Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? A Wrap-up

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(9 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") Over the past several weeks, we have explored three broad reasons that bad things happen to good people.  First, the law of consequence says that even good people make mistakes and bad outcomes often follow bad choices. Second, God has each of us on a training program that often includes some pain.  What I have tried to emphasize from Hebrews chapter 12 is the view that God's discipline is never random, capricious, or mean.  If God disciplines us as a good father would (an analogy used in Hebrews 12), then I think we can expect his discipline to be understandable and a clear path to "our good and His holiness".  If we carry Christ as our New Testament…
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Our Counterattack – Prayer and Faith

Evil and Suffering, Faith is ..., Thoughts
(8 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") In Mark 9:14-29, we have a story of demon-possession that includes a long conversation between Jesus, a distraught father, and the disciples.  As Jesus returned from the mountain of His transfiguration, he found a crowd gathered.  While He was away, His disciples had failed in their attempt to drive a demon out of a child and the desperate father turned to Jesus.  After describing the child's pain, the father pleads, " 'But if you [Jesus] can do anything, take pity on us and help us!'  And Jesus said to him, ' "If you can?"  All things are possible to him who believes.'  Immediately the boy's father cried out, 'I do believe; help my unbelief.'  When Jesus saw that…
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Under Attack

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(7 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") If Satan is the author of evil and his plan includes harming believers, how do we rightly evaluate the bad things that happen to us?  That is, how do we recognize the difference between God's training program and Satan's attacks?  We start by interpreting our situation through "the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Cor 4:6).  We ask ourselves, "Is this harm that has befallen us consistent with what we expect when we look into the face of Jesus?  Is this the kind of discipline we expect from our Savior, or is this so outside the realm of His love that it must be an attack from Satan?  Let's think about some example situations…
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The Dark Enemy

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(6 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") When the pain we experience seems capricious, random, or unexplainable, I believe that rather than blaming God, we need to recognize we have a powerful, dark, and active enemy who hates us.  As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked about a Dark Power in the universe - a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease and sin." God is not the author of evil.  For too long, in our dogmatism about the sovereign plan of God, we have either inadvertently or deliberately, painted God as the author of evil.  With…
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The New Testament Picture of God

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(5 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") When you picture God in your mind, what image do you see?  Because God is so unique, so holy, so multi-faceted in His attributes, there are a variety of images that could come to mind.  Think now about the New Testament image of God.  In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus gives us a picture of God as a compassionate father; looking, longing, running, kissing, embracing, forgiving, and celebrating his son's return.  The apostle John highlights in his letters the love of God as the very essence of His character.  And the apostle Paul refers over 200 times to God or Christ living inside us.  Let this New Testament picture sink in and realize that…
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Our Response to God’s Training Program

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(4 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") When the author of the book of Hebrews lays out the reasoning behind God's training program for us, it is designed to help us not "lose heart".  But, at least in the Hebrews passage, our response to the pain that comes with it is not clearly explained.  But reasoning through the analogy with our earthly father's discipline gives us some insights that I think are largely ignored in our understanding of suffering. God's overarching attribute in His dealings with His children in the present age is love.  Put simply, the New Testament description of God is, "God is love."  Even God's discipline is motivated by His love, "For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines" (Heb 12:6). …
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God’s Training Program

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(3 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") In Hebrews chapter 12 we are introduced to God's training program for His children.  The author begins the chapter with the example of Jesus "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2).  Jesus endured incredible pain to accomplish what God set out for Him to do.  In verse 3, the focus shifts from Jesus, our example in suffering, to us, God's children.  "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb 12:3).  The author then goes on to explain God's training program in verse…
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Three Answers from the Bible

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(2 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") The Bible gives three broad reasons for why bad things happen to good people.  First is the law of consequence.  Poor choices in life lead to bad outcomes.  Second is the training program of God.  God may send uncomfortable - I hate to use the word bad in describing God's interaction with His children - situations to stretch us and grow us and mature us.  Third is the idea that we and God have a dark enemy, Satan, who is working in this world, including in the lives of believers, with ill-will toward us on both large and small scales.  While Satan has no power to possess us in the classic sense, he can make our lives…
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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
(1 of 9 in a series on "Why do bad things happen to good people?") Another topic addressed in the book of Hebrews is the philosophical conundrum, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"  The Hebrew believers were facing severe persecution for their faith.  It would be natural for them to wonder why this is happening; why adversity seemed to be the reward for following Christ.  Maybe it would be better to shrink back from such a dangerous faith to the comforts of the Judaism they had known in the past. By God's goodness, grace, and revelation we have answers in Scripture to the big issues of life including this one.  But first, let's start with what the answer is not.  There is a certain brand of theology that, rather…
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Joining the Fight

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
"The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (I Jn 3:8).  And I believe Jesus calls us to join Him in this work.  So rather than throwing our hands up with insufficient or pat answers to the problem of "disappointment with God regarding personal and widespread suffering," let's lay a solid biblical foundation for our young people and then enlist them in the fight against Satan; against his works of evil, violence, disease, and corruption in this world.  What might this effort look like in our everyday lives? Encouraging and assisting our friends who are experiencing marriage challenges to work through their problems and keep a household together that Satan would like to tear apart. Helping a friend find answers for…
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Destroying the Works of the Devil

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
One of the crucial distinctions to make in our understanding of suffering and evil is the difference between the error of calling God the author of evil and the truth that God is in the business of turning evil into good.  The difference between these two concepts may seem subtle, but the implications are tremendous.  We do our young people a great service when we help them understand this distinction.  As the late Ralph Winter wrote, "God is not 'behind' the evil in the world, He is 'in front' working good out of evil." The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is an example of this.  In their jealousy and dislike of Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  After many twists and turns, the story…
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The Author of Evil

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
Consider these passages from the New Testament: "And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all" (Lk 13:11).  After healing the woman on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (Lk 13:16).  Jesus ascribes this woman's illness to Satan himself. "And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.  And when Jesus had come out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an evil spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling…
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The Dark Power

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, "One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked about a Dark Power in the universe - a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease and sin."  Where did Mr. Lewis get this impression, and does it fit the message of the New Testament?  I believe it does, but it does involve some piecing the puzzle together. Most passages in the New Testament that reference Satan describe his evil moral character or his powerful influence in the world.  Regarding Satan's nature, Jesus simply called him "the evil one" (Mt 13:19).  Evil is Satan's most basic attribute.  Jesus amplifies this description of Satan's nature in John 8:44,…
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The Problem of Evil

Evil and Suffering, Thoughts
Point three in Dr. Ruth Tucker's categories related to walking away from faith is "disappointment with God regarding personal and widespread suffering."  This is not surprising as the problem of suffering and evil has challenged our view of God and His revelation for a long time.  The prevalence of evil in our world from "why do bad things happen to good people" to the devastation wrought by natural disaster is an oft-mentioned stumbling block to belief. At the risk of sounding trite or thinking that I have a novel, five-second answer to this age-old question, I do believe the biblical answer to this dilemma is straightforward.  Let's start with what the answer is not. Evil is not part of God's plan for us personally or for the world in general. …
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