Every year there are several catastrophies that uproot and destroy tens of thousands of lives. We see the images on social media and the news: flooded homes, drought-scorched earth, cities ruined in the aftermath of war, ruinous pandemics. If we choose not to look away and grow numb, our hearts are shaken, shocked, and grieved by the extent of the suffering.
In the midst of all the questions, one stands out: Why? Why did this happen? How did this happen? And if there really is a God who cares about us, where was he?
Why do people get cancer? Why are there earthquakes that destroy entire cities? Why do people have to work so hard just to have enough money to barely feed their families? Subconsciously, we probably ask ourselves questions like these quite often. But consciously, we rarely do. We’re so busy living our lives that we rarely stop and wonder, “WHY?”
But then something happens to wake us up. Our parents get divorced. The girl down the street gets abducted. A relative gets cancer. That wakes us up for awhile. But then we can often sink back into denial. That is, until another tragedy hits, another incongruency. Then we’re likely to think, “Something isn’t right here. Something is really, really wrong. This isn’t how life’s supposed to be!”
So, Why do bad things happen? Why isn’t this world a better place?
There is an answer to the WHY question, found in the Bible. But it’s not an answer that most people like to hear.
What or who could make this world different than the way it is? What or who could guarantee that life is pain-free, for everyone, all the time? God could. God could accomplish that. But he isn’t. At least not right now. And we may be angry with him as a result. As the argument goes: “God can’t be all-powerful and all-loving. If he were, this world wouldn’t be the way it is!”
We say this hoping that God will then change his position on the matter. Our hope is that putting a guilt trip on him will make him change the way he’s doing things. But he doesn’t seem to budge. Why doesn’t he?
God doesn’t budge – he doesn’t change things right now – because he’s giving us what we asked for.
Remember the story of Adam and Eve? They ate the “forbidden fruit.” That fruit was the idea that there’s something more important in life than God himself. For Adam and Eve, this entailed the hope that they could become like God, without God.
They consumed the notion that there was something more valuable in existence than God himself, something more valuable than having a personal relationship with God. And their story is the story of all of us, isn’t it? Who hasn’t said – if not audibly at least in their hearts — “God, I think I can do this without you. I’ll just go this one alone. But thanks for the offer.”
We’ve all tried to make life work without God. Why do we do that? Probably because we’ve all bought the notion that there’s something more valuable, more important, than God. For different people it’s different things, but the mindset is the same: “God isn’t what’s most important in life. In fact, I’d just as soon do it without him altogether.”
What is God’s response to that?
Maybe the only world that God really wants is one in which everyone realizes that he is life’s greatest treasure. The Bible says that God is a jealous God. Quite possibly, God wants to be part of a system in which he is wanted more than anything else. He is, after all, God, the Creator. The one who has always existed. The one who can create a universe “on the backstroke.”
Maybe God has this funny idea that we should value him above all persons and all things and even above ourselves, because he alone can give us a perfect life.
Maybe that explains the world we live in – a system without God as King. In the Bible, God told Adam and Eve what such a system would look like: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17,19).
The system of this world
Life is painful. Life is difficult. Horrible things happen to people all the time. We have to work to survive. Rather than working for pleasure, we work out of necessity in order to feed ourselves and our families. We die. Whether it’s at 7, 17, 67 or 100, we all die. No one escapes death.
So that’s the system we live in: pain, having to work to survive, then death. So what’s the big deal? Why is that kind of a world such a problem?
That kind of a world is a problem because we can imagine a much better world. The Bible says that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We know, in our hearts, what a better world would look like.
If we were merely products of random chance plus time, then we wouldn’t conceive of a better world – “You work hard. You endure pain. Then you die. That’s life.” But we don’t say that in our minds. Because we know better. We know that a world free of death, pain, survival, and labor is actually possible. (That’s why we ridicule God for not providing that better world right now.)
But God has left us in this world. Why? Maybe so that we would see the need for him. Maybe he’s put us in this world, in this system, to show us what a world is like without him at the helm. Pretty awful.
But many of us try to make the system work in spite of its flaws. We tough it out. We work hard. We endure the pain. Then we face death courageously or with indifference – even though it’s the great calling card that lets us know there’s something very wrong with this world.
Or we do our best to overlook the flaws altogether. We expend all of our energy having as much “fun” as possible and we pretend the flaws aren’t there.
So, then, what is this life all about? Why are we here?
From all that the Bible says, it seems that God simply wants people who want him. It’s not complicated at all. He wants to know people and have them reside in his system so that they are freed from all evil and are made perfect by his grace. Here’s a sampling of the evidence for this…
“[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy 2:4).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32).
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).
Maybe God gives us time in this world system to make a very important decision about him: will we want to have a relationship with him or not? That’s likely why we’re here.
If we begin a relationship with him now, he will greatly improve our time in this world. Life may not be necessarily easier, but it will definitely be more fulfilling, rewarding, and purposeful.
However, God has a completely different system in mind altogether – one he’s fully in charge of, one in which his will is done all the time. Afterall, who sees every rape, every car accident, every hungry person, every cancer victim, every abandoned child? It’s God who sees all of this and more, all of the time. Quite possibly, he is much more upset about the condition of this world than we are, or ever could be. Maybe we couldn’t handle the amount of pain that God himself constantly endures. And yet he allows this world to go on – but only for a time. There will come a time when only those who have received his gift of full deliverance from all evil, his Son, will live forever in a perfect eternity.
There are no easy answers to the WHY question. But it’s likely that the problems in this life and in this world should drive us to God and show us the need for him. Maybe that’s why Jesus advised us to pray the following to God: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This world isn’t the way God wants it to be. And it won’t be until his kingdom comes.