My pastor (Pastor Russ Smith - see our church's website for audio of his preaching: http://meridenhillsbaptist.org/) just preached on this tonight, and I wanted to share some thoughts from his lesson, adding in my own thoughts as well. This is something so many of us struggle with because, simply, we love each other! We don't want to see anyone suffer, especially those whom we think sacrificed for others, lived a good and decent life, never committed a crime, etc. Why should they in turn be rewarded with evil, or so it seems? Why should those we love suffer in pain and agony?
To answer this question we have to break it apart into simpler questions. First of all, who is good? 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." Jesus, the Lamb of God, is good and perfect. In contrast, we are all sinners, no matter how good we seem as we compare ourselves among ourselves. Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." 2 Corinthians 10:12 says, "For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."
It's not about what we think is good, but what God thinks that matters because He is the final Judge. This is His world and we are merely creatures borrowing space. When we view ourselves through the eyes of God, we will see ourselves as poor wretches, blind, poor, filthy in light of God's holiness and beauty.
What do you define as good? Is it someone who has not murdered anyone, or raped anyone, or robbed a bank? Is someone good who hasn't gone to jail? Our pastor ministered in a prison ministry, and he said even those in jail think they're good, like they don't deserve to be there, etc. We might look at our sweet grandmas and think they of all people are good. But what we have is a subjective morality, using different definitions, and we can never draw a solid conclusion unless we have one source, one moral authority upon which to base everything else on as a point of reference.
So since none of us are good, then it changes the question: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Bad People?" We talked about who is good, so now let's ask, "Who is Bad?" Isaiah 64:6: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Isaiah, a great prophet, included himself in this when he wrote, "We." The Israelites took purity very seriously, and would separate people out who were diseased or bleeding or wounded, etc. until they were clean again. They were careful about spreading germs to the point of even exile. He in essence is saying to them, "we should all be exiled; we're all bad." Even our righteousnesses, and notice he has that in plural form, so not just taking our very best but all of our goodness, are as filthy rags in the sight of God. Our lives are but a vapor, it says in James. We all do fade as a leaf.
So who is good? No one. Who is bad? Everyone. It's not that good people don't deserve bad things to happen to them, but rather we are bad and the good things that happen are by the grace of God. I know that's humbling, but until we swallow our pride and see ourselves as we really are, there will be no healing or peace for our souls. Until we repent, there will never be forgiveness of our sins.
The third question is, "Why is there Pain and Death in the World?" How could a just, kind, loving God allow this to happen to those He created? Romans 5:12: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Who is that one man? Adam. We may complain and say, "Ugh! If Adam never sinned, we wouldn't be in this mess! We'd still be living in paradise." Well, Adam was the very best we had, and even he sinned. Let's be honest; we wouldn't have lasted as long as he did! We started out with an environment that a holy, perfect God called "very good" and yet man sinned. Genesis 1:31: "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day."
Here's the curse, guys: Genesis 3:16-19: "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
We are in a cursed world. But the question can be asked, "Would you ever allow pain and suffering for your children?" The obvious knee jerk reaction is, "of course not!" But let's think about this more. When you tell your child to clean his room or eat his vegetables, he may feel like he's emotionally suffering, or even physically suffering. We not only allow that child to suffer, but we're causing it. But it is suffering with purpose, and we are inflicting suffering with love. We want our children to be healthy, and we want them to be responsible and clean. We don't want them to trip over their toys and get injured. We can and should allow certain types of suffering to our children with purpose. We are born bad, and need to be taught to do right, even if it feels uncomfortable.
The last point for part 1 is this: "God's Punishment." Sometimes we are not allowing pain and suffering, but rather actually punishing our children for wrong doing. Why? Because bad decisions = pain. If we discipline our children in the small things, then they will avoid greater pain in the future. For instance, if you punish your child for disobeying you for touching something she should not have touched, then when she is ready to put her finger in the light socket or touch the hot stove, she will obey when you say, "No!" If she is running after a ball into the road with a car coming, she will stop when you say, "Stop!" God punishes us for our good, just as we do for our children, so that we learn to obey and inevitably avoid greater pain. We do it because they are our children that we love, not someone else's children, but our children. Hebrews 12:6-7: "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" Why do we discipline our children? To make them stronger, build moral character, teach them to be hard workers, practice relationship building (by, for instance, making them share a room), etc.
I hope this gives some perspective from God's point of view as you consider the sufferings in this life. There is meaning and good that can come from anything we go through, if we love God and seek His will and purpose for our lives. Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."