“Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.” R.C. Sproul
A Tale of Two Pavements
In both scenarios, tears were streaming down my cheeks and I felt utterly alone. In both scenarios I’d watched a man drive away and leave me stranded. One held a gun to my head and forced me to comply with his fantasies, then left me lying facedown, crumpled on the ground, literally naked in the middle of the night in a dark cul-de-sac.
“Get out. Face down on the ground. Don’t move.”
I watched my own car leave without me with a stranger in the driver’s seat, it’s taillights fading, and with them went my dignity and security.
The other had bewitching blue eyes, said toxic things I already believed about myself, but they seemed like poison coming from someone who months earlier had claimed to love me and had seduced me with promises of forever. He left me standing upright, emotionally crumpled, feeling naked in the middle of the day in a mall parking lot. I watched his tailights fade along with my dreams of happiness and wholeness.
“I could never marry someone like you. No one will ever want you.”
Individually, these men played a part in robbing me of hope, of joy, of freedom, and it would be easy to blame them alone. It would be simple to cast them as villains from those moments on, carrying anger with me for the rest of my life. It would be understandable to pin my problems on men, to see myself imprisoned in my gender and needing to fight an endless battle against “them.”
But there was so much more built into these fleeting moments when I was reminded of my humanity and stared abuse and rejection in the face. There was a cosmic, spiritual battle raging for my soul that culminated in these years, that I couldn’t see through the pain. There were moments I almost succumbed to it entirely, nights when I heard voices telling me it all wasn’t worth it. There was an enemy lying to me–he was bent on destroying me, thought by thought.
But in the days and years that followed my assault and the rejection of the man I thought would finally rescue me from my loneliness, I would learn that there was one Father, one God-Man, one Lover, one Savior and Redeemer who could reframe my perspective and restore my hope. There was Him–the ultimate, victorious, loving, righteous, holy, just, tender, faithful Him. I would learn that my brokenness was a necessary step in recognizing His everything. As time went on, I would even hear myself say that what happened to me–all the hurt, threats, ridicule and anguish wasn’t that bad. How could I possibly say that, that something I would never wish on my biggest rival wasn’t that bad?
The Idol of Pain
When something horrible happens to us, we tend to think of ourselves as innocent and undeserving of tragedy or injustice. And on a human level, that may be true. None of us like to see people hurting or treated unfairly, or to be the ones receiving unfair treatment. This is what creates empathy, concern, action that seeks to make things better, improve conditions, fight for justice.
But to maintain that perspective and not see ourselves as God sees us keeps us feeling sorry for ourselves and separates people by degrees of oppression. It even sets us up to compare ourselves to others, to judge whether someone else’s pain measures up to ours to the point that we make too little or too much of each other’s problems. We begin to worship our pain, our struggle, our testimony.
But worst of all, it assigns expectations of God that are not Biblical, that do not even acknowledge Him as our sovereign Lord who has holy purposes for our pain. Sure, He is our Savior, but that is not all He is. Yes, He loves us, but His love is an outpouring of His holiness and His character, not our winsomeness (because truthfully we’re not winsome). He rescues us, but it’s for His glory alone, not for our blessing.
These misunderstandings of who God is and who we are have been passed through culture for far too long. They are beginning to erode the traditional Gospel and build up an insidious, me-centered faith that reduces Jesus deity and elevates our importance. We stop observing God in His Word, seeing Who He is and how He behaves and jump to reinterpreting and twisting the Word to fit our lives. Thinking this way, we start to believe that all of our struggles are accidents, an anomaly in the mythical, prosperous Christian life instead of seeing them as a privilege and means of reflecting God’s perfection, glory and sufficiency.
We regularly hear the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I think we only ask this question because we have an incorrect view of God and of ourselves.
Alisa Childers says, “Jesus offers us true joy and peace, but only after we realize that we are not the center of our own lives.”
It is with this in mind that I would like to drill down to some basic truths, taken straight from scripture, about Who God is, who we are without Jesus, and who He says we are when we worship Him as Lord:
Who God is:
-”…God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.” (John 1:5)
-”For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?” (2 Samuel 22:32)
-”Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him. For God is our refuge.” (Psalms 62:8)
-”Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)
-”To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)
-”For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)
-”Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)
-”God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
-”…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Matthew 11:27)
Who we are apart from salvation in Christ:
-”I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
-”We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
-”For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
-”If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
-”In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit…” (Ephesians 4:22)
-”…and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8;8)
-”Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)
-”Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
-”And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1)
-”The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Who we are if Jesus is our Lord and Savior:
-”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
-”For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
-”You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable through God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
–”And you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:10)
–”Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
All of the truths above are reasons that I don’t have to worship my worst moments, why I instead worship the One who rescued me and set me on the path to the Promised Land. It’s why I can actually look back on my worst nightmares and be grateful for them, because the Lord used them to show me the true state of my despair and my need for a new heart. It’s why I can actually say that my hardest times are not about me and that I am okay with occasional injustice or ill treatment or heartache–because I was never a good person, and I deserved far worse than what I got. Every breath of fresh air, every moment of peace and stability and joy is a gift of grace. And that makes me all the more grateful.
“For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17
Adrienne Gross is a writer based in North Carolina. She is a lover of travel, fitness, wine, good conversation and quality time with her friends and husband and three young children. You can find her blog at presentlysite.blog or on Twitter at @adrienne_gross.