Why do bad things happen? More importantly, how do we talk about it with our kids? How much should we tell them? Should we hide the truth as long as possible, or until we think they are old enough to handle it? Do we risk our child finding out from somebody else? Some answers are easier than others. Small children can be safely sheltered from the events. They are barely aware of what’s happening in the next room, much less in another state. Older children, those in high school, have enough experience and maturity to handle more information, but even they need some protection from the full truth.
As do we all, regardless of age. Children aren’t the only ones asking tough questions this week in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City tornado.
Why do bad things happen? Is the world a random place where things just fall apart? Is there no true order to the universe? Are good and bad just human inventions? Is there in truth no God? If there is a God, how can He let small children drown in their basement?
Tragedies like these tornadoes truly test our faith and belief in a world of justice. How do we answer these questions for ourselves, much less for our children?
Atheists have their own answers, and I’m not going to debate them. As a Christian, I have my own answers, and they work for me in times like these.
First, I am forced as a Christian to acknowledge that all things, good and bad, come from God. Saying anything else is a cop out. In the Christian church today, there is a very popular teaching that says that God only sends good things and bad things come from Satan. While this is comforting on the surface, a deeper look shows just how devastating this belief can be. Without getting into a deep theological discussion, if bad things come from Satan, in opposition to God’s will, then God is no longer omnipotent, and can be defeated by Satan.
That’s not a good thing.
More to the point, the Bible tells us flat out that God does send the bad things into our lives, sometimes as punishment, sometimes as tests, and sometimes for reasons that are beyond our capacity to comprehend. The first chapter of Job shows that Satan operates only be the sufferance of God. The chapter concludes with Job pronouncing that directly:
And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:21-22, ESV)
So we Christians cannot escape the truth that God does allow bad things to happen, even to good people like Job. How can we rationalize that? How can we make sense of it? If God is the all loving Creator of the universe, then how can He allow bad things to happen to His Creation? Isn’t He supposed to be a just God as well as loving? There are some justifications as I mentioned. We are given trials to strengthen us, to instruct us, to correct us, and so on. All of these and more are documented in the Bible but I’m not really interested in those right now because there is another category that is exemplified by Job. Job had no way of knowing why his life was turned into a disaster. God had His own Purpose that Job could not ever see, yet Job maintained his faith.
I’ve had more time to contemplate the answers to those questions than I would have liked. A few years ago, my youngest son was in a car accident that put him into the ICU for over a month. There was some minor brain damage due to the accident (and if the word ‘minor’ attached to ‘brain damage’ doesn’t strike you as surreal, then you aren’t paying attention) but it was his lungs’ reaction to the ventilator that nearly killed him. Some people do not react well to a ventilator and my son is one of them. The accident was on Memorial Day weekend, and by my birthday two weeks later, he was almost dead, suffocating as his lungs filled with scar tissue from the ventilator. The doctors tried everything, but hope was fading.
During that time, I lived in a place where Christians are supposed to live all the time; helpless and completely dependent on God. Some people theorize that one of the reasons God allows bad things to happen is to drive us to our knees because that’s the only way He can get some of us there. I don’t know about that; I do know that I was more aware of my essential powerlessness during those weeks than any other time in my life, before or since. All my illusions of control were stripped away from me.
I’m a father; it’s my job, no, my identity, to protect my children from harm of all kinds, yet my son lay near death in an ICU and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I had failed in my primary job.
But my faith tells me that every thing that happens is in accordance with God’s Will, and no matter how painful it may be, no matter how infuriating or unjust it may appear, because God is also a just God, then there must be a reason for it, and that it is for good. I sometimes use surgery on a pet as an analogy. Your dog or cat may be ill and require surgery to heal. They have no way of understanding why their master is having them cut open with a knife; but it is for their own good.
When I prayed, I asked for healing for my son, but I also gave him up to God’s Will. As I stood over him as the doctors and nurses prepared for a last ditch effort to save his life, I had to say goodbye to him, something no parent should ever have to do. I prayed over him, asked God to spare him, but finished with the hardest words I’ve ever had to say. “Thy Will be done.” I recognized that I was powerless; that I couldn’t do anything to save my son. I also recognized that I had no right to ask God to spare my son when He didn’t spare His own Son.
That was a hard truth to swallow.
My story has a happy ending. My son did recover, almost completely. His lungs are mildly compromised now and he will face additional complications once he gets older, but he will get older. The people of Oklahoma City do not have as happy of an ending. Yes, there are many survivors, many people fortunate to be alive today, but there are so many who didn’t survive, and their families are going through hell dealing with that fact.
As Americans, we don’t do submission well. We want answers and we want them to make sense and fit in with our preconceived notions of right and wrong. We want to understand. Yet as Christians were are supposed to be submerged in God’s Will. We are supposed to recognize that all things which happen, good, bad or otherwise, are in concert with God’s Will, whether we understand it or not. In fact, our understanding is completely irrelevant to our submission. It is this dichotomy between our faith and our culture that causes such tremendous pain for believers when tragedy strikes. We want to understand why.
The truth is that we may never understand the ‘Why?” It may be beyond our comprehension, just as Job’s trials were beyond his. Yet we have to hold on to our faith that God is just, that He is love, and that He is merciful. We have to remember that this world is fleeting, that our lives here represent the barest fraction of eternity. We are told that the scales will be balanced in the end, and we must remain faithful to that promise.
I know it’s hard. Believe me I know. But as Christians, that is what we are called to do.
So how do we communicate this to our kids? Most of them are not capable of understanding something like this. On the other hand, they are more inherently accepting, which is an advantage. My answer, and yours may be different, is to speak less and model more. I try to show my faith rather than talk about it. When bad things happen, small or large, I do my best (and Lord knows I fail often!) to handle them with grace and faith. I try to demonstrate my faith that God is in charge, and that all things will serve His purpose. I want them to be able to take comfort from my faith and stability, in the hopes that it will allow their faith to grow as well.