Why do bad things happen?
If God is so great and powerful, if He loves us as much as the bible and believing Christians profess, why do we see people struggle with cancer, death of a child, abductions, harsh trials that tear families apart? Why do we see violent earthquakes kill thousands, horrific tornado’s shred homes and lives to pieces? Why do we see famine and wars? If God is so loving, why do we see those who have obeyed His command to love His Son Jesus, go through the same trials of life that a man who says blasphemous things about God goes through?
It seems unfair to most observers. I have to admit, I have never gone through a trial quite like the ones I listed above. I have gone through financial struggles but those seem light compared to the physical struggles that I have witnessed others go through.
Christians know that the bad things that happen are a direct result of sin entering the world. God did not design for these things to happen. They are a bi-product of our direct defiance of God. Yet Christians know that they are forgiven for their sins. So why are we lumped in with the rest of the world when it comes to suffering?
As I was reading through the book of Acts this morning, I stumbled across a story that I had read so many times yet today it struck me more forcefully. I want to share it with you and show you the things that I have learned from it.
It begins in Acts 27 where Paul is being sent to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. We follow his journey as he is transferred from boat to boat as he makes his long voyage. Eventually he finds himself on a boat that gets caught up in weather that is slowing them down. Paul stands up and tells the men of this boat:
“Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.
So the boat sailed on. Paul, a Christian, warned of what was to come. The men did not listen to him. The boat sailed right into a storm that the bible calls the “northeaster”. The ship was in serious danger of being destroyed and Paul was caught up with them.
This leads me to the first point that I see displayed in this story. Christians warn others of what Jesus has proclaimed would come in the last days. “wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes in various places. Famine.”
Some listen and repent. Others laugh at us and go about their own business. Like Paul, sometimes we do our part and warn of the coming dangers, but we are caught up in the middle of everyone else’s ignorance and we have to go through the trials with them. Paul has been a valued servant of the Lord since Damascus and yet we see him on what appears to be a voyage of doom. How many of us can relate to this? How many of us have had to go through the storms of life, suffering right along with all the others? It is how we go through those trials that set us apart.
As the story goes along, we see the men of the boat in great panic and they begin to throw stuff overboard. They throw cargo and tackle. In verse 20 it says:
“when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”
Verse 21 shows that Paul has not given up hope. He stands up and proclaims:
“Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sailed with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
In the midst of the storm, with the fury of it growing and men in a scramble to save their own lives, Paul stands up and continues to proclaim faith that all will be fine. That is point number two. We sometimes get caught up in the same storms of life, the same horrific trials that non-believers go through. Paul knows that God will save him. Even if he were to die on this voyage, he would still be delivered into the arms of a waiting Jesus in heaven. He has nothing to lose. We, like Paul, should stand up in the middle of the storm and continue to proclaim our faith and be a shining light in that darkness. In the middle of chaos, we should be strong, for our Lord is with us to the end. While our bodies may face death here, everlasting life awaits on the other end.
On the fourteenth night the boat began to head towards land. The men of the boat began to panic. They knew the boat would be smashed to pieces if it ran up on a sand bar and they began to form a plan to escape. Paul knew that the Lord had commanded them all to remain in the boat or there would be greater consequences. Paul goes to the centurion and the soldiers and says:
“Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. Look who’s starting to listen to the crazy Christian. Suddenly Paul has some clout with his captors.
Point number three that I learned: No mater how rough the waters get – how close to the edge of disaster you teeter, stay on the ship! While this may not be implied in Luke’s writing (or perhaps it was) I see the ship as a metaphor of Jesus. When the world is beating you down and you think you need to find an easy way out like stealing, murder, suicide, drugs or any of the many other lifeboats out there, don’t do it! Stay in the ship! Cling to Jesus for dear life because He will get you through it one way or another. Not only will He get you through it, but by staying on the ship and being strong in the midst of the storm will catch the attention of those on the outside watching. Like the centurion and his soldiers – people take notice of how we react. Sometimes we go through harsh trials with others so that we can be that beacon that leads others to Christ.
I think of my grandmothers heroic battle with cancer. She stayed on the boat till the day she drew her last breath. The victory I saw on her face as she was taken to heaven is something that I hold dear to this day. The doctors gave her a mere couple of months to live – God gave her over a year. She never lost faith even though she had faced the trials of cancer over and over again during the course of her life. She died young, but she was a beacon in the storm and others took notice – myself included.
Though the bible does not say it, I am certain at this point that people are starting to take notice of Paul’s great faith and it is starting to have an effect on their thinking as well.
For the fourteen days during the storm, nobody ate. Their fear had caused them to neglect their most basic of needs. Paul breaks bread, gives thanks to God in front of them all. Look what it says next:
They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Suddenly, Paul isn’t all that crazy. They are feeding off of his courage and faith.
Point four: Stay strong in the storm and others will be encouraged and gain strength from your strength. You can set the mood, the tempo and give others the will to live even though the world is saying you are destined to die.
My final point comes in the closing lines beginning with verse 42-44. They read:
The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.
A happy ending. Paul should have died before he reached land due to the fact that it was the soldiers job to execute the prisoners to prevent escape. This was in their training. Yet God uses the centurion to save him. Everyone gets to the shore safely – all 276 of them. My point? God can save everyone – if everyone would just listen. Paul ordered them to stay on the ship and in the end they all got to the shore.
Why do bad things happen?
God doesn’t create the bad things in the world – those come from sin being brought into the world by the events in the Garden of Eden. God can – and in many cases – does protect us from harsh trials. But sometimes God has to correct our actions and so we are allowed to go through tough times. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen so that He can build us up and prepare us for important ministry work that He has for us to do. And sometimes we are just caught up in the midst of disaster – in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that is our time to shine.
Ask Jesus why bad things happen. Imagine the shock on the faces of his disciples when they witnessed the beating, the humiliation and the final crucifixion that resulted in his death. This man was innocent. He was God in flesh! How can this all happen?
We must remember that we are the body of Christ. We are joined with the Holy Spirit and are called to save the world by being a beacon in the storm. Like Jesus, we will rise to victory no mater what this world can dish out. We must warn others of the storms and stand with them when they are caught in them. We are not promised a life free of pain – we are promised life everlasting. We must cling to Jesus – no lifeboat can save us in a storm – only Jesus. We must stand strong in our trials so that those around can be strengthened and encouraged. We are witnesses for those around us. Be strong and courageous.
Why do bad things happen?
So that the children of God can shine in the midst of a storm.