“Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”

We all, at one point, have asked this question.  Below is a few excerpts from our 9/11/2013 Wednesday night youth meeting discussing that subject.

12 years ago, there was a day when God witnessed 2,819 innocent lives brutally taken as the towers fell and our entire nation was hurled into a state of shock and disbelief.

a) Where were you when 9/11 happened?
b) How did you feel that day?
c) How have you felt about 9/11 in the decade since the attacks?
d) How has life changed for you and for others you know after 9/11?

Two stories:
Rather than focus all our attention the events of the day…let’s look at two stories that happened afterwards:

Father Rich Kammerer’s story:

WHILE SEPT. 11 was a shocking event for people around the world, for me it was deeply personal. And it provided an opportunity to practice the presence of Jesus in the midst of unspeakable suffering.
I was serving in the New York City area at the time and actually watched the second plane hit the second tower. Then I called the youth minister. We rushed up to the high school. We just hung out there all day with the kids and those working at the school. I wanted to be used by Christ, but I often felt a loss for words.
Silent presence was to be our greatest gift.

For the next days, weeks and months, there were endless funerals.

Fireman Joseph Angelini Sr., and Fireman Joseph Angelini Jr., died on Sept. 11 — father and son. Joseph Sr.’s body was recovered. At his funeral, I stood silently outside with hundreds of firefighters and police officers in the middle of Wellwood Avenue. Christ was suffering right in front of me, and I wanted to comfort Him. But all I could do was stand with my brothers and sisters in solidarity and communion. The body of Joseph Angelini Jr., was not recovered. Months later, his family held a memorial service. Again, I stood with my brothers and sisters. I wanted to do something, say something; but silence seemed best — just being present, standing with them, letting them know they were not alone.

You could almost hear the Lord say, as in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (NIV).

In times of great pain and suffering, just sharing the pain is what I believe Christ asks. I wanted to let Christ use me; and I think He did, silently.


Harold S. Kushner – author of Conquering Fear – Explaining terrorism and its power, Kushner writes: “Terrorist math is simple. Kill one person, frighten a thousand. Kill a few thousand people, terrify an entire population. … The power of a terrorist act, the secret of its effectiveness, lies in its randomness.”

He also writes of conquering the power of terrorism: “We will have to hold on to our faith that God has given us a world where evil is possible but evil will ultimately consume itself.


But listen to this

Sarah Sumner shares this:

When I was 22 years old, my parents were divorced. She says, Even to this day, their divorce is the hardest thing I’ve ever been called to cope with because of all the ramifications of their split. David Gushee’s book Making Marriage Right says it’s normal, according to hard research, even for adult children to rank their parents’ divorce as the number-one pain-point in their lives.
I love this next quote from her!!!


She continues: While in the throes of grieving the death of my parents’ marriage, I didn’t ask the normal question, “God, why did You allow this thing to happen?” It didn’t even occur to me to indict the living God. On what basis could I have blamed Him? God was not divorcing anybody; my parents were the ones doing that. I definitely had a problem when my parents were divorced. But the problem was not God; it was my pain. I was terribly ill-equipped to deal with my own suffering.

If you think about it, the question, Why does God allow people to suffer? is really not a question at all. It’s a protest. It’s an angry declaration that says, “People shouldn’t have to hurt like this!” or, many times, “I shouldn’t have to hurt like this!”

Pain is what people protest. It is pain that people find so problematic. Though we might think we’re blaming God because God has power to stop things, the thing we want Him to stop is the insult of our pain.

Which brings us to this…Adam Sandler.  While researching throughout countless blogs and articles for this lesson, I stumbled back upon this movie that I watched several years ago.

Don Cheadle stars as Alan Johnson, a dentist whose family life has left him feeling slowly suffocated despite the best intentions of his loving wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and children. When Alan sees a former college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), tooling around town on a motor scooter, he calls out to him, but his cries go unanswered. Charlie, ears enveloped by a giant set of headphones, has tuned out the world around him and we soon find out why: Years earlier, Charlie’s wife and daughters died aboard one of the hijacked flights on Sept. 11, 2001. But Reign Over Me, doesn’t fit with other movies that deal more directly with 9/11, such as United 93 and World Trade Center. Charlie’s pain—the loss of one’s family through tragedy—is about the sudden void created by the death of the people he was closest to, a type of tragedy that, sadly and more personally, the accident at Cleveland Park proved can happen to any of us on any given day.  Take a look at the trailer:

Alan’s efforts to break through the emotional walls Charlie has erected pay off in a movie that certifies Sandler’s ability to play serious roles. He inhabits the role of Charlie to such an extent that it’s difficult to imagine any other actor playing the same part.

Loneliness and isolation are not God’s design. Whether married or single, friends help us when we face trouble. “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

The problem is, the characters in Reign Over Me do not look heavenward for help.  That is why I show this, to visualize the pain of loss without understanding the love of God.  Dwight has said many times, that without the love of God to get him through, he doesn’t where he’d be today.  Just look at this compilation of clips from the movie set to The Who and their title song used in the movie Reign Over Me.  Notice the sheer anguish and hopelessness of a man with no hope and without a clear understanding of the love of God.

Making sense of the suffering of others

Often, our question of suffering is self-focused, not theological: Why did God let this happen to me? But it’s also often true that people are thinking about the plight and pain of others. Sometimes we are asking on behalf of other people why God doesn’t stop the madness arbitrarily causing them such pain and turmoil.

Why does God put up with serial murderers? Why does He let tragedy such as 9-11? Why does He allow natural disasters to kill hundreds or thousands at a time? Who is this God, if He exists, to permit such wrenching pain?

“Abhor what is evil,” the Bible says (Romans 12:9, ESV). The definition of abhor is to regard with horror or loathing; detest. But even doing that, even abhorring/loathing evil, is painful. That is the catch-22. It hurts to be sinned against, and it hurts to care about others who are sinned against. Likewise, it hurts to be the recipient of evil, and it hurts to care about others who have been the recipients of evil. Why does God command us to enter into the pain of loathing what is evil? Why doesn’t God just stop it?

I believe one answer is because God insists that we become just like Him. God loathes evil, and God cares about others. The Bible says God is “grieved” by sin and evil. Thus, I believe the marvel of the mystery of the problem of evil is that it points us to God’s plan to conform us into the likeness of His Son.

Jesus was a Man of sorrows. Like Job and Jeremiah, He experienced unspeakable pain. But Jesus’ pain was worse. Job and Jeremiah, heroic as they were, both caved to the temptation to cry out against God, scolding God for allowing them to be born. Job cried, “Let the day perish on which I was to be born. … Why did I not die at birth?” (Job 3:3, 11, NASB). Similarly, Jeremiah yelled, “Cursed be the day when I was born; Let the day not be blessed when my mother bore me!” (Jeremiah 20:14).  In extreme stark contrast, when Jesus cried out,“Why?” He said nothing about cursing the day Gabriel told Mary she would bear the Christ child. Jesus cried out in faith instead of protest.  Hanging on a cross, absorbing the sin of all the world, suffering unimaginably, Jesus prayed Psalm 22. Though He uttered the first line when on the cross, just saying that first line is the Hebrew way of referring to the Psalm. Jesus was thus thinking:

My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet Thou art holy, O Thou Who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In Thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out, and were delivered. In Thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.

Jesus trusted God, even in His most agonizing, grueling, groaning, gagging pain.

The Problem of Sin
But still, our complaints continue to be sent up. Still, we feel so angry about the people who are suffering unjustly. Why doesn’t God just make things better?

No one seems to complain that God has set before us many opportunities to idolize ourselves. I have never heard anyone saying how it irks them to be given the freedom to indulge the self -to overeat, to boast, to gossip, to get drunk. Nobody shouts at God for allowing them to sin in their favorite ways.

Hypocritically, however, we do complain sorely at the top of our lungs about the sins and evil of others who are hurting us. So we question God’s character right when we are thinking of ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not letting myself off the hook either. I’m as guilty as everyone else when it comes to being demanding and self-serving. But I know something true about God. God has masterminded a way to deliver us from sin and evil. Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

Sin is such a widespread problem, the only way to solve it is for God miraculously to have taken on human flesh and transformed Himself doubly miraculously into sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul explains, “He Who knew no sin became sin.” God defeated sin by allowing sin to happen in the first place. Likewise, God defeated evil by letting evil have its heyday and then swallowing evil up.

It is humbling to be truthful about the mystery of evil since nobody understands it, except God. I believe evil is ultimately unintelligible/impossible to truly understand for us because evil is anti-reason and anti-truth. According to the Scriptures, it isn’t ours to peer into the darkness of the shadows of the mystery of evil or anything else God on high has chosen not to reveal to us.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says it plainly: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us …

The Gifts of God Through Suffering

Though for now there are earthquakes and ravages and crimes and disease and premature deaths and mental illness, God can still be trusted. God is. And God is faithful. He has given us many gifts as we entrust ourselves to Him in our pain and in our empathy for others. Perhaps the three most visible gifts are the gift of people, the gift of joy and the gift of God Himself.

By the gift of people, I mean those who work for social justice or extend a helping hand or bring physical relief or offer a ministry of presence as Mother Teresa did for the dying. It’s probably true for all of us that in our darkest times, we feel more bonded with those with whom we share God’s love. Perhaps by God’s design, a suffering heart, if soft, can more easily be enlarged and filled with love.

Take a look at this video of two women who did just that:

By the gift of joy, I am referring to the great surprise of levity that comes on the other side of pain. I have repeatedly experienced this surprise. It’s a big part of why I’m not an atheist. Every single time I have waited on God in prayer, pouring out my heart to Him, He comforts me and lifts me in my spirit. I believe God is eager to share the strangeness of His joy with everyone. But we have to enter the pain. There is no other route to true joy. You can’t have the highs without the lows, the mountains without the valleys.

——————-Watch A Widow’s Unlikely Love Story

By “God’s gift of Himself,” I mean the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the peace of God that surpasses understanding, and the promise and assurance of seeing Christ face to face when He comes back. Bearing up under sorrows is the only way to receive the special wisdom and power that comes to those who suffer unjustly.

Few are those who dare to commune with God that way. But God is patient and forbearing; every time someone sins against us, we are blessed with another chance to surrender our way forward into becoming the recipients of a grace that does not come unless we yield to God when we’ve been wronged.
One of my favorite hymns is It Is Well With My Soul.  Here is the story behind the song…

Horatio Spafford  faced intense personal tragedy, yet he still was able to pen the words, “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul.”

Faith in a savior who has overcome death and provides a way for us to reunite to God is what gets us through immense difficulties and times of questioning.

The cross is the worst injustice our planet has ever seen — the sinless son of God, beaten to a pulp and brutally nailed to a piece of wood. At the cross, Jesus experienced suffering, abuse, pain and abandonment. Now, because of the cross, anyone who ever finds themselves on those dark roads never has to walk them alone — Jesus understands our anguish and has experienced it himself.  The cross doesn’t undo tragedies like 9/11, but it does stand at the center of all of them. Much like the unforgettable image of the steel-beam cross at Ground Zero, the cross stands at the center of all the tragedies of our lives — offering hope, understanding and healing.

Not everything that happens to us is God’s will, but God is so powerful that even evil can serve God’s purposes. God does not will evil, but God can make good come out of evil.

Stick with me here…This does not mean that evil is secretly good. It does not mean that we ought to try to comfort others by telling them that tragedy is not really so bad after all, or that it is for our own good or for a higher good.  But it does mean that we can trust God to make good come even from bad circumstances. Evil happens, chance happens, but God is still at work in the midst of it all.  God will take our fearful heart and give us courage; God will take our hurt and hate, and fashion them into peace.

Bad things happen to good people because the Bible tells us that as long as we live in this fallen world, bad things will happen.

Even though Jesus Christ was blameless, faultless, sinless, he paid the ultimate price for us so we may receive the free gift of salvation. And if Jesus paid with his life for us, the least I can do is to still praise God when bad things happen to me and others.  As believers, we can change this world one person at a time by embodying the message of God’s love and peace in this world. Our call is not to live lives of comfort or security, free from the bad things that might happen. Our call is to live lives of faith, trusting that God walks alongside us in both the good and the bad times.

We finished with an unlikely version of the song…


This lesson was sourced from a number of different sources, blogs, and articles and pieced together in combination with the media to create a mega lesson.