Student Question: Why does God let bad things happen?

Here's the full question one of our students asked: If God promises to care for us and answer our prayers, why does he let bad things happen even when I ask them not to?

Answer: First off, we must look at the basis of the question and ask; does God in fact promise to care for us and answer our prayers? The answer is yes...sort of. 

 

Matthew 7:7-11 shares some insight into how God cares for his people.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

 

What we learn from Jesus' words here is that God is a good Father who loves his children. When we ask for what we need, it delights him to give it. God does not return our asking for good things with evil.

 

However, we don’t always know what’s best for us or the world! Sometimes our functional image of God is like a vending machine where we put in the prayer quarter and out pops the result we wanted. Or sometimes it's tempting to think of God like Santa Claus where we ask for things on our list and hope he delivers. Under such understandings of God, we might ask for, and expect God to give us, things like safety, good health, friends, healing, good grades, a girlfriend or boyfriend, etc. These can all be good things to ask for, but God never promises to give us any of these. He does promise to take care of us and give us what we need, but he doesn’t promise us health, wealth, or good fortune all the time.

 

Imagine for a second that God did say yes to all our prayers. Would that make him a truly good Father? In the movie Bruce Almighty, the down-on-his-luck main character (Jim Carrey) believes he can do a better job running the world than God. In response, God (Morgan Freeman) actually hands the reigns over to Bruce along with all of his powers. One of the first things Bruce has to do is answer people's prayers. Overwhelmed with the sheer number of requests, Bruce simply answers "yes" to all prayers in order to make these people happy. The result, as you can imagine, is total chaos and anarchy. Thousands of people win the lottery, the weather is all over the place, and contradictions abound. It's a great illustration for why we don't always get what we want, and why God has to sometimes say "no" to our prayers. God sees more of the world, and works to help humanity flourish, not to make certain individuals momentarily happy.


Sometimes not getting what we want is actually what’s best for us and the world. As humans, we only see what’s right in front of us. But God is infinitely powerful, all-knowing, and sovereign, so it makes sense that even when it seems bad to us, he’s using it for the good of the world.

 

The book of Job is about a righteous man who had everything taken from him. He loses his wealth, his children, and even his health. While he doesn't allow his character to be compromised by his circumstances, he does question God on why he's allowed such suffering in his life. In response, God doesn’t give Job the "makes sense" answer to his question. Rather, he says,

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" - Job 38:4-7

 

Job has no response to God as his answers to all of God's questions are a definitive "no."

 

Job can only say, 
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.” - Job 40:3-5

 

God reminds Job that he created the entire universe and sees how everything works together, and Job doesn't. So for us, even when we don’t understand why certain painful realities show up in our lives, we have to trust that God knows more than us.

 

The good news of the gospel is that God has not left us alone and at the mercy of our pain and suffering. God has done something about it through the cross of Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus took on all evil, sin, and brokenness in this world in order to give us everlasting life. God has dealt with the evil of our world by judging it and giving himself to us as the source of a new kind of life. 


Not only that, but God is currently dealing with our suffering. Psalm 34:18 says, The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. God walks through pain and suffering with us. He comforts those who mourn. He is present with us. 


And not only that, but God promises to once and for all cleanse the world of evil, suffering, and brokenness. Jesus will someday return to earth and renew the whole world. In Romans 8:18, the Apostle Paul declares, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. This was a man who was beaten, mocked, flogged, thrown in prison, shipwrecked, and bitten by a snake in his life. And he says that his present sufferings really don't mean much in the face of eternal glory in the new kingdom of God. Imagine if we truly believed and were 100% confident in our future hope in a restored earth? How much easier would it be to deal with difficulty?

 

For example, when I was in 10th grade, my girlfriend and I broke up after over a year of dating. I was crushed. I have a vivid memory of reading the letters she had written me while listening to Coldplay on my bed and balling my eyes out. True story. Of course I look back at that moment and it's hysterical and slightly embarassing to think about. But at the time it was tragic. I was in very real pain by losing this relationship. So, what changed? Time and perspective. Years later, I am married to a wonderful woman, I have a beautiful baby girl, and my life looks completely different. It's been 14 years and my past pain seems laughable, so how much more after a thousand years of perfected life in a renewed and restored earth?

 

Our suffering will melt beneath the beauty of our glorious King Jesus.