Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
Undeserved suffering is not a new question, it is one that is raised in the Scripture and one that has plagued many believers in the Scripture from the very beginning. They raise the question before God and one of the most profound examples of this is in the 94th psalm.
We don't know who the writer of this particular psalm was but he clearly raises the same question that folks today raise.
Verse 1, "O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongs; O God, to whom vengeance belongs, show yourself."
That reminds us of "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord; I will repay." There is a difference between divine justice, referred to as vengeance and is the prerogative of the Supreme Court of heaven, and the administration of justice and self-defense and war in the human realm which God has clearly delegated to mankind. People who think that war and a response to a military attack is vengeance are distorting the issue. War should never be vengeful. That is not the purpose of war, of retaliation. The purpose of retaliation when we are faced with a military crisis is that the only way to keep things of this nature from continuing is to take the violence to the enemy and to destroy his ability to wage these kinds of attacks. You cannot do it by merely exercising a defensive strategy. Defense never wins wars, except in the realm of spiritual warfare, and that is the believer's response. Even then, God executes the offensive strategy through Jesus Christ. Defense never wins. The only way to truly protect one's self is to go on the offensive against the opponent. God has delegated that responsibility to man under the category of wielding the sword, in Romans chapter 13. The national government has the responsibility to wield the sword and that has a twofold application: an external application in terms of protecting a nation from enemies abroad, and that is under the category of war; and secondly, in terms of protecting the citizens on the inside by the administration of justice and the application of capital punishment. Capital punishment is not something that should be used haphazardly but consistently for anyone who commits certain capital crimes, not because it is going to keep someone else from doing it but because the criminal forfeits his life simply because he has reached such a degradation of their own soul that they have forfeited their right to live. Just as a cancer must be surgically removed from the body in order for the body to survive in a healthy manner, so any human being who reaches the point of soul degradation and lack of control of the sin nature that they commit certain crimes needs to be removed from society to maintain its integrity. That is difference from vengeance. Vengeance is the function of the Supreme Court of heaven, and God has delegated certain things to mankind and reserved certain things to Himself. There are times when we can't do anything and all we can do is rely on the Supreme Court of heaven, and that is the situation in this psalm.
Psalm 94:2, "Rise up, O judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud." Because the vengeance of God is the execution of His justice He can exercise that justice fairly and accurately because He knows everything, all the facts. God can render and accurate verdict because He knows all truth.
Psalm 94:3-7, the question that resonates through the soul of anyone who has gone through undeserved suffering: "LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How long shall they utter and speak arrogantly? and all who do wickedness vaunt themselves? They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the orphans. Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob pay heed." The cry of the wicked is that there is no ultimate payday for sin, there is no ultimate judgment from God, God really isn't there, He doesn't see, He doesn't pay attention to these things, and if He did he wouldn't let them happen. That is what their rationale is and that is the rationale, according to Scripture, of the fool, because the fool has said in his heart that there is no God.
Psalm 94:8, 9, "Take heed, you senseless among the people: and you fools, when will you understand? He who planted the ear, does he not hear? he who formed the eye, does he not see?" In other words, he goes back to the creation doctrine that God who created all things hears and sees, and these things will not go unpunished. The reason that they happen may be beyond our understanding at the moment but ultimately justice will prevail.
Psalm 94:10, 11, "He that chastens the nations, will he not rebuke? Even he who teaches man knowledge, shall not he know? The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are mere breath.
Psalm 94:12, 12, Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O LORD, and teach out of your law" By this time the psalmist has oriented his thinking to divine viewpoint and recognizes that there are overall purposes for suffering and adversity that are coming into play here, that the suffering is not just random, not just purposeless chaos, but that God is using it for a particular purpose.
So in terms of our understanding of the doctrine of suffering and by way of introduction we focus on the questions that we often hear. Usually we hear a question something like this: How can a good God allow this suffering to happen? Usually it is more personal, like, How can a good God allow this to happen to me? How can a good God allow any sort of tragic event?
Incidentally, the very fact that people raise this question about the problem of evil hints at the solution. The fact that we do not naturally accept this world that is full of injustice, this world that is full of undeserved suffering, this world that is filled with chaos, puts us in line with the statement of one who cried out, "Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the life." We have this intuitive recognition that life isn't supposed to be this way, that this isn't normal, that this isn't normative and for some reason this is abnormal. The very recognition that there is something out of kilter morally, this outrage of evil, tells us somehow, somewhere deep in our souls we have a sense that there is a standard of goodness, a standard of rightness, a standard of justice that somehow is defective in this world, and yet something ought to be done about that. So the very fact that we ask the question indicates that at some intuitive level we recognize that there is a higher standard. The question is: How do we discover that and what are the answers? Only from the revelation of God do we have clear answers. Only the Bible provides clear answers for why evil exists and why there is underserved suffering.
As believers we have the promise of Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good. It doesn't say in that verse that all things work together for everyone, it says all things work together for good to those who love God. That is a specific promise that God is working things together and has a purpose, even in the negative suffering and adversity that we face.
Ultimately we need to address in this whole issue the question of divine justice. Man wants to impose on God his own view of justice which presupposes that man has the ability to understand what absolute justice is. Abraham expresses the biblical viewpoint on justice most clearly in Genesis 18:25 when he says to God, "Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked so the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from you, shall not the righteous one of all the earth deal justly?" It presupposes the answer from God that he will deal justly because He is the only one who has all of the knowledge.