God, Why Did You Let This Happen?

Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” ~ Psalm 10:1

Pastor, you tell me all the time that God loves me and that He is good. But if that’s true, why did God let that happen to me?”

I still remember the scene as if it had just happened yesterday. It was late and she was the last person left on the van. The darkness kept me from seeing the tears but the pain in her voice was undeniable. The question hadn’t been asked from a spirit of defiance or rebellion. It hadn’t issued from some deep-seated resentment or anger. Rather, it was the confusion and hurt of a child that felt abandoned, a lover who felt spurned, and a friend who felt betrayed. Life had chewed up this woman and spit her out. Like the young man in the story of the Good Samaritan she too had been beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Literally.

The van ride home from church that night had begun with a very simple question, “Pastor, can you drop me off last? I need to ask you something.” Not an unusual request at all given the nature of our ministry. A decade in the ghetto had taught me that people choose to “open up” at the strangest times. The smart pastor learns to make the most of those opportunities because you seldom get a second chance. I told her that was fine and concentrated on finishing the rest of the route.

Once the last passenger had departed this middle-aged woman began to share her tragic tale. Right after her graduation from high school she had begun attending a local community college. Her future looked bright, full of dreams and aspirations for what appeared to be a promising future. One night after her evening classes she took the rail home as she had countless times before (the walk from the station to her home was not far at all). Tragically, before she made it to the safety of her apartment, she was grabbed by a group of men who beat her and repeatedly raped her. Once they were finished they threw her broken body in the bushes just outside her home. In the aftermath of that night she would spend the next 4 months learning to walk again. She would also spend the next two decades trying to learn to live again. Shame. Nightmares. Anger. Tears. And through it all she wrestled with one constant question, the inner yearning for some measure of reconciliation between the apparent incongruities of a childhood theology and a personal experience that she could no longer reconcile. “Why did God let that happen to me?”

I tried to answer as best I knew. I told her that sometimes bad things happen to good people, even people who deserve better. I added that we live in a sin-fallen world where the consequences of evil choices can potentially touch and taint us all. In other words, the same rain that falls on the wicked also falls on the righteous. And finally, I reminded her of a misunderstanding that many of us have about one of the Bible’s most “popular” verses.

Romans 8:28 is foundational to understanding the issue of human suffering. That verse tells us, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t say that everything that happens to us is good. Big difference. Critical difference. I’m sorry but it’s not all good. Rape? Not good. Suicide? Not good. War? Famine? Murder? Cancer? Sexual abuse? Divorce? Child pornography? Premature death? Not good, not good, not good… not good. Bad things happen in life. Evil things sometimes happen to God’s children. Our hope is not realized in trying to mistakenly label evil as good, in attempting to rally ourselves into believing that all of the subsequent emotions, pain, turmoil, and confusion are “all good, all God.” Nope. Our hope comes from knowing that a sovereign and loving God is able to take the worst events of life and bring forth good from those terrible things.

I don’t know why God let’s certain things happen. Honestly, I’m just as clueless as the next person. And after 20 years of “professional” ministry I grew tired of trying (having) to pretend that I had all the answers. I don’t know why my son has autism. I don’t know why my wife had cancer. I don’t know why life is so difficult and demanding on most days. But…

I do know that my God is causing all these things to work together for good. I believe it with all my heart. (Even on those days when all I can do is cry and shake my fist at the heavens.) God will have the final word in all of life’s tragedies. Evil is only temporary. There is coming a day when all pain, tears, and death will come to an end. And on that day when we stand before Him, the great questions of life will finally all be resolved. But until that time, I am choosing not to get hung-up on the “why” He has let certain things happen. Rather, I am choosing to wait for “what” He’s going to do with those things. His word says He’s going to cause it to work together for good. And for now, that’s good enough for me.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” ~ Psalm 27;13-14