Why do bad things happen to the innocent?
Where is God when tragedy strikes?
What is causing all of this pain and suffering?
These difficult questions defy easy answers, but a careful reading of the Bible can bring peace and hope as we struggle with the injustices of life.
Life WhenUnfair Is
MARK A. FINLEY
Hope in Life’s Toughest Times
OnDecember 14, 2012, as Americans prepared to enjoy another Christmas season, a tragic story from Newtown, Connecticut, stopped a horrified nation in its tracks. On that fateful Friday, a crazed gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and methodically took the lives of twenty children and six adults. In only moments, twentysix innocent lives were snuffed out. But years will not erase the pain of grieving families and the consciousness of the nation will never be the same.
What a tragedy! Deep within the fabric of our beings, we cry out, “Unfair—this is unjust!” And we are right. This incident was incredibly unfair. It should not have happened. But there is a deeper question we ask: “God, where were You in all of this? Why didn’t You intervene? Why didn’t You stop this horrible tragedy?”
If God is so good, why is the world so bad? If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He do something about all the suffering in our world?
These questions are not new. They have been asked for centuries. They are asked by the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, by men, women, and youth of all ethnic groups and nationalities. These eternal questions are echoed in each of our hearts, and they demand credible answers. They will not go away by ignoring them. They cannot be dismissed by pretending they do not exist. We may stuff them away in the back corners of the closets of our minds, but when disaster strikes, they demand answers once again.
It is helpful to know that we are not alone when we ask these questions. Millions of other people are asking them too. It is also helpful to know that God invites us to ask them. The God who created our minds invites us to use them as we contemplate life’s great questions. In three incredibly broad strokes, the Bible presents simple but profound answers to the questions of God’s justice and love in a world of inequity and injustice.
The Security of the Universe Depends Upon Freedom of Choice
When God created heavenly beings, He hardwired their brains with the ability to make rational choices. If God had created each angel without the capacity to choose, they would have lost the capacity to love. Love by its very nature can never be forced or coerced. To deny the power of choice is to lose the ability to love, and to lose the ability to love is to lose the opportunity to experience life’s greatest happiness.
God did not want robots. He wanted intelligent beings with the ability to respond to His loving initiative on their behalf. There is a fascinating statement in the book Patriarchs and Prophets that outlines the importance God places on our freedom of choice.
The law of love being the foundation of the government of God, the happiness of all intelligent beings depends upon their perfect accord with its great principles of righteousness. God desires from all His creatures the service of love—service that springs from an appreciation of His character. He takes no pleasure in a forced obedience;
and to all He grants freedom of will, that they may render Him voluntary service
( PATRIARCHS AND PROPHETS, P. 34)
God also placed these heavenly beings in a perfect environment. They were secure, at peace, and joyfully content in His presence. A loving Creator provided everything necessary for their eternal happiness. He created them perfect without a taint of sin—with no flaws or character deficiencies—but with the freedom to choose.
As strange as it may seem, one of these angelic beings developed thoughts of discontent
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Lucifer, the light bearer of heaven, desired supremacy. He wanted to rule rather than be ruled (ISAIAH 14:12–14) . This restless angel began to develop secret thoughts of ascending to God’s throne and ruling the universe. Over an extended period of time, Lucifer indulged these jealous thoughts. Eventually, he began to express his dissatisfaction to some of the other angels. Knowing what was going on in Lucifer’s mind and observing his rebellious attitudes, what would God do? What could God do? How could He assure the angels of His loving care? How could He secure the stability of the universe forever?
God’s authority challenged
One of His creatures challenged His authority. A created being claimed that the Creator was an authoritative tyrant. He claimed God was unjust. If God had immediately destroyed this rebel angel without allowing the universe to see the results of rebellion, the universe would have been paralyzed with fear and gripped with the thought that maybe—just maybe—Lucifer was right.
God in His wisdom permitted Satan to carry forward his work, until the spirit of disaffection ripened into active revolt. It was necessary for his plans to be fully developed, that their true nature and tendency might be seen by all ( THE GREAT CONTROVERSY, P. 497) .
So an all-wise, all-loving God let the great controversy between good and evil play out. Soon all heaven was embroiled in this conflict. The angels took sides and war broke out in heaven. Heaven is a strange place for war but unless we first understand what went on millennia ago, we will never fully understand what is going on down here
Lucifer and the rebellious angels were cast out of heaven. They were cast out to the newly created planet Earth. No, earth was not established as a dumping ground for evil. God did not create our planet simply to solve a problem He had up in heaven. This earth was created perfect, without a taint of sickness, suffering, or sin. Disease, disaster, and death did not exist (GENESIS 1:26–31) .
God gave our first parents, Adam and Eve, the same freedom of choice that He gave to each of the angels. He placed them in an idyllic garden setting surrounded by everything they needed for their happiness forever. His loving presence filled the Garden. Our first parents had open communion with their Creator. Of course, He clearly explained the conflict raging in the universe and warned them about the evil one.
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The fallen angel, Lucifer, focused his attention on this newly created planet—God’s object of love and care. He desired to hurt God by hurting His creatures. Eve listened to the fallen angel’s lies and her husband, Adam, soon followed her lead. When our first parents disobeyed God and yielded to the temptations of the rebel angel, they opened a door God wanted forever shut—a door of incredible pain, suffering, and death (GENESIS 3:1–13; ROMANS 5:12; 6:23)
Those choices led to devastating consequences, but God is not behind the suffering in our world. There is an enemy of God and of all mankind— Lucifer, also known as Satan or the devil (MATTHEW 13:24–30, 37–43)
The conflict is real, and the war still rages. How would God deal with this planet in rebellion? What would He do to solve the problem of sin? He could have destroyed planet Earth and started over again, but that would not have answered the fundamental question raised in the great controversy between good and evil. Is God an autocratic dictator, demanding servitude, or is He a God of love, desiring only the best for His creatures?
Jesus’ life and death answers Lucifer’s challenge
God chose a course that would ensure the security of the universe forever. He chose the way of love. One day, His Son would come to earth to reveal the Father’s love (GENESIS 3:15) . Jesus’ entire life on earth shouted, “This is what the Father is like.” Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, unstopped the ears of the deaf, healed diseased bodies, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. He forgave the woman caught in adultery, cast the demons out of the demoniacs, and transformed the fearful disciples into men of faith. His life is a picture of God. Jesus forgives, empowers, heals, and delivers. He is compassionate, merciful, just, and all powerful.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (JOHN 14:9) . 1 Jesus’ greatest act of love came as He hung on a cruel cross to deliver the human race from the horrible
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consequences of sin. He was treated as we deserve so we could be treated as He deserves. He wore a crown of thorns so we could wear a crown of glory. Spikes were driven through His hands so we could
hold eternal scepters in ours. He hung on a cross so we could sit on a throne. He died the death that was ours so we could live the life that was His.
The Crucifixion is the greatest miscarriage of justice in history. Think of the events surrounding the Cross that dark Friday. Jesus was unjustly condemned. False witnesses lied at His trial. One of His own disciples betrayed Him. The religious leaders falsely accused Him. His followers forsook Him. The Roman soldiers crucified Him. He hung suffering, absolutely alone. The Savior completely understands what it means to be treated unfairly. He understands the pain and suffering that life cruelly throws at us.
On the cross, Jesus experienced all the shame and condemnation sin could bring. He experienced the hell of the second death for us (GALATIANS 3:13; 2 CORINTHIANS 5:21) . “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (JOHN 15:13) The principalities and powers of hell were defeated at the Cross. It was on Golgotha’s hill that God revealed the depths of His love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (JOHN 3:16, 17)
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There is no greater revelation of love in the entire universe than Jesus, the One who existed with the Father from eternity, willing to be separated from the Father forever to satisfy the demands of divine justice to save us. Think of the immense pain the consequences of sin brought not only to Jesus as He hung on the cross but also to the Father as He watched His Son suffer and die (HEBREWS 2:9; PHILIPPIANS 2:5–11) .
Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God ( THE DESIRE OF AGES, P. 753) .
The magnitude of this statement is enormous. Jesus was willing to be eternally separated from the Father to save us. He took upon Himself all the guilt of our sins. Calvary reveals not only the excruciating physical pain our Redeemer exper-
The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened.
ienced but also the mental and emotional agony of accepting the full consequences of sin—eternal separation from the Father. This is why we will sing with the heavenly beings throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (REVELATION 5:12) .
The Cross answers the charges hurled at God by a rebel angel. Calvary shouts in triumphant tones, “God is love.” At the Cross, the devil is unmasked. At the Cross, God’s love is revealed, and through that love we are drawn to the One who loves us so much.
The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan’s deceptive power was to be broken. This could not be done by force. The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him; His character must be manifested in contrast to the character of Satan. This work only one Being in all the universe could do. Only He who knew the height and depth of the love of God could make it known ( THE DESIRE OF AGES, P. 22) .
But the Cross is not the end of the story of God’s love. God’s love did not begin or end at the Cross. It is true that the Cross reveals the immensity of God’s love, but His love existed for us before the Cross and it is there for us today.
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The God Who Hurts When We Hurt, Can Heal Our Hearts
The same Jesus who died for us two thousand years ago, now lives for us. The grave could not hold the Son of God. The Life-Giver triumphed over death. He broke the shackles of the tomb. He is risen. He is alive. He “ever liveth to make intercession” for us (HEBREWS 7:25, KJV) . 2 He understands what we are going through. He once walked in our footsteps. He understands poverty, rejection, ridicule, mockery, pain, suffering, and death. When we hurt, He hurts. When we are in pain, He is in pain too. When we suffer, He suffers too.
The prophet Isaiah cries out, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (ISAIAH 53:4, NKJV) . 3 The prophet then adds, “In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old” (ISAIAH 63:9, NKJV)
God is not immune to our suffering. When our hearts are broken, His heart is broken too. His tears are often mingled with ours.
Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ’s agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God ( EDUCATION, P. 263)
It is reassuring to know that we are not alone in our pain. It is comforting to know that Someone understands what we are experiencing.
But to really get through life’s toughest times, we need more than sympathy—we need strength. It is one thing to believe that Christ understands what we are going through, it is quite another thing to receive His power to get through it. There are numerous promises in the Bible that give us confidence that Christ is there in the moments of our deepest sorrow to enable us to get through life’s difficult moments. Here are two of my favorites.
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (HEBREWS 4:14–16, NKJV)
Jesus is there to help in all our times of need. He is not a God who stands at a distance watching from the stratosphere as we suffer. He is there in the context of our suffering, supporting, strengthening, and sustaining us. Where is God when we suffer? Let’s allow Him to respond through the prophet Isaiah:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (ISAIAH 41:10, NKJV) .
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The Bible does not promise that life will always be fair. It does promise that God understands the cruel blows that sometimes strike us and He will be there to shield us from their crushing pain. The Bible does not promise we will never shed
any tears. It does promise He will be there to weep with us and comfort us in our sorrow. The Bible does not promise we will always understand why we suffer. It does promise He will never leave us or forsake us.
The Word of God invites us to fix our eyes not on the problem but on the One who can solve the problem. His invitation is clear, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (MATTHEW 11:28) . Here is a gem from the little book Steps to Christ:
Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” James 5:11. His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest.
“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son ( STEPS TO CHRIST, P. 100)
A change of focus
Here is a key principle in getting through suffering. Change your focus. If your thoughts are dominated by why something happened to you, you will be perplexed. It is possible there are no good answers. If you allow your thoughts to be dominated by the injustice of it all,
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We are not alone in our pain. God loves us too much to allow us to go through life’s heartaches by ourselves. He is there with us.
you will be crushed. You will continue in pain for years. You will not heal.
But if you open your heart to receive a “peace . . . which surpasses all understanding,” if you choose to trust when you cannot fully understand, if you fix your mind on receiving His comfort, an inner peace will gradually fill your soul (PHILIPPIANS 4:7, NKJV) . His healing grace will give you a new purpose for living. The scars of the past will heal as you place your trust in the One whose hands were scarred for you. There must come a point in the context of our suffering where we do not have to understand it all. We do not have to be able to figure everything out. We are able to live with unanswered questions in a rock-solid faith in the One we can fully trust.
The wonder of living lives committed to Jesus is that in spite of the trials we face, He gives us an indescribable inner sense of contentment.
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We live in the absolute assurance that one day all the perplexing questions of life will be answered and evil will be gone forever. We can face the future with confidence because it is bright with the promises of God.
Evil Will Not Have the Last Word—God Will
Evilwill not last forever. Sin and suffering will one day be over. Disease, disaster, and death will soon be gone forever. The universe will finally and fully see God’s way is best. Love is life giving. Selfishness destroys. Love and greed, selflessness and pride, giving and grasping cannot coexist forever. God’s love will eventually triumph over hate. God’s power will triumph over suffering. God’s grace will triumph over death. Hope fills our hearts because we have read the last chapter in the Book. We are optimistic about the future because we know that one day righteousness will reign forever and all wrongs will be righted. We are confident in a God who has the future in His hands. All of life’s unfairness and injustice will be over.
There is a wonderful tomorrow on the horizon. The Bible’s last book, Revelation, declares,
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things are passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold I make all things new” (REVELATION 21:4, 5, NKJV)
The Christ who comes to reign eternally will set all things right.
One day, Jesus will rule in righteousness. All the injustices we have ever experienced will be wiped away from our minds forever. Life’s unfairness will be gone like a dust particle blown away by hurricane-force winds. The hurtful memories of the past will be replaced by the glorious good news of a new world. The deep emotional scars from real or perceived injustices and unfairness
will be healed by His amazing grace. Jesus’ promise to His disciples will become a reality.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (JOHN 14:1–3, NKJV) .
The coming of Christ is the bright hope of the ages. It is not pie-in-the-sky, by and by; it is a positive hope for joy-filled living today. It buoys us up in sorrow. It encourages us in suffering. It soothes us in discouragement. It lifts our eyes from what is to what will be. What a hope in a world where injustice seems at times to triumph. One day in the not too distant future, righteousness will reign. As one author so aptly put it:
The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love ( THE GREAT CONTROVERSY, P. 678) .
The apostle Peter encourages us to consider by faith this new world that is coming, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens
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and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”
(2 PETER 3:13) . Everything the human race lost by sin will be restored in much greater measure. Once again the joys of Eden will return. Love will reign. The earth will be made new. Eventually, we shall live in a fantastic new world, filled with happiness beyond our ability to comprehend, enjoy the closeness of relationships unimaginable, and
experience eternal security in the fellowship of our loving Creator.
We are not cosmic orphans left alone on a doomed planet catapulting sixty-seven thousand miles per hour through space. Life takes on new meaning today because we have hope for tomorrow. Our hearts are at peace even in life’s greatest sorrows because by faith we have caught a glimpse
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of a better world. We do not argue that life is fair. We openly acknowledge it is not.
But we cling to the promises of our Lord that He is with us in every difficulty, will comfort us in all our suffering, will strengthen us in every trial, and one day will come to take us home where there will be joy forever. Now that is incredibly good news.
1 Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures quoted are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
2. Scriptures marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.
3. Scriptures quoted from NKJV are from The New King James Version, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.
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Let’s live life to the fullest today, tomorrow, and forever.
Cover: iStockphoto.com 3 Ways to order more Signs SIGNS OF THE TIMES® P.O. Box 5398, Nampa, ID 83653-5398 Mail order form to: 1 In the U.S. call: 1-800-545-2449 In Canada call: 1-800-765-6955 2 Or order online at: AdventistBookCenter.com 3 Browse: www.BibleStudies.com Call: 1-888-456-7933 FREE Lessons It’s easy to learn more about the Bible! Write: Discover PO Box 999 Loveland, CO 80539-0999 © 2013 Pacific Press® Publishing Association. 33054529 • Printed in U.S.A. You may sense that the world is gripped in a conflict between good and evil. And from what you see in the news, it may look as if evil is winning. Headlines describe famine, wars, unemployment, pollution, and disease. The Great Hope reveals why our world is falling apart and what will happen next. It shows how Bible prophecy promises a bright and glorious future. To read, listen to, or download a free copy of this book, go to: http://www.TheGreatHope.org The Great Hope