Question: I received a call from a relative who is going through a troubled time. She explained to me what has been happening in her life. She asked me "why does God allow such bad things to happen to people". I know there are explanations for this in the Bible, but I have not been able to find any. I would appreciate any help you could give me.
Response: It is not to overstate to say that attempting to provide an answer to just this question formed a large part of the initial motivation to begin this ministry many years ago.
I know of very few Christians (if any) who could not have asked this question you ask about themselves and their own experiences at some point in their lives, and it is a natural question to ask. It seems to me that the writers of Psalms, for example, ask this question in one way or another countless times (e.g., Ps.73). To turn this question around, as it is necessary to do to give a solid answer, is it possible that many if any people in the history of the world would ever have been motivated to seek God if the world had nothing but milk and honey to offer, and if death never came calling? Suffering, trouble, and mortality all serve to turn those whose hearts are inclined to do so towards the only possible solution for the tribulations of this life, namely, the grace of our God.
From the point of view of our eternal salvation, it is a very good thing for us collectively and individually that God did pronounce the curses which took away the ease of life in paradise when Adam and Eve fell from grace, and that He did expel our first parents and all their descendants from the garden, blocking the way to the tree of life. For we are sinful and dead (spiritually) from birth. That is a grim reality, but out of hopelessness, God provided hope in the promise of Jesus Christ, and now we see that promise historically fulfilled in the One who died for us. As Christians, we have turned away from this world; we do not love it, but we love and long instead for Him who gave up His life that we might live forever with Him.
It is not far off then to say that the entire Christian life after salvation is concerned with this issue of growing more focused on the eternal realities and less concerned about the temporal ones. Christian suffering is a universal reality, and the more one grows, the more one can expect opposition from the evil one.
God is perfect, just, loving, gracious and merciful. He is not the cause of the trouble in the world. Had all His creatures, angelic and human, always followed Him as they should have, there would be no sin, no evil, no suffering, and no death in the world at all.
The corollary to this principle is equally important. God is omniscient and omnipotent; indeed, everything that happens in time was foreknown by Him in eternity past and nothing could take place unless He had ordained it. But since He is perfect and perfectly just, by definition nothing that happens that we may see as terrible or wrong on this earth can be laid at His feet. This is true whether we want to accept it or not. For those who love Him, He works everything out for the good for them (Rom.8:28), and that is true even when some of the things that happen to us who love Him are the source of grief and pain. Consider His answer to Job (chapters 38-41), and you will see that our human perspective is necessarily myopic - we cannot see all that He sees or know all that He knows. Like small children being led by our Father hand in hand, we have to have faith, even though things may seem wrong or unfair to us, that if we are faithfully following Him He will cause everything to turn out right in the end.
But suffering is hard to endure, and it takes deepening knowledge of the Word of God, ever strengthening faith, and a hope and love for Him that transcends the events of this world to stand up to some of the things that we dedicated Christians are likely to face in this world.
Life is not what it seems to the world at large. As Christians who have looked into the perfect Word of God and held fast to its truths, we know that this world is passing away. We know that our time here is short. We know that we are here to choose for God, to choose for Jesus Christ, and that everything else is inconsequential. That choice is not a one time thing, but after we believe we are called to grow in Him, and to follow in His footsteps, to produce a crop for Him in accordance with the gifts, ministries and opportunities we have been given - that is the source of the rewards we anticipate, rewards that will put the best this world has to offer in the shade.
This is a fight, and in the course of this fight we will be tested in many ways. We will often face circumstances where to the human eye things look hopeless, and we will be tempted to think that God has forgotten us. We will be tempted to turn away, or give up, or blame Him for the circumstances we find ourselves in. But we have to remember that our Master told us we would have tribulation in this world, but that He had overcome the world (Jn.16:33). Terrible things will happen in this world - it is the devil's world and will remain so until our Lord returns. Difficult things will happen to us personally and to those we love - but we have to remember that all these things, while not God's fault, have been foreseen by Him, and that He has already worked them out for the good of those who truly love Him and who persevere in the face of such opposition.
There are many ways to respond to your question, and I fear that I have left out much that I should have said. I suppose the best short answer I can give to the question "why, God?" is that, though we would not be human if we did not want to know the answer to this question, if we are truly walking in faith as Christians who trust Him no-matter-what, we do not even need to know the answer. Everything in the Bible shows us how wonderful and worthy of such faith our Father and our Master are. I want to be like Daniel, who didn't even complain when he thrown into the lions' den - but instead trusted God (Dan.6:23). I want to be like David, who when faced with the loss of everything and on the point of being stoned to death, encouraged himself in the Lord and persevered courageously in the face of horrendous and unexpected trouble - because he trusted God (1Sam.30:6). I want to be like all the great believers in Hebrews chapter 11 who accomplished all the spectacular things we so admire as believers - and did so by faith. I want my hope to be in the rewards of the next life, not in some rosy scenario here on earth. I truly want to love my Lord more than anything in this world, even when, and especially when, things turn sour down here. And I want to have a faith that sees beyond the temporary troubles of this life, that instead of complaining and doubting and giving up, embraces the One I cannot see all that much more strongly and tightly when trouble I cannot explain befalls me and those I love.
There are many things I do not know. There are many things in this life that must remain unknowable until that day when Jesus releases us from our service here and takes us home to be with Him. Until that time I plan to trust Him, no matter what my eyes may see. The only way to build up a faith capable of carrying through on this desire is to feed it consistently, daily, on the truths of the Word of God, and to put those truths to work in our hearts and in our lives every step of our walk here on earth.
Here are some other files available at Ichthys that deal with this issue in more detail:
Do recent catastrophes have a divine origin?
On the Firing Line: Encouragement in Christian Trials
In need of encouragement
Encouragement in Christian Sufferings
Extreme personal tribulation
For an in-depth treatment of the issue of Christian suffering, see the series Peter's Epistles: Coping with Personal Tribulation.
For an explanation of the history of the conflict that forms the background for all of human suffering see the series The Satanic Rebellion, Background to the Tribulation.
I hope this will be of some help to you and your relative.
In Him who suffered and died for us that we might live eternally with Him, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.