“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
-- John 9:3
It’s a simple three-letter word. But it’s also the big question that people have been asking for centuries.
Why did I lose my job? Why does my neighbor’s child have cancer? Why is my nation at war? And why did that hurricane have to devastate the community?
There are often no easy answers. But one thing is clear: we live in a deeply flawed world where terrible things can and do happen to the wrong people. Jesus—who lived a perfect, sin-free life—was unjustly tried and executed for a crime He didn’t commit. The good news is that our God is One who specializes in turning the tragic into the miraculous. Through Him, the seemingly pointless, random or even cruel can emerge as testimonies to His power and grace.
Several years ago, a young marketing executive lost her high-paying job at a Silicon Valley high tech firm. How could anything good come from an unexpected layoff? With her position eliminated, she no longer had to represent her company at an upcoming industry tradeshow. And the flight she would have taken was on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9-11.
That’s an example of a “why” that only becomes clear in retrospect. But other reasons for adversity are more evident. Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of us getting what we deserve. If we commit a crime, live dishonestly or mistreat others, we shouldn’t be surprised when we face the consequences. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked,” the Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians. “A man reaps what he sows.”
We can also become victims of other people’s sins. According to 2009 statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 10,839 people were killed in drunk driving crashes involving a driver with an illegal blood alcohol content. Bad things can also happen—particularly to Christ-followers—because of satanic attack. That’s because the more faithful we are to Jesus and His purposes, the more of a threat we become to the devil. There is a price for us to pay, and being a Christ-follower doesn’t exempt us from life’s sorrows. But our faith does give us the power to overcome them…and grow stronger in the process. The Apostle Peter—the one Jesus nicknamed “The Rock” and who eventually died for his faith—was an expert on this.
“Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire,” he writes in 1 Peter. “Be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered. It will prepare you for even greater happiness when he makes his glorious return.”
Yes, God can even use satanic attacks to do His will in the world. When the early church was persecuted, the faith actually spread across the Roman Empire as Christ-followers fled and settled in areas that had never heard the Good News of Jesus.
Trouble has been an unpleasant fact of life since the earliest chapters of the Bible. Because of our fallen nature, the human experience will involve disaster, crime, disease and injustice until Christ’s return. So until then, maybe we shouldn’t ask why bad things happen. The more relevant question is why not.