In the last week, the theme of why bad things happen to good people has come up almost daily for me- in my emails, my conversations with friends, and in my talks with God. As a person who sought God all of her life, this was the question that eventually led me to Christ. I can chuckle a bit now in a twisted sort of way knowing that Jesus was the ultimate answer to why bad things happen to good people.
I don’t know about you, but when I am going through suffering, my first inkling is not to take the way of the cross. It is completely antithetical to the human experience. Why would I willingly choose the way of betrayal, wrongful accusations, torture, and ultimately crucifixion, to understand God or for that matter to understand suffering?
Aren’t there easier paths to take that would quell our pain?
I don’t consider myself theologically sophisticated or some sort of religious scholar. My training as a lawyer tells me that I have to go through a very analytical process to form a conclusion. My experiences in life as a trauma survivor tell me to simply run and hide and not deal with pain when life gets hard. I am keenly aware of the divergent pathways that run through my psyche. I am even more aware that it is because of my trauma, and not my law degree, that people can understand and relate to my vulnerability.
These conversations that I had about bad things happening to good people eventually delved into the why. Why do these things happen? Why does God not intervene? These are the same questions that people have been asking before the beginning of time. They are the very same questions that I refuse to stop asking and that I won’t shy away from.
I cannot and will not accept that God is like a referee sitting on the sidelines, determining whether to call foul. He is active and intimately involved in every aspect of our life. I also cannot accept the answer that God will not tell us why or that we have to wait until we get to heaven for some of those answers. Try telling that to a thirty-something-year-old widow who just lost her husband to cancer.
During the pandemic, I began studying for the police chaplaincy. This role is not so much religious as it is spiritually guiding. The position serves as someone to come to in order to ask these tough questions, someone to help police officers process trauma. But more than anything, police chaplains act as guides. Like Christ, they calm the wind and the waves and help to direct the ship to shore.
In studying for the chaplaincy with my mentor, I learned that it is not always about knowing the right answer, but more about listening and providing words of comfort to allow the officer to be seen and heard. Whether it be in situations of witnessing horrific events, PTSD, marital problems, or addiction, these officers are looking for answers that are higher than themselves. And this makes sense because they have chosen to sacrifice and serve others.
They have already chosen God without knowing it
And never would I dream of telling them that we may not find out these answers until we get to heaven. That’s just not fair. And it’s not what I believe to be true.
Our deepest questions, our whys, are sometimes found in the root of simplicity. Whether we accept these answers or not is up to us. As a Christian, I believe that God had a perfect plan until sin entered the world. And from sin comes death. This is a universal and understandable Christian truth. We can choose to blame God for not intervening which is completely fair and valid, or we can choose to explore the pathway to God.
The process of grief is never easy. And grief is the underlying emotion when we ask why. And just like the famous stages of grief come the stages of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. As a Christian, I know that way, I just don’t like it.
The question of bad things happening to good people needs to be reframed. Could we instead ask, how can I see this in the light of Christ? The whys and ways of Christ? Jesus picked Judas knowing He would be betrayed. He was then handed over by his own people which led to His most excruciating death. But we don’t worship a dead God, we worship a living one. So don’t tell me the God of the universe just let’s bad stuff happen. I cannot repeat that to that widow, the police officer or the rape victim.
That’s just not good enough
Bad things happen to good people because sin entered the world. Because people make bad choices. Because we are called to align ourselves with the values and teachings of the God of the universe but not all of us choose to do that, even those of us that call ourselves followers of Christ. Even atheists can embrace the values of God without knowing it. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God and we are not privy to know what is in their hearts.
So how do we answer the part as to why God allows it? Why doesn’t God intervene? There are a million stories being written at any given moment, and all of them can only be understood in the way of the cross.
This is what I’d tell you. The bad thing that happened to me, became the thing that defined me. It gave me an identity I did not want and did not choose. It led me on a path that is longer than what I cared for. And ultimately, I found my answer in a God I did not know. Here is what I’ve learned:
I have learned that man is sinful, that people are selfish and self-serving and that their care for themselves far exceeds their care for me
I have learned that death is not the end but the beginning
I have learned that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger is a lie from the pit of hell
I have learned to love my enemies
I have learned that my pain is meaningful in a million different ways, and in the Kingdom of God is my superpower
I have learned that vulnerability is a gift from God that brings people together
I have learned that the why is personal and God is kind and patient and does not abandon us when we ask questions
I have learned that people do not necessarily want answers but instead want presence
These are just some of the answers I have received from asking why. And my whys have gotten me here. And here is better than there. There would have been death.
In this next chapter of my life as a Chaplain, I hope to comfort those with the comfort of God. I hope to bring people a love they’ve never felt and so desperately need. I hope to accompany them on their journey for answers and cry with them in their despair. God has answered my question of why bad things happen to good people.
Here I am.