I think any believer who spends much time thinking runs into the issue of trying to understand why bad things happen to good people. It seems like every tragedy evokes a variety of philosophical, theological, physiological and other attempts at explanation.
I think that deep down, a lot of us wish God would “guide” every decision we make so that we would always make perfect ones and life would be blissful and we’d never screw up and things would be just perfect. Not only would we make good choices, we wouldn’t even make any mistakes. Nothing bad would ever happen and when it did, God would fix it immediately.
We create this concept because of the frustration of being human, the frustration of living in an evil world, the frustration of mortality. Job saw the injustice and unfairness of his life and it made him angry. Some of it, I think, is simple physics. Much of it has to do with that terrible double-edged sword we call “free will.”
Even when Jesus walked upon the earth, he allowed people to make their own choices. Much of what happens isn’t because of conscious choice and yet a lot of it is. Sometimes our misfortunes come to us as a result of our own choices. Many times, they come as a result of decisions made by others. Often, it is a combination. Time and time again, I hear people questioning God’s existence or his love because they ignore the role that human choice plays. Other times, they ignore physics.
The world as we have it cannot function without cataclysmic events: earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, avalanches and so on. Gravity makes stuff fall. Sometimes that stuff hurts someone. We long for a perfect world and so we curse our existence when the imperfections of this one bring harm to us or those we love.
We forget that a key function of this life is to prepare us for the next one. My belief is that our deepest spiritual development ONLY happens in the face of frustration, grief and suffering.
Maybe that’s rationalization, a desperation for making sense out of what cannot make sense. Maybe it’s the sort of self-deception and shared illusion that makes it possible for us to manage life in the face of conflicting beliefs. And maybe, just maybe, it’s an absolute truth. Whether it is true or not, I find my own comfort in knowing this: “In all things, God is at work for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
As I see it, that doesn’t mean that everything that happens is for our good. Rather it means that God comes into the midst of every single circumstance, takes a look and says, “Okay, let’s see what good we can bring out of this…”
Too often, though, in the immediate aftermath of tragedy, we rush to figure out the good, offer one another the most infuriating clichés and refuse ourselves the very thing we most need at the moment: the essential process of grieving.
God expects us to endure, to persevere, to overcome. He has never asked us to pretend it doesn’t hurt.