The question is asked so often that a book was written: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” As one pastor said, that is the wrong question.
The Bible says that no one is good. We are sinners all, and all deserve the wrath of God. Besides that, the world is polluted by sin. Who can escape its effects? Bad things are going to happen even to those who have done nothing personally in that cause-effect reality.
A better question is “Why does God withhold His wrath against our sinful rebellion against Him?” We have turned our own way. In sin and selfishness, we resist the will of God.
His Word has the answer for that too. He is merciful and loves us. He does not want to destroy us, but to rescue us from sin. Even before He sent Jesus to pay our penalty and offer us forgiveness and eternal life, God was withholding the punishment that we deserve.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried (chosen) you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9–11)
I know I sin. I know what I deserve. As I read this, I think about that, but also about the incredible nature of God. He is merciful. He wants the best for me; and that best is that I am delivered from the power of sin. He will even use “bad things” to refine me and teach me to hate sin and love Him.
How do I know that? How can I be sure that whatever ill comes my way is not merely random, the actions of other sinners who do not care that I suffer in the process? I know it because God is sovereign and controls all that happens to me. I also know that He made promises to His people and He does not change His mind.
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7)
As the Bible teaches, God is in the refining business. Trials happen to refine me, not destroy me. However, my need for refining is not the sole reason God uses bad things for good. He also does it for the sake of His own name.
But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. (Ezekiel 20:9)
I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other… (Isaiah 42:8)
This means that God never acts against His own character. He is pure goodness, no evil in Him. The evils that happen are not His idea, but the result of human sinfulness. Yet because He is God, our evil deeds are putty in His hands. He can make of them what He desires, and because He desires our good and His own glory, He can keep this outrageous yet precious promise…
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28–29)
Father, I am in Your family and being shaped by You so that I am conformed to the family image and able to honor the family name. Because You are all goodness, then being like You means incredible goodness for me. Because I am a sinner, it also means that You must take drastic measures to do the shaping. You have taught me that cooperation on my part is vital in this transformation. The more I resist, the longer it takes. I’m also learning something else… the more I focus on Your goodness and mercy, the easier it is to yield to Your will. As Isaiah says, You have chosen me in affliction, yet restrained Your wrath. Instead, You poured it out on Jesus that I might be Your child and be transformed into His likeness, even by the bad stuff that You allow to happen. You are an amazing God!