It is true—bad things will happen. The story is told of a grieving mother who petitioned Buddha to restore the life of her dead child. Buddha promised to grant her request if she would bring him but a few grains of rice from a home that had never known trouble. With great zeal she optimistically set out to accomplish this seemingly easy task. However, the longer she looked, the more discouraged she became. Days of searching turned into years of disappointment. Eventually, she returned to admit her failure; there was not a home to be found that had never encountered trouble.
For this reason, the insurance business is lucrative and thriving. People are genuinely concerned and often overly anxious about what bad things might happen and whether or not they are protected if they do. Most of us pay to protect ourselves against the possibility that are houses will catch on fire, that our cars will be stolen, that our health will deteriorate or that our spouses will pass away unexpectedly. Despite the financial strain of rising premiums, if possible, we continue to pay them because holding those policies gives us peace of mind that we are prepared if bad things really do happen.
Are we prepared to deal with some of the same issues that atheists champion as their strongest evidence against the existence of Almighty God? Sadly, many overestimate their own weakness and underestimate the power of tragedy to test their faith. Many will be lost on the Day of Judgment because their faith was not strong enough to answer the challenges of tragedy, suffering, sickness, death and loss.
How can we better prepare ourselves for these things? Perhaps the answer lies in two words: understanding and opportunity.
The true ability to cope with the bad things of life is in understanding why they happen at all. The Bible supplies at least three answers to this question.
First, suffering is the result of man’s free will, which was given to Him by God. Many Christians agonize and struggle with trying to get God “off the hook” when it comes to suffering and tragedy. Consequently, they will often misrepresent God in the process. We should have no issue with acknowledging that God created a world wherein suffering was possible. He did just that by creating man with the freedom of choice. We were created this way because we were created in His image (Gen. 1:27). Free moral agency (the freedom to take a particular course of action or not to take it) is a divine attribute. God was neither required nor forced into creating the world, caring about those He created or taking upon flesh to save it from its own mistakes. However, He chose to do these things anyway! Since we are finite, imperfect beings, the very fact that we have freedom of choice reveals a probability that we would occasionally choose wrong. That wrong choice can cause bad things to happen. The choice to use tobacco can lead to cancer. The choice to be lazy could lead to poverty. The choice to have multiple sexual partners can lead to perpetual and even deadly disease. Certainly not all suffering stems from the free will actions of man, but much can be attributed to it.
Second, suffering is the result of natural laws that our Creator put in place to order the universe (Gen. 8:22; Heb. 1:3). While sunshine results in healthy crops, it also can cause sunburn. Water is vital to the lives of mankind, animals, and plants, but it also can be the cause of flooding or drowning. Fire brings warmth, but it can also destroy. Gravity makes life on earth possible, but when defied, it can lead to injury or death. God’s natural laws, which serve to protect, sustain and bless man, can lead to pain and suffering.
Third, suffering is a result of time and chance. Solomon wrote that “time and chance happen to them all” (Eccl. 9:11). Time and chance suggest that not only will bad things happen to “good” people, but also that good things will happen to “bad” people. All men will suffer from being in the wrong place at the wrong time and from the choices and mistakes of others.
If we understand these three things, it will give us a better perspective in the midst of difficulty and pain.
In times of tragedy and suffering, there are two wonderful opportunities presented to the people of God. Realizing the value of such opportunities will help prepare us to face the difficulty and hardships of life.
First, through pain and suffering we have the opportunity to become the people God wants us to be. Some things are not created immediately, but they are created through a process. Listen to the words of James: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2–4; cf. Rom. 5:3; 1 Pet. 1:6-9).
Second, through pain and suffering, we have the opportunity to praise God and bring glory to Him. Days of suffering remind us of the days without, and the God who is there will help us through them both. Let us never forget the opportunity presented to Paul and Silas on the night that an earthquake opened the prison doors (Acts 16:26). They had a chance to convert a man and his household, whereby God was glorified (Acts 16:27ff). What gave them that chance? This writer is convinced that it was their attitude in the midst of their difficult circumstances (Acts 16:25). Without the joy of their heart and the praise of their lips, it may be that the jailer and his family would have never known Christ.
There is no belief that will remove the problems of life and safeguard us from having to deal with tragedy. However, through proper understanding and realizing our opportunities, we can be prepared for whatever comes our way.