Does God LET bad things happen?
Does God let bad things happen to those he loves?
That is somewhat of a loaded question. If you say "yes" it kind of makes God seem like a jerk or at the very least like God does not care that much about those he loves. If I say “no" does that mean God does not love me? Because I sure do know that bad stuff happens to me sometimes.
So what is it? Does God let bad things happen to those he loves. I am reminded of a story from John’s gospel account about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. In this story John asks this very question in a loud way.
Jesus is out and about in Jerusalem doing what he does—messiahing it up. He receives word from his really good friends Mary and Martha in Bethany that Lazarus, who Jesus loves is deathly ill. This is the Mary and Martha and Lazarus that Jesus has hung out with a ton of times before. This is the same Mary who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The same Mary who anointed Jesus' feet with like $47,000 worth of perfume. To Say the least they were pretty tight.
I don’t know about you but If I got a call that a good friend of mine, who was close enough to me to drop $47,000 on a gift for me and tight enough with me to wash my feet with his tears, was properly sick and I knew I could heal him I would drop whatever I was doing to go be with him a help him. And I'm not nearly as loving as Jesus. Jesus could totally have helped Lazarus and cured him.
BUT Jesus was in Jerusalem & Lazarus was all the way in Bethany. There was no Uber and you could not even ride a bike. Bethany was just a shade over 2 miles from Jerusalem, no wonder it took some 2-3 days to get there. But this a joke of an excuse.
Two or even three miles is NOT that far to walk if you are used to walking everywhere. In fact, I enjoy hiking and regularly walk 4-6 miles for the fun of it AND I do it in less than a
day. All you need to do is look at me and you can tell that I am decidedly not an elite level athlete and yet I regularly walk farther than two miles. Bethany is like an hour walk, at the most from Jerusalem.
Jesus could have gotten to Bethany a lot faster than he did. But he sauntered. He took his time.
BUT Jesus LOVES Lazarus. And you don’t want bad things to happen to the people love. Jesus could have totally healed Lazarus from this illness. Some of the people around were a little bit like me and suspicious that Jesus could have done more. They even asked, “could not the man who made a man born blind from birth,” which Jesus had just done very publicly, “have kept Lazarus from dying?”
We are left with that difficult question. Does God let BAD things, or worse yet cause bad things, to happen to those he loves?
What if I told you that what we think of as “good” and “bad” things is not necessarily the truth. When we think of something “good” we usually think of something that is pleasing, comforting, nice. When we think of something “bad” we usually think of something that is displeasing, discomforting, and not very nice.
That which is good for you is frequently not pleasing, comforting, and nice especially when you are first getting into it. I can think of nothing less “good” than brussel sprouts. BUT they are decidedly good for you—but please refrain from serving them to me. That which is actually good for me, at least in this case, is somewhat hard to swallow and displeasing, discomforting, and not terribly nice.
In my own life I remember being a little boy who was diagnosed with limb girdle muscular dystrophy. I remember getting electrocuted through needles (the test is officially called an electromyographic test or EMG) that confirmed the diagnosis. I remember being poked and prodded and watched by a chorus of men who assured me that the next person might be the man who could help me. To be told the same sad news that there was nothing that could be done.
I remember being devastated and getting to them point where I essentially could not walk. I remember The Rev. Freeman Hamrick calling us and telling us to come to church for laying on of hands and prayer because he did not know a man who might could help me but he knew THE MAN who WOULD help me.
That following Sunday God took me and used a ”bad” situation to teach me about trusting him in all things even when it seemed hopeless. That Sunday I was carried to the altar and placed on my knees where I was anointed with oil and prayed for in Jesus name. Then Jesus healed me and I walked back to my seat.
Several years later in my late 20’s I was diagnosed with late stage cancer and was taught that lesson again.
God’s desire for you and me is for us to become his friends, to become saints. That is his desire for and he is constantly working to help us make it. The ”good” and “bad” things that happen to us are meant for good because they are meant to be tools to help us become God’s friends. This whole world is meant to be a giant saint making machine.
I don’t mean to suggest that there is not suffering in the world. I can tell you that as a little boy being told you are never going to walk again induces suffering. As a 28 year old having late stage cancer, a major surgery, and chemo therapy induces suffering—and secretly I still have residual pain from the cancer treatments.
Suffering exists in the world. You and those you love will experience some of this suffering. This is a terrible thing. BUT the suffering is not because God does not love you or does not want good things for you.
God wants to be friends with you. Don’t miss your chance.
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