|People endure brutal trials in this fallen world. We know that God made this world and that he called it good. But when sin entered the picture this whole world went dark. It is not the way it is supposed to be. God cursed the earth when Adam rebelled in the garden.
This is not to say that the world is as bad as it could be. It is not. God, in his kindness, prevents sinners and the sin-cursed world from maxing out on iniquity. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11). It still rains on the just and the unjust, and Jesus said that is proof of God’s general love for all humanity (Matt 5:43-48).
As awkward as it seems, we should be more amazed that things aren’t worse in our sin-sick world. Many raise the question as to why bad things happen to good people. Really, since no one is truly good, we ought rather to wonder why good things happen to anyone anytime. We should even ask why the bad things that happen aren’t even worse than they are!
I am not uncaring. I care deeply for dear people that I know and love who have endured and are now enduring painful problems, some of them extreme. The Bible is clear that there is not always a one-to-one relationship between a person’s sin and their bad situation (see John 9:1-3). Think about Job’s awful situation. The Bible says that he was righteous even as his whole world collapsed around him. People go through terrible circumstances all around us not for any specific sinful choices that they have made.
A great help to those suffering massive trials is to know that God is directly involved. Instead of trying to separate God from the pain, suffering, and even the sins our friends are dealing with, we should go where the Bible takes us. God is reigning even over the bad things of this world––down to the details.
It is mysterious and true that although God is in control of the bad things of life, he is not the author of sin. The Bible says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). But just a few paragraphs earlier in the same letter, James tells us to count our trials as joy because God is sovereignly using those trials to make us more like Jesus (James 1:2-4; cf. Romans 8:28-30). In spite of Satan’s and our own sinful flesh’s efforts to pull us into sin and rebellion against God through tragic situations, God sovereignly allows those situations to come into your life. God’s good goal is your spiritual transformation in the exact same occasions that Satan tries to take you down.
One of my favorite promises in the Bible is 1 Cor 10:13, which says: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Do you see God’s wisdom, knowledge, goodness, and sovereignty in each one of your tough trials? He will not allow one degree more of pain than you can handle with the spiritual strength that he supplies. He has to control the trials and temptations to be able to promise such things.
The greatest example of God sovereignly using terrible sins to accomplish his greater purposes is the cross of Jesus Christ. When you look at the cross from a purely human perspective, can you think of any worse sins than those committed against Jesus Christ? Jesus never sinned one time. He, instead, did all things well. He did miracles of compassion. He taught God’s Word so clearly that it was spiritual food to those who heard.
In spite of Jesus’ holy character, Judas betrayed Jesus. Most of Jesus’ disciples disowned him. The religious leaders twisted justice to see him executed. The crowds cried out for the robber to be released and for Jesus’ blood to be spilled. The Roman leader tried to wash away his guilt while putting Jesus on the cross. The cross was history’s great act of sinful injustice.
And yet, God was sovereignly superintending each of these events to enact his master plan. The people who sinned against Jesus were responsible for their sins, but God was in control of it all––in fact, God had planned the cross from before time. In the prayer of Acts 4:27-28 we see both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility side by side: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
God controlled the greatest sins in history in such a fashion as to produce the greatest blessing to humanity. God punished Jesus on the cross as a substitute for rebellious sinners like you and me. Then God raised him from the dead to authenticate Jesus and his message. Whoever believes in Christ will not perish in hell, but have eternal life in heaven (John 3:16).
The best comfort we can have and offer in our times of tragedies is to know that God is in control and that he is working in all kinds of ways through the tragedies. We can’t know all that he is accomplishing, but we can take heart, knowing by faith that he is working all things toward his good goals of our likeness to Christ and his glory (Romans 8:28-30). That doesn’t explain the trial or even the responsibilities of sinful choices that sometimes factor in, but your awful time is never random. It is being used by a sovereign, wise, and good God in more ways than you can imagine.
Don’t run away from the absolute sovereignty of God; run to it. It is so much better to know that your heavenly Father is in your suffering than to think he is just as upset as you are about what the devil and your sinful choices have done. Yikes! As big of a sinner as I am, I would be utterly hopeless and helpless apart from a great big gracious God who is reigning over all of the details of my life. I need a powerful heavenly Father working, not a sad God on the sidelines sympathetically observing the bad things of this world.
By John Crotts