“Why do bad things happen to good people?” This was the topic of the message this past weekend at church. It’s definitely a question that I think all of us wrestle with at times. Our pastor did a great job laying out four answers to this question. Here’s a link to the message if you’d like to watch it, which I’d highly recommend since I can’t do it justice here. 2|42 Community Church “Why do bad things happen?” (Click on video from 1/12/14 if it doesn’t go to it automatically.) The Cliff’s notes version is:
1. Bad things happen because of choices we make. For example, we choose to eat unhealthy food and end up with health problems.
2. Bad things happen because of the choices others make. This is fairly self-explanatory. Think of the impact of an affair on a family, or drunk driving, etc.
3. Bad things happen because we have a very real enemy, Satan, whose desire is to destroy us.
4. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen and broken world that has been broken since Adam and Eve rebelled and sin entered the world.
I completely agree with all of these points, but I want to expand upon them by explaining another reason that has really rung true to me as I have faced my own trials, particularly a debilitating chronic illness. After the message, we take communion. As I sat, head bowed, holding my bread and juice, God gave me a mental picture as a way to help me understand this reason. What I saw was my life as a tapestry that God is weaving. It was on a giant loom being woven from the bottom up, but wasn’t completed enough for me to make out the picture. Most of the threads were beautiful in color and texture, but the one He was currently weaving with was ugly and coarse.
“No, God! That’s wrong! That ugly, coarse, painful thing you’re weaving in. It doesn’t fit. It’s going to ruin the picture!”
“It may look ugly now,” He assured me, “but this coarse thread is necessary to complete the beautiful image. You can’t see it now, because you don’t see the whole picture, but I do. When it’s finished you’ll see that this ugly thread actually adds definition to the beautiful parts, and enhances their beauty.”
I have definitely faced things I thought would destroy me. They felt so big and insurmountable. Looking back on some of those times, I can see that God saw the bigger picture. All along I was freaking out, and He was saying, “Relax, I got this. You’ll see.”
He has worked a lot of beautiful things out of trials in my life that are already true and tangible to me, but I also find comfort in knowing that there are quite possibly reasons for painful things that I will never understand this side of Heaven. Let me explain what I mean.
My great-aunt has begun to show signs of Alzheimer’s. My grandfather, her brother, died of the same horrible illness. Their father, my great-grandfather showed similar signs before his death. The recent development with my great-aunt brought fear to my heart. What if this carries along genetically and impacts me or other members of my family? The grip of fear comes swiftly, and then almost immediately an article I read about Alzheimer’s several months ago came to mind. The article said there may be a link between developing Alzheimer’s and eating a high carbohydrate diet. Well, if you have read any of my past posts, you know that due to ulcerative colitis I have been following a very strict, and very low carb diet. Now this is just speculation, but what if God allowed me to suffer these past 7 years with this illness in part to get me to change my lifestyle so that I’d be protected from other devastating health issues later on? Or what if the knowledge I gain while fighting this is exactly what I need to protect my children from suffering? Let me give you another example…
I had a very difficult delivery with our first child. I’ll spare you all of the gory details, but suffice it to say that my tailbone was broken in the process, and I had a very long and painful recovery. The difficulty of the delivery made it impossible for me to ever fulfill my dream of what I thought delivery would/should be like. I barely got to hold my daughter after delivery, and I couldn’t nurse her right away. In short, nothing went according to my birth plan, and honestly I felt robbed of the joy I was supposed to have in those moments. Three years later while expecting our son, I was absolutely terrified of delivery! I was told I would likely go back to square one with the tailbone pain unless I opted for a C-section. Hmmm…being cut open while conscious, that sounds like fun! No good options here!!! After much agonizing, I opted for the scheduled C-section, and our son was delivered a week before his due date. When the doctor went to pull him through the incision, they found the umbilical cord was dangerously wrapped around his neck. They were able to unwrap it without any complications. A vaginal delivery could have been dangerous for him. Since that time I have also heard stories of people who lost full-term babies in utero, and in some cases it was determined that the baby’s death was caused by the cord being wrapped tightly around their neck. What if….. what if, God knew my son would be in danger, so He allowed me to go through the pain of my daughter’s delivery, so that I’d choose the early C-section that I never would have chosen otherwise? What if not experiencing the joyful moments immediately post-delivery with either of my children is the small price I pay for the joy I have in my healthy son?
Like I said, I’ll never know the answer to these things this side of Heaven, but you know what? I don’t need to. Frankly, whether those conjectures are accurate or not is completely irrelevant. The point is not figuring out the reason for our pain, the point is that we allow ourselves to see that God may have some greater purpose for why we are allowed pain, and to learn to trust that He sees the bigger picture that we can’t see. These conjectures are really just an exercise to train me to trust more. The goal is to recognize that if something bad doesn’t happen, how are we to know we were spared from it, and praise Him for the work He’s done? I don’t know what exactly happens when we get to Heaven. Will we suddenly see everything fully and have complete understanding of the whole picture? Will we fall to our knees and say, “Oh Lord, I’m so sorry for my bitterness and bad attitude! I can see now how incredibly merciful you really were to me. I can see how magnificently beautiful the picture is just above that ugly, coarse thread. I can see the ripples of good that came from my pain that touched other lives I never even knew about. If only I had just surrendered to You and trusted You then. My heart would have been spared much agony!”
A well known Bible verse says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) I often hear this verse shortened to “God works all things for good.” This is obviously very comforting, and we all want this to be true in our lives. The problem is that our part in the equation is lost when the verse is shortened this way. We have a job; a role to play. Love Him! Read the verse again. It says that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. The next part says, “who have been called according to His purpose.” How do you know if you’ve been called? Now I don’t have a seminary degree, but my understanding of this verse is this – if you love Him, you follow Him and surrender to Him, and when you love, and follow, and surrender, you’re automatically called to live His purpose. There’s no special qualifications you need to have for this other than to love and trust Him. When we love Him and follow Him, we become His children, and He works for the good of His children.
I know many of you reading this have faced things so painful that none of these reasons really come close to helping you understand why. I have struggled with questions about why God doesn’t just shield us entirely from all evil and pain. Look at number 2 above – sometimes bad things happen because of other people’s evil or foolish choices. But can’t He insulate us from that? Can’t He make the consequences fall to someone else? In short, yes… sometimes. And I think this is why we don’t understand. We don’t understand “sometimes” because we don’t see the whole picture and we don’t fully understand how all 4 of the reasons listed above interact with God’s ability to work all things for the good of those who love Him. We don’t understand that sometimes pain is necessary to grow us. Grow faith. Grow character. Grow compassion. We don’t understand that sometimes the good coming from our pain comes as a benefit to another and not ourselves. We have a self focus, but God has a kingdom focus. Honestly, there are so many things that I don’t understand the “Why.” All I know is that the 4 things listed above are real and unavoidable. I also know that when we try to weave our own tapestry seeing only one tiny spot and trying to pick just the prettiest, and shiniest threads for each place, that the bigger picture turns into a big mess. We can’t stop this fallen world from throwing pain our way, but we can love and trust a God who is able to weave those things into a beautiful, and purposeful tapestry. Surrender is hard, but there’s peace in it. He sees it all. Relax, He’s got this.