to look “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Follow Christ’s example and recognize the benefits that can come from your suffering. As you do so, you can avoid the defilement of bitterness (see Hebrews 12:12–15) and become better equipped to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).
“They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6). By His Spirit, God can give you life and peace—in every situation—as you look to Him for the answers.