Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Due to events that have happened recently in my church family, and events in my own life that happened around this time of year four years ago, I’d like to spend a couple of articles dealing with the Christian form of grief and the grieving process. I’m no psychiatrist, but I would like to share my experience and how God has led me through. Let me start with my story and some thoughts that I had at the time:

November 15, 2009: Home from church. My family is doing the typical. Playing cards, Scrabble maybe, cozy in sweatshirts and lounge pants. Dad’s packing a duffel bag; he’s going to head out soon to go up north to meet a friend for a couple days of hunting, starting tomorrow. I head upstairs to my room to change into pajamas and throw my books in my school bag and get ready for bed. I’ve got school tomorrow, and as a sophomore in high school I figured I should get to bed at a decent time. After getting ready for bed, I come downstairs one more time, tell Dad I love him and good luck hunting! He says the same, and that he will definitely come home with something (even though he hasn’t in years).

November 16, 2009: Typical Monday. Not too bad, all things considered. I’m getting more comfortable at CCHS. I am lucky enough to have a 7th hour study hall, so I can get all my homework done and have nothing to worry about when I get home. My history teacher walks into my study hall and jokes with me for a few minutes, and it’s a good day. I usually ride home with my brother, but he’s working with a friend after school, so he arranges with another friend of his to take me home. When I’m home, I thank my brother’s friend for the ride and go inside. I call my mom, since she’s not home, to tell her that I am home from school, and she seems upset. She says, “Dad had some heart problems up north today, he’s in the hospital.” I say okay and hang up the phone. Honestly, I’m not worried. Dad has had lots of heart problems recently, and he’s been cleared by his cardiologist. Of course, the thought always crosses my mind, “what if he isn’t okay this time…” but I quickly dismiss it as silly. I head downstairs to sit on the couch and unwind for a bit.

I hear a truck pull up the driveway, and the front door open. I stand and turn off the television and turn around. My middle brother is just rounding the corner from the stairway. He’s upset. Something’s wrong. Dad’s not okay. The only thing my brother says is “Suz…” and I lose it. I scream at him. Yelling “NO! NO! NO!” over and over. He doesn’t need to tell me. I don’t want him to tell me. Maybe if I keep yelling at him, he won’t say the words I know are true. He sits me down on the couch and hugs me tight, cradling me slightly. He asks if I’d like him to pray, and I almost incoherently say yes. He prays quietly and brokenly for patience, healing, and grace. We go upstairs.

He hasn’t told my other siblings yet. I hold my catechism book, knowing that Dad would be disappointed if I didn’t know the answers well (I was in too much shock to realize that I wouldn’t be going to catechism that night). I listen quietly as my brother heartbreakingly calls my other brother’s friend and tells him to get home, soon as possible. I listen as he, over the phone, tells my sister and brother-in-law. My sister-in-law comes. She too doesn’t know yet.

                There are so many people at my house, dozens of people bringing food, meals, flowers, cards and lots of love. It doesn’t help much. I think about how ridiculous it is, them bringing food when I want none of it. My family forces each other to eat, partially out of common sense, and partially out of common courtesy to those who brought it. At any other time the food would have been delicious, but now the very thought of it ties my stomach in knots.

If you haven’t experienced the loss of an immediate family member, you might not know how all of that felt. Its heart wrenching, and more painful than can be imagined, but we are not without comfort! What IS our only comfort in life and death? That with body and soul we are not our own! We belong to a faithful savior, who delivered us from sin and evil with His own death and resurrection! Nothing ever happens to us without our God’s willing it. At some point in our lives, we will all probably experience this sort of pain, but how we handle it is essential. At these points in our lives, Psalm 23 will seem anything but cliché. Phrases like “I will fear no evil” “Thou art with me” “Thy rod and staff…comfort me” and “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” are glorious comfort that receives new meaning. Never underestimate the power of God’s Holy Scriptures as a tool for comfort and peace in everyday life. Each verse, it seems, carries new meaning in the light of a painful loss. “I can do ALL things THROUGH CHRIST who STRENGTHENS me,” from Philippians 4:13 (emphasis mine) means more than ever before. “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind,” from 1 Timothy 1:7 and “We know that all things work together for good to those that love God…” from Romans 8:28, along with many others carry profound comfort that quiets the soul at even the most painful points in our lives.

When I lost my dad, a friend gave me a pocket coin that I turned into a necklace, and I wear it pretty much 24/7. It has footprints on one side, and the other says, “It was then that I carried you.” That poem means more to me after such a loss than I ever thought possible. When suffering a painful loss, we should look first to God’s word, but never underestimate the power of God through contemporary writers in addition. God brings comfort in a number of ways, first of all through His Word, and secondarily through other writers, friends, family and our own personal ways in which we learn to cope (i.e.: taking long walks, horseback riding, cooking, writing…).

But coping is not easy. Often we get angry. We are so hurt; we often wonder “why would God do this to me?” And while we know these questions are sinful and wrong, our human nature often resorts to these responses. I’ll save that for another article.


Lessons from the mountains (1)

“When I look down from lofty mountain granduer…Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee! How GREAT Thou art!” This song ran through my head over and over this past week at the Edmonton retreat. We retreaters were taken into the Canadian Rockies for a few days, and all of us experienced the feeling of being so small and insignificant before the face of the God who created those lofty mountains. Driving up to them, we passed through the foothills, already amazed by their size. Then came the feeling of awe and wonder when the mountains loomed on the horizon in front of us. As we got closer and closer, the moutains that looked pretty big from a distance seemed to grow more beautiful and grand. So many thoughts come to mind when I saw those mountains. So many passages run through my head even now as I remember the awe and wonder that I had looking at those mountains. First, and maybe most obvious, was Psalm 23. With mountains come valleys, and that Psalm gives the child of God the comfort that “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me…” There are times in our lives when the mountains loom all around us. God places circumstances in our lives that make us place our trust in Him. Recently with the sudden death of a young man, and dear friend to many of us, this is especially true. Our lives here on earth are nothing but a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Death looms about us, it is our final enemy. But even with the terror and sadness that death brings to our lives, we must always remember that God is walking beside us! Though we face other trials in the life, sickness, loss of a job, etc., He is with us always! That’s what gives us comfort. Then with that knowledge and when we truly believe that, the mountains we face are not as scary or as ominous. So never forget those comforting words. How great is the God who has loved us with such love!


Walking through the valley of the shadow of death

For most of us; no, I dare say all of us, suffering is something we wish to avoid. This is a natural human response, and by no means wrong. Most of us are blessed to live in communities which are largely sheltered from the more vicious aspects of earthly life. This is a blessing from the Lord. Perhaps many of us as young people have not yet had to grapple with intense suffering, such as the death of a close family member, or a crippling physical impairment. But there are many who have. Regardless of one’s personal experience, the prevalence of the theme of suffering throughout the pages of Scripture merits meditation.

We are all familiar with the Scriptural teaching concerning our lives in this sin-sundered world. As long as we are “at home in the body” we are subject to the afflictions, sufferings, and calamities which daily ravage our world and pierce our communities. The harsh reality is that we live in a world which is under the curse, a world in which death reigns. Likewise, the somber reality (from a human perspective) is that suffering is an inevitable aspect of life. It is not a matter of whether suffering will come upon us, it is a matter of when it will come. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” (Phil. 1:29) Indeed, our life on this earth is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. And often this is not a carefree stroll. It is a journey filled with stumbles and snares, and along the often wearisome road the devil prowls as a lion. In the course of this journey, we all acquire scars. In our world calamity strikes suddenly and seemingly without purpose; the recent events which have flooded our news channels attest to this fact.

The unbeliever adamantly objects to this truth. He imagines that humanity is the innocent and hapless victim of forces outside himself. In response he slanders God, self-righteously asserting that no good God could permit the sort of evils which we experience in this world and therefore, if God exists, He is a malevolent deity unworthy of worship. This is the so-called “problem of evil.” The unbeliever casts the blame for evil and suffering at God’s feet, and in doing so he both denies his own sin and culpability, as well as God’s right to punish injustice. We Christians know differently. The Bible not only reveals to us the inevitability of suffering, it also teaches us the reason for our suffering and its eternal significance. Indeed, in this world we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but as Psalmist said, we also shall fear no evil, for we trust in God, and in his rod and shepherd’s staff we find comfort. As a result we Christians have an entirely unique understanding of suffering, both with respect to its cause and to its ultimate end, and therefore our response to suffering is drastically different than that of the unbeliever.

First of all we know that suffering and evil are the products of humanity’s fall into sin. Mankind, through its connection to Adam, is responsible for every evil in this world. There is no such thing as an innocent human being. For all have sinned and are worthy of the judgment of God, and are therefore worthy of his wrath and justly deserve whatever evil comes their way. There is no “problem of evil,” such is only the fantasy of sinful men seeking to deny their guilt. However, as children of God our guilt has been expunged. Indeed, as children of God whose sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ, the evils which afflict us are not manifestations of God’s wrath toward us. We have peace with God through the blood of the cross. However, our redemption does not exempt us from the consequences of our sin.

Second, the Bible teaches the absolute sovereignty of God over suffering and evil. Every event in our lives, every suffering which comes our way is dispensed From God’s fatherly hand. God as our loving father works all things “together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). No matter what evil comes our way, we may have confidence that God has some good purpose for it, regardless of whether we see it or not.  God will never give us more than we can bear, that He has promised. His grace is always sufficient. Indeed, the tribulations which God sends us are for our spiritual good. Through them God refines and strengthens our faith, and it is often in the depths of suffering that we experience most fully the wonder of God’s magnificent sustaining grace, grace which is renewed every morning. In his City of God, Augustine gives us a beautiful expression of the purpose of our suffering:

“The sufferers are different even though the sufferings are the same trials; though what they endure is the same, their virtue and vice are different. For, in the same fire, gold gleams and straw smokes; under the same flail the stalk is crushed and the grain threshed; the lees are not mistaken for oil because they have issued from the same press. So, too, the tide of trouble will test, purify, and improve the good, but beat, crush, and wash away the wicked. So it is that, under the weight of the same affliction, the wicked deny and blaspheme God, and the good pray to Him and praise Him. The difference is not in what people suffer but in the way they suffer. The same shaking that makes fetid water stink makes perfume issue a more pleasant odor.” (City of God Book 1, Chapter 8)

Therefore, we have a great reason to rejoice in tribulation. As the Apostle Peter wrote: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (I Peter 4:12-13) This does not mean that our sufferings will be painless, or that we will never grieve. Read through the book of Lamentations. There one will find one of the most eloquent expressions of human grief ever written. The author is well aware of God’s sovereignty in his sufferings, and he accepts humbly the Lord’s will, but this does not preclude him from lamenting. Grief, rightly expressed, is genuine response to suffering.

And yet, we rejoice!

The world calls this insanity. But the child of God, seeing the purpose of earthly suffering with the eyes of faith, confesses along with the Apostle Paul that “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18) We walk through the valley of the shadow of death, indeed we do; but we walk through this valley by faith, strengthened by power the Holy Spirit within us. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4:16-18) Above all we have the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. There is no greater consolation than the incarnation. Not only did Christ die as a propitiation for our sins, He is also our faithful high priest, who took on our flesh and who is able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.  Friends, what a comfort we have in this life. For us Death holds no terror and suffering no permanent despair. Rather in Christ we have permanent and unshakeable peace and joy, no matter what our earthly circumstances may be.  In Christ we have rest, both in this life, and the everlasting one to come.