It has to be one of the most difficult questions… where answers just never seem to do it justice. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do we experience such tragedy? If God loves us, why does He allow such difficulty? I won’t begin to say that I have the perfect answer to these questions, or that my conclusions will rest all concerns in your mind. But what I will write has come from my own experiences, and from seemingly useless tragedies in my own life… and from them I have found some reasons “why.”
When tragedies strike our lives they can be devastating. It’s so easy to fall into a pit of desperation as we struggle to grasp the reasons behind terrible events. Perhaps it’s the sudden loss of a loved one, a dear friend diagnosed with an incurable disease, a trusted individual who suddenly walks away, or even a physical and personal assault on your life and body that leaves you feeling empty inside. When these things happen, the first questions we ask are: “Why, God?” “Why me/them?” “Why now?” “What possible good can come from this?”
When we’re in those moments, and those tragedies strike, it’s easy to forget that God has control. We can’t imagine why God would allow such things, so we wonder if He could even stop it. The difficulty lies in understanding that God does allow bad things to happen, but for an ultimate good. “How can anything good come from this?” you ask… and this is an understandable question; don’t feel shame from asking it. God knows we are human and have only our earthly viewpoint, and He knows how much we can handle. (Psalm 103:14)
Like everyone else on this fallen earth, I have experienced many tragedies in my life. When evil would strike, a few years ago my response would be nothing but fear, confusion, doubt, and anger. “God, why won’t You do something? If You can stop it, why don’t You?” would be my main cry. Not many years ago such tragedies would rock my faith foundation to the core. The main reason for this is that I simply did not trust God. I wasn’t sure if He really had my best interests at heart, or if He even really cared. I say all this because trusting God in all circumstances is so extremely vital, especially in tragedies. If you don’t trust God and believe that He has your absolute best in His heart, then you will never find peace in tragedy. Even when we do trust and have absolute faith in Him, difficulty can cause us to lose our focus and doubt His goodness. But if we never trust Him, we will never reach beyond those feelings of doubt and our hope will never rise amidst calamity.
When I heard about this week’s topic of “tragedies,” one example immediately came to my mind that I knew I must share, and that is the story of Tanner Cox. In 2005 one of my cousins, Tanner who was only 10 years old, was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of brain cancer. He underwent operations to remove the largest mass, but there were three more tumors still present and he began chemotherapy. For two years he battled this disease and underwent treatments that took a major toll on his little body. Throughout his journey, he inspired others by his faith and endurance. His joyful spirit became known to all who interacted with him: family, friends, classmates, community members, local motorcycle groups, doctors and nurses at St. Jude’s, dolphin trainers at Sea-world through Make-A-Wish Foundation, celebrities like Vince Gill, and even the Yankees baseball team (his very favorite). His family did everything in their power to make his story known so that prayers would be lifted on his behalf. They maintained a website for updates and at every opportunity asked for prayer. His condition appeared to be improving until one check-up revealed that the tumor was growing again. Despite intense chemotherapy treatments, experimental medicines, and thousands of prayers, Tanner passed away two years after the diagnosis.
What good could come from this? It may be hard to understand… but because of Tanner’s life, and because of his faith (and that of his family) the Gospel was shared countless times. There are dozens of stories in those two years of people watching Tanner and his reactions and becoming inspired to learn more about his faith. Many accepted salvation in Jesus Christ because of this boy’s testimony. At his funeral, literally hundreds of people came. All day during visitation a line stretched around the building to pay respects and show support for the family. On the police escort to the cemetery, the police gave Tanner’s convoy a memorial solute as it passed by… even though he was only a civilian, and no one in his family was on the force. Tanner made an impact; other lives were impacted by his. A twelve year old who died of one of the world’s rarest forms of brain cancer made a tangible impact on the world around him the few years he had.
Even though Tanner’s story had a seemingly bad ending in our world’s standards, it in truth is producing a good outcome, because his life’s impact is not over. Tanner’s physical body is the only thing that passed away. His soul is alive and thriving in Heaven celebrating in the presence of God’s glory. Likewise, his testimony and example are still stirring in the hearts of everyone who hears it. If you have read this, his story has impact you. We may never know how many lives were changed by Tanner, but we know for sure that many came to salvation and are now living a more satisfying life, not to mention are now destined for Heaven instead of Hell. Tanner and his family may not have seen what impact his life trial was having on others at the time, and likewise, we may not know this side of eternity what the purpose is behind tragedies in our own lives. But when God is in control (and He always is), all things truly do work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
From other trials in my life, especially those that have affected me more personally, one of the biggest, but hardest, lessons I’ve been able to learn is that there really is a purpose behind everything. Our God isn’t a god of confusion or chaos; He is the God of order and intentionality. It took me a while to understand this and accept it. It took going through seemingly “useless” tragedies and then seeing incredibly great blessings come from them years later. Goodness that I could not possibly have anticipated down the road. Now when devastation happens, I am still in shock (that will never truly go away), but I know that there has to be a purpose. This give me hope amid despair. And I know that God has all things in His control, and I know I can trust Him.
When you trust someone, it isn’t based on emotions or feelings, but on the experienced and demonstrated character of the individual. Either by words, actions, or behavior, they have proven themselves to be trustworthy. Throughout Scripture God has proven that He can be trusted. Even when His chosen people turn their backs on Him, He is consistent and follows through on His promises. Throughout history people change, but God never changes. He is constant. He is the most trustworthy Person you will ever know. There may be days and events where you don’t feel like trusting God, but that doesn’t mean He can’t be trusted. Our feelings have no impact whatsoever on God’s character. Don’t just take my word for it, the Bible is full of testimonies of God’s trustworthiness: Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 22:3-5, Psalm 56:3-4, Psalm 37:5-6, Isaiah 26:4, Psalm 111:6-8, Psalm 31:14-16, Psalm 118:5-9, Psalm 91:1-4. And these are only a very few of the numerous passages that describe God’s faithfulness. Especially in the Psalms we can find a reflection of our own hearts in times of tragedy. The author of these poems experienced great trails and we can read how he cried his heart out to God when he experienced pain… And we can also see how he rejoiced when God answered his cries. God may not answer us in the time and way that we expect or desire, but He is always there holding onto us. You can trust Him.
A second lesson I have learned more recently, and that is that whatever we experience makes us better witnesses and tools for ministry in God’s Kingdom. Whatever you experience now will strengthen you later. Just like a broken bone is stronger after it heals. When it happens it hurts like crazy and you want to die, but that won’t last forever… the healing will come and you will be stronger from this tragedy. There have been so many instances in recent years where a friend will come to me and describe a situation they are struggling with or are going through, and I am thankful, truly thankful, to be able to say, “I’ve been there, I know where you are.” If I hadn’t gone through the storm myself, I wouldn’t have been able to help them through it either. When we go through tragedy and come out the other side we are then able to help others in the midst of it. We can empathize and not just sympathize. It’s one thing to say, “I’m so sorry…” and quite another to say, “I know exactly how you feel right now…” There have been many times when I’ve thanked God for allowing me to experience heartache. Without it I wouldn’t have gotten stronger in my faith, and wouldn’t have been able to help my other brothers and sisters in Christ.
If you’re in the tragedy right now, the pain is all you can feel, and I know — it’s hard… I understand. But God understands far better than I ever could. He knows more about your situation than even you do. He saw it before it even happened, and He sees what will come from it years from now. Trust Him. He knows what will happen because of this event, and every other event in your life. Find rest in knowing you are in His hands, that He loves you, and that He has an ultimate good that will come from this. Believe God when He says, “I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) Even though you may not be able to feel His presence in this moment, He is always holding you. He will never let you go. And He has incredible, good, and beautiful plans for you. Never forget that.