Last week I posted my answer to question #2 that I was asked to answer during the "Grill Bill" series at Neighborhood Church in Redding. Today I'm posting my answer to question #3.
Q: “Why do tragedies happen like hurricane Katrina and 911? Why does a soccer mom die, while evil people live on?”
This, I’m afraid, is a question that has been asked, and will probably continue to be asked, until the end of time: Why do bad things happen—and specifically, why do bad things happen to “good” people, while “evil” people seem to thrive?
I’d like to start with the first question you ask—‘Why do tragedies happen, like hurricane Katrina and 9/11?’ There is a very straightforward answer to this, a theologically true and Biblically clear answer, but it rarely satisfies the person asking the question. Nevertheless, here’s the answer: tragedies like hurricane Katrina, 9/11, oil spills in the gulf, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc—each and every tragedy in our world is a consequence, a side-effect—of the very first sin. Romans chapter 5, verse 12 tells us how Adam’s sin opened the door for death and grief and pain to enter our world-- “…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…”
We are beings created in the image of God, with the ability to make choices and decisions that matter, both presently and eternally. As long as Adam and Eve chose to live in obedience to God, the present and eternal state of the world and its inhabitants was safe from tragedy. But the moment they chose disobedience, the temporal and eternal consequences of their decision meant pain for everyone that would follow. For that reason, humans, and not God, are directly responsible for being the sentries that let sin and death walk through the entry gate of our world. Human tragedy has been the result ever since.
The second part of your question is really the harder question—‘Why does a soccer mom die, while evil people live on?’ There are no easy answers to this question, I would be lying to you if I told you I could give you answers or reasons for specific situations. If I wanted to get technical and preachy on you (indulge me just a sec), I'd have to bring up the painful reminder that Biblically, there are no truly "good" people (Mark 10:18). Due to the fact that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), when our 'goodness' is measured against God's standard for goodness-- which is PERFECTION-- we see that we are all guilty of evil-- we have all fallen short of the standards of God. But I think I know what's at the heart of your question, so let's move on.
The Bible takes an entire book to deal with this mind-bending problem of 'bad things to good people' in the life of Job. He loses his children, his wealth and his health. All he has left is a wife who belittles him, best friends who mock him and the fact that he’s breathing. And here’s the most ironic part: the Bible makes it clear he did nothing wrong to bring this on himself (Job 1:1). Forget karma; this guy did all the right things, and bad things still happened to him.
So what’s the deal?
Does God sometimes allow, or bring about painful situations through secondary agents (human choices, evil spiritual beings) in order to discipline individuals and nations? Yes. We see this many places in the Bible. But is every bad thing that happens to us a divine reaction to something we did to make God angry? No, as the story of Job proves. God called Job “a perfect and upright man” (Job 1:8)—and yet He allowed pain to enter his life. “In the story of Job, though the LORD gave Satan permission to bring harm to Job’s possessions and children, and though this harm came through the evil actions of the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, as well as a windstorm (Job 1:12,15,17,19), yet Job looks beyond those secondary causes and, with the eyes of faith, sees it all as from the hand of the Lord: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21) (Grudem, 325 Systematic Theology).
So what’s the deal?
The deal is, we live in a fallen world, where sin and its side-effects are felt by everyone, without exception. “Good” people, lost people, Christian people, “evil” people— all of us are affected by sin and tragedy, to varying degrees. This, I think, is the root of what troubles us—the “varying degrees” of pain. Why do some people suffer more than others, irrespective of how they live or what they believe? If the story of Job is any indication, God does not seem to feel obligated to answer that question of “why.” Instead, we see God demonstrate His superior understanding of all that goes on in the world and our lives, compared to man’s understanding, until Job can say of Him—“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
One more thing: God is no stranger to the pain of human tragedy. What you feel, He has felt. What you have lost, He has lost. If the pain of human tragedy seems unfair to you, He also has suffered from that same unfairness. God lost a son to the unfairness of pain, and His name was Jesus, and He died to make things right again in a broken world. "32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
God uses the pain our predecessors ushered into the world as a means of reflecting back to us our level of trust in Him. Do you trust Him? That is the most important question of all.