Dr. Harold J. Sala
Guidelines For Living
Does God Punish Us With Tragedy?
We live in a broken, imperfect world, and one of the results is that bad things do happen to good people; but when we are confronted with that stark reality, almost always our hearts cry out, “Why, God? Why did this happen to me?”
Please understand I am not an “armchair authority,” an expert who has all the answers; but believe me, friend, I have done some hard searching with a Bible in one hand and a handkerchief in the other to keep the tears from blotting the words on the page. I have sat at the bedsides of literally dozens of people and asked silently many, many times, “God, why did this have to happen to this person, why not some degraded individual who deserved to get it in the neck?”
Together let’s examine some of the reasons people kick around, answering the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” One of the most common answers that you will hear is that someone really isn’t so good, that the bad thing happened as the result of personal failure or wrongdoing. While this may be true in some cases, that answer doesn’t satisfy me. Do you know why? God knows the heart and we don’t. That answer almost always seems to come from the self-righteous individual who points at the person who is down and says, “It must be because you are not as good as I.”
You first read about this mentality in the book of Job, one of the oldest of all human dramas. When covered with boils and robbed of his family and possessions by one tragedy after another, Job was alone and grief stricken. That’s when Job’s friends came to comfort him, but their comfort turned into bitter accusations as they said, “Job, why don’t you confess your fault and perhaps God will have mercy.” Even his wife counseled, “Curse God and die;” but he did not die and he struggled with the very issue for days and months.
In the New Testament we find this same suggestion when Jesus was confronted with a man who had been born blind and the disciples asked, “…who sinned, this man or his parents…?” (John 9:1). You can read about it in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. If it is true that tragedy is punishment, it would also be true that God is unjust and cruel because a lot of innocent individuals suffer. Have you ever walked through the pediatrics department of a hospital and viewed some of the tiny babies with their bodies racked by pain? Are we to think that these innocent individuals are being punished for something they have done or their forebears did?
As I mentioned earlier, it is because of this that some reject God, attempting to define God in terms of tragedy rather than tragedy in terms of God.
When bad things happen to good people, our conscience always cries out and we think, “Well, maybe it is because of my personal failure that this has happened.” Nobody is perfect; even the best of us are sinners, and when we begin to think like that we have forgotten some very important Biblical truths: Christians are not perfect–just forgiven. We have lost sight of the fact that when Jesus died for the sins of the world, He also died for my sins and failures. We have lost sight of the fact that because God loved me, He sent His Son to bring me back into His family–adopted as His own child.
When we try to explain why bad things happen to good people in terms of our personal failure, we lose sight of the fact that God does not love me or punish me in terms of my essential goodness but because of the very nature of His goodness and love. It is He who is love and His nature is to love, not to inflict punishment on me–punishment which my Lord endured when He was nailed to the tree.