Why Does God Let This Happen?

I know some people who hate God right now. One lost a child to illness. Several have simply had a bad run of luck in recent years. They can’t understand why an all-loving God lets bad things happen to them.

Mood music:

I used to be there.

When my brother died, when my parents divorced, when my friend Sean Marley committed suicide. In the aftermath of those events, I wasn’t on speaking terms with God. At other points in my life, like my struggle to contain OCD and addictive behavior, I was talking to God, but nothing coming from my mouth was making much sense. I was rattling off prayers designed to make my life safer and more comfortable.

My relationship with God has gone through changes in recent years. I no longer pray for the safety of everyone I know. I just pray we’ll all have the wisdom to live our lives the way we’re supposed to for whatever length of time we’re going to be around. I’ve come to see life’s body blows not as a punishment but as situations we’re supposed to work through to come out stronger.

I bring this up because it was the dominant theme of last night’s R.C.I.A. (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) class, which I’m helping to teach this year.

One of the students mentioned the recent disasters in Japan and asked how God could let it happen. She also mentioned how the death of children can be an especially bitter pill to swallow.  I think we’re all with her on that one. I don’t ever want to experience that. I have friends who have been through that, and I honestly don’t know how they get up the strength to get out of bed in the morning and carry on.

My friend Peter Richardson, who has been running R.C.I.A. for several years, mentioned the greater good — how there’s a bigger plan that’s simply beyond the comprehension of mortal human beings. He noted how there’s something greater in the next life that’s simply impossible to grasp while we’re still chained to this world.

Some of you will say that’s just so much bullshit. But that’s what Faith is — the belief that there’s something much bigger in store, even if we can’t see tangible proof of it. Faith is a hard thing because we’re so rooted in our everyday chaos and hunger for things (technology, pleasure, money). It’s enough to make the brain spin off its stem and break apart.

Whatever the case may be, somewhere along the way I chose to believe. To those who think I’m crazy and living a pipe dream, I respect your opinion but don’t really care if you think I’m crazy. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

To those who ask why it’s worth having faith when there’s always the chance that there’s really nothing there after death, I ask, what’s the alternative? Even if there’s nothing on the other side, I’d still rather live by beliefs that include treating those around me right and striving for good. I’d still rather strive for a clean soul, though I admittedly have a lot of work to do on that one. If there’s nothing on the other side, at least I’ll have taken a shot at being a better person.

But as I’ve said, I do believe.

As part of that, there’s something else I believe: The bad things we go through — and we all go through the bad — is a test. I don’t think certain things are deliberately planned out, like a natural disaster, the death of a loved one or the break-up of a relationship. But I do think we’re tasked with coming out of these things as better people who can come through when others need our help later on. That’s what Mister Rogers was talking about right after 9-11 when he suggested children always watch for the helpers in the face of disaster.

In the movie “Pearl Harbor,” there’s a scene where FDR meets with his military advisors and expresses his desire to strike back at Japan. His advisors give him all the reasons why it can’t be done. Then he mentions the polio that left him in a wheelchair and how he’s spent every hour of his life wondering why God put him in the chair.

Too dramatic? Maybe. This was a product of Hollywood and the scene was probably only loosely based on what really happened.

Still, I can totally picture FDR saying those things. He did say them at various times of his presidency.

His faith helped him deal with some of the biggest challenges mankind had faced up to that point. In that war and wars since then, faith has helped a lot of people push forward with the tasks that terrified them.

They chose to believe despite all the terrible things that happen around here.

So do I.


11 thoughts on “Why Does God Let This Happen?

  1. My life has been so blessed in many ways, and I have not experienced pain as some of you have. But I have many times been lukewarm in my love to God. I have asked, more than I have thanked. I have questioned, more than I have accepted. There is one passage that has carried me through my ups and downs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all the ways, and He will make your path straight” (Prov 3:5-6). I LOVE this verse; it speaks to me.

    Recently read two Christian books that have improved my relationship with God: one is The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, the other one is The Shack by William P. Young. Two very different books with beautiful Christian messages and stories.

    Great post, Bill. It’s through sharing His love and how He touches our lives that we’ll continue to grow. And good luck teaching RCIA.

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  6. I know I’m a little late with the response, but I can kind of relate to you. I’ve recently developed OCD, possibly as a side effect from untreated strep. Except mine is religious/scrupulosity OCD. On one hand, it brought me to God (I wasn’t living how I should be before hand). And it’s been a fight. God has shown me a lot of amazing things during this. I love to just sit outside and look around and see the beauty He made. But the OCD gives me a lot of bad thoughts about Him and I sometimes get terrified that He would just leave me over these thoughts. And the harder I fight them, the worse they get. And sometimes I feel like I’ve committed the unforgivable sin or that God won’t forgive me and will just throw me out of His hands. And I sometimes ask ‘How can God love me if I’m going through this.’ Or ‘Does God hate me?’ But then He shows me something that shows He loves me and He knows it’s the OCD saying the bad things. Whether it be a random bible verse about love that really touches me, or something a person or friend says and that feeling inside that says ‘God wants you to hear this.’ Is it a pain? Yes. Do I sometimes just want to give up? Definitely. But then I remember that Jesus took on a lot pain, suffering, abuse, and insults for people like me. He could have given up. He could have walked away or said we didn’t deserve it. We definitely didn’t deserve it. We never will. But He didn’t. He didn’t give up on me. And He didn’t give up on the world. So I’m not giving up on Him either.

  7. Excellent Bill! You said it exactly as I too believe. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. And Bill, you’ve already been forgiven. It is promised. Your slate is clean.

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  10. Ditto on the great post. I was totally pissed off at God after my son died — but that is how at least I knew He was there (and could even be open to an HP when was ready to get sober) On the transactional thing — just about 2 years ago when I was working on my 9th step, I went to a monastery for a weekend retreat to write some amends letters — and to tall the priest some things I didn’t want to tell my sponsor. Part of that conversation centered on the whole “I know God took my son from me because I am a screw up and I did this, and this, and this…..” The priest – bless his heart — said “that’s not how God works” and then helped me realize how insanely egocentric my thinking was to believe that God would seek revenge on little old me. What Martin says ” God had already done the ultimate transaction for me in the form of His Sons sacrifice on the cross I had a better context for understanding the bad things I see out there in the world.” Thanks for writing this both of you.

  11. Great post.

    I think part of the issue when people ask “Why would God let this happen?” is when the relationship they have with Him is transactional in nature. “I do these things for God therefore He must/must not do these other things” is probably the most simplistic way of stating it – but I’ve heard complicated views of God that in the end are transactional in nature (“Prosperity Gospel” comes to mind).

    My experience was that once I realized that God had already done the ultimate transaction for me in the form of His Sons sacrifice on the cross I had a better context for understanding the bad things I see out there in the world.

    Might this help others? I don’t know. All I know is that realizing this helped me.

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