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But isn't there any other answer than, we can't completely understand the deeds of God? I mean, it feels so incomplete; I'd like to have some kind of answer. Is there no rational rhyme or reason to the way God allows things to go?

Yes, actually, He does actually give us some reasons why things happen as they do. But it is really important to realize that there is no SINGLE reason for things, and that the following reasons only begin to cover all the reasons for things as they are.

So, why?

One reason the Scriptures give is for a greater good later. Joseph, of the story found in Genesis 37 through 50, suffered terrible unfairness and hardship. His own brothers sold him as a slave to Egypt; after he had worked hard to get to the top of the ladder, his master's wife told a terrible lie about him and he was unfairly thrown into jail; and after having interpreted a dream for a man and asking him to remember him to Pharaoh, he was forgotten in an Egyptian dungeon for two more years. Yet, when all was said and done, Joseph reflected on it all and said, "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50:20, RSV).

This has possibly happened to you, too. There have probably been difficult circumstances in your own life that you couldn't understand, but now that a few years have passed and you have had the chance to see how things have worked out, you can see that it had been meant for good -- perhaps to you, perhaps for others. Sometimes "bad" things happen so that something good can occur.

Sometimes tragedies and evil things happen to avoid an even greater evil. Hezekiah as a king of Judah who, unlike many of the other kings of Judah, was a good and righteous leader for God's people. Isaiah the prophet, however, told Hezekiah one day that God had decreed that he was going to die soon and that he should "get his house in order." Hezekiah reacted like most of us would to such news, he cried, he grieved, and he pleaded with God to spare his life. God was moved to change his mind about the timing of the king's death and God granted him 15 more years (2 Kings 20:6). The king was naturally delighted and thought that all would be well. During the 15 year reprieve that God had given to Hezekiah, however, a son was born to him by the name of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:1), who turned out to be one of Judah's most wicked kings. Apparently, although Hezekiah didn't understand why God had planned that he should die, God had a reason -- to avoid a greater evil for His people Israel.

Who knows but that some of the burdens or suffering that we or other "innocent" people endure are the ways in which God prevents an even greater evil from happening. Of course, given the size and gravity of some tragedies (Hitler's Germany, serial killers, terrorist bombers, etc.), one wonders what greater evils there might possibly be that God is preventing--but then again, you never know, and this is only one possibility.

The apostle Paul was undoubtedly one of the hardest working and most effective of God servants in the church in the entire history of the church. Surely, if anyone deserved "protection" from suffering and bad things, he did. But Paul suffered not only persecution for the sake of Christ and the gospel, but was given what he called a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7) -- apparently (although no one knows for sure) a disease or physical ailment. Paul didn't like to be sick or suffer any more than anyone else and asked God to heal him, "Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me." (2 Corinthians 12:8, RSV). But God refused him relief. Paul must have been frustrated and felt wronged by God, until God revealed something breathtaking to him and enlightening to us, "but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" Such a revelation made him look at things entirely differently, "I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9, RSV). Sometimes our weakness highlights the power of God to a world that rarely sees Him. And Paul also discovered that sometimes things happen, "lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations" -- to protect him from pride!

Granted, those aren't reasons that really "grab" us, especially when we're sick or we find ourselves saddled with some permanent or semi-permanent disability or situation. So, why did these reasons really grab Paul? Was he masochistic, stupid, brainwashed? No, just unselfishly in love with a God who had proven His own unselfish love for Paul (and others) through a cross. It's something to think about.

And there are other reasons. Sometimes UNlike Job, we are caused to suffer because of sins that we've committed. People often completely count out this reason as a possibility in modern times. We really don't want to think of God as capable of punishing us; we just like the "God is love" part -- which is true, but just not the whole story. Alcoholics often suffer the consequences of years of drunken behavior in their families, in their finances, in their friendships, in their freedom (alcohol is often a factor in serious crimes), and in their health (liver damage and other diseases). Criminals land in jail. Sexual sin often results in emotional distress, the complications of pregnancy (including poverty), broken marriages, and veneral disease including AIDS. Need we continue? And sometimes God specially arranges tough times (punishments) as wake-up calls.

There's the story of the farmer with a particularly stubborn mule. Although the farmer pushed, pulled, cracked the whip, offered carrots, and pleaded with the mule, the mule simply would not pull the farmer's wagon. After a couple of hours of frustration, the farmer's neighbor happened to pass by and seeing the farmer's frustration offered his help. "I don't what you could do that I didn't try," complained the farmer with his head in his hand. But the neighbor looked through the wagon until he found a 5-foot long 2X4. He walked to the front of the mule and with a wind-up and swing that would have made Mo Vaughn proud, hit the mule directly between the eyes! The mule staggered and blinked it eyes in a stunned stupor. "What did you do to my mule!?" the farmer cried. The neighbor took the mule's bit and easily led the animal around the barnyard; "I was just getting your mule's attention," he replied simply.

Sometimes, tough times are God's attempt to get our attention.

Other times trials and troubles are for discipline, other times for strengthening, and still other times for testing. In other words, we are far too limited when we imagine that God allows suffering, hardship, grief, or tough times to come our way for only one or two reasons. God is far more complex than that, and situations are far more complicated. Appearances often mask God's real goals and motives, and we must be terribly careful to avoid biting the hand that is seeking to do us good through grumbling, bitterness, and doubt. Keep in mind that when things are looking really dark, that it is only the way it looks; that's not the way things really are.

And incidentally, what were you expecting? That life would be a rosegarden? Even rosegardens have their thorns! And what makes us think that any human life will ever be peachy in this world -- we are "east of Eden" you know! As soon as Adam and Eve sinned the world became fallen, flawed, and imperfect. That is the nature of sin, it is poisonous and corrupting (used here in the sense of something that causes things to decay or rot). It is the nature of the world since the first sin. It is unrealistic to expect perfection or even OK. Jesus said it so well, "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33, RSV).

In the book of Revelation, chapter 12, there is an interesting vision of the great war being waged between God and Satan. In this vision, God's people (both the old covenant, Israel, and the new covenant church) are symbolized by a woman who gives birth to a child who ascends to the throne of God-- Jesus-- despite Satan's (symbolized as a great dragon, v. 9) attempt to kill the child. Satan, knowing that he is defeated, then turns his full fury, like the tantrum of a poor sport, on God's people (see vv. 12, 13, and 17). But even here God protects the church ...

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18, NIV).

The only thing that Satan can possibly do now is to simply attempt to "pick off" the "children" of the woman, individual Christians. Here, then we see the true troubler of mankind and the real reason he is seeking to destroy mankind, especially Christians--sheer rage and fury at having been defeated!! Consequently, Christians have certain reason to expect bad things to happen, eventhough they are trying to do God's will--Satan's out to persecute them and perhaps cause them to fall. He cannot win the final victory, but he intends to destroy as many as he can in the time he has left.

And if all this may seem just a bit unfair, keep in mind that Jesus Himself suffered the ultimate unfairness --

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, NIV).

And if you're a Christian, you must keep in mind, "a disciple is not above his Master..." (Matthew 10:24). If Jesus suffered, we cannot hope to escape unscathed. If they hated Him, they will hate us, too. Where did we ever get the idea that the Christian walk was going to be a "cake walk". In fact, Peter addresses this very misconception when he says "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you." (1 Peter 4:12, NIV). "Weren't you told, didn't someone warn you beforehand?" he seems to be saying.

But even beyond this, the book of Lamentations asks us all a surprizing question in response to our seemingly answerable question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:39,40, NIV).

This probing response to our question doesn't, of course, answer every situation, but it does indeed turn the question around just enough to give us pause for further thought -- "Where are all these good people to whom these bad things are happening?" We like to think that we're good enough because we don't do anything criminal -- we've often confused civil law with God's moral law -- but the Bible is quite clear on the subject, "There is no-one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10, NIV). And while we're on the subject, the sinless Son of God was crucified, right? Actually, when we (think of all the blessings that you have been given by the Lord) give more thought to it, the real question ought be be "Why do such good things happen so often to people who so often sin?"

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