How can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?
I’ve heard this question posed by numerous people over the years. I’ve asked God the same question.
Who’s “good”? What’s “bad”?
Summing up nearly 54 years of much “good” and a whole lot of “bad” in my own life, here’s what I have to say on the subject from personal experience . . .
If we want abundant life, we must allow God to challenge our perceptions about “good” and “bad”.
Truth is, God is good and anything He allows to come sifted through His hands and poured upon us, even though “bad”, will be used for true good if we’re willing. So, are the ingredients used to create true good “bad”? Depends on perspective. Beauty or bitterness—that’s up to us.
Looking back on my life as a whole, I’d say it’s been good—totally—because I believe that my beginning and end is God, the Alpha and Omega, who is ALWAYS good. He is my starting point and my finish line. Everything in between is a growth opportunity.
I’ve been through a lot of soul-wrenching, heart-breaking life chapters so far but the overarching theme is God’s goodness, even in the apparent “bad”. And I believe God has loved me through it all by allowing so much “bad”. He has kept hope burning in my soul, even when it looked like the flame might flicker and self-extinguish.
Here are a few of the “bad” chapters of but one life lived, that God used for true good. These snippets are meant as a beginning of a story—the painful. But the end—what God did with each and through each shows His absolute GOODNESS—His tender mercy and perfect foresight for good, not only for me but for all the lives around me. So, here are but a few windows of pain through which we’ll look to see an absolutely GOOD God . . .
A tumultuous family I couldn’t wait to leave where I never heard Dad speak Mom’s name—ever—where Mom had an undiagnosed, unmedicated anxiety disorder—where Mom tried to find security by living vicariously through her three kids who all just happened to have extraordinary musical talent and were in the public eye—where I felt so suffocated that I developed chronic respiratory illnesses. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And there was the basement of Grandpa’s house where he took me every time I was over and he put his hands where they didn’t belong—for years till he died—when I was only nine. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And those bullies in school? One can get hit hard with words about looks when curly red hair isn’t popular and bucked teeth with braces and horn-rimmed glasses don’t compliment. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And it’s easy to hurt the kid when you can’t hurt the mom—who is the teacher—who is mean. She taught in my school. And she was mean, really. I saw it. I felt it. And I felt the cutting words and sneers from my peers. From this, God grew goodness . . .
Then there’s the teacher who called me “It” in his class, all year long. He told me I’d never learn math because I was an “It” and he allowed all the kids to laugh, right along with him. I told on him. But nothing changed. He never spoke my name. And his son, my good friend—he was in that class but never defended me. He sat and saw and heard—and did not one thing. From this, God grew goodness . . .
I had a lot of success in high school. I won piano competitions and I got admitted, by audition, to a prestigious music conservatory. After one year, I decided I didn’t want to be a concert pianist. Mother wanted—not me. I had anxiety attacks every time I had to perform. So I quit. Mom went ballistic, watching her dream of my/her fame crumble. She lied to people in my hometown, making up stories about how great I was doing in the conservatory. And then she refused to let me have my piano music, hoping I would feel the full brunt of her punishment for changing my major to education. From this, God grew goodness . . .
When I was 22, six months into marriage, my parents split up. A vicious divorce ensued. I had to set boundaries with both parents who were scratching for something solid to hold onto when their marriage ended. Mom requested/demanded I testify in court against my father as they both sued each other for mental cruelty. I chose to remain neutral and was the only child who did not testify. The cost? Years of verbal abuse from Mom to the point where I had to have a therapist read her letters and filter them for me. I spent years waiting and hoping and praying and learning. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And during the divorce, Mom fell apart in Ohio while my new husband, bright and successful, fell apart in Chicago. He was hospitalized for the first of many times in a psych ward. From this, God grew goodness . . .
Over the course of our seven year marriage, I watched my husband lose his mind—literally—and I couldn’t help him hold on. I became immersed in the world of psychological/biological disorders, inpatient psych wards, outpatient therapy, and still helplessly watched his life and our marriage deteriorate and disintegrate into nothing. He left one day, two weeks before Christmas, right after we cut down our tree. From this, God grew goodness . . .
A cousin was murdered and they never found the murderer. I’ve seen what murder and lack of closure and no justice can do. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And I stood on a pier, watching a good friend about to dive into shallow water right in front of me while I was thinking, but not saying, “Don’t dive! It’s shallow!” He dove. And he broke his neck right there in front of me and I pulled up his head from the water—this young man now paralyzed from the neck down. He became a quadriplegic right in front of me, out in the country, on a lake, at midnight. My friends and I followed the ambulance all the way from Indiana to Chicago where we got the final word. And I cooked and we cried and we slept in makeshift beds on my living room floor for days. And how do you tell your friend you’re so glad he’s alive when all he wants is to die? From this, God grew goodness . . .
I needed to leave a job because my Christian boss became involved in an unethical, sexual affair and I had to hire an attorney to protect myself from the woman threatening to sue. From this, God grew goodness . . .
How many times did I find my car windows smashed and blood smeared on fabric by someone gutting the vehicle for radio and anything else they might find to hock? And coming home one night to find my back door kicked down—right off the hinges—with blood on the floor and everything I owned of value stolen and my answering machine messages listened to and even my lingerie rifled through. Having to leave my apartment for good—that night—because the police told me the intruder had been scared off and would come back. He did. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And I was robbed in broad daylight of my paycheck which I had just cashed. I had no money to live for another two weeks. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And after I remarried, ten years after my divorce, a nightmare. Psychotic stalking by my ex-husband caused fear for my safety and the safety of my family. Restraining orders were useless. So I made a deal. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And I told my husband that when my ex-husband’s parents died, he’d either kill himself or come looking for me. His parents died six months apart and . . .
A call came from the coroner in the middle of the night looking for next-of-kin. My ex-husband had committed suicide and there was only one phone number and address, with directions, in his apartment—mine. From this, even this, God grew goodness . . .
But before all this, infertility blessed. The agony of barrenness led to the joy of adoption. But we nearly came home from Russia empty-armed, twice. From this, God grew goodness . . .
And when the joy of adoption turns to discovery of hidden disabilities probably caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol? Significant, permanent, life-long special needs have caused feelings of isolation because three beautiful and wonderful kids look normal and few understand their struggles—our struggles. Grieving lost hopes and dreams as a couple, as parents, as a family, we are still adjusting to our new “normal”, an on-going process. From this, God grew goodness. And we choose to have faith that this goodness will keep growing . . .
And then there was the lawsuit filed against us by our neighbor, trying to take land that was legally ours. From this, God grew goodness . . .
I dealt with clinical depression and anxiety so debilitating that I could no longer get through my “normal” days even with healthy lifestyle choices. I started medication. From this, God grew goodness . . .
Maybe I haven’t dealt with everything in a very Godly fashion. Maybe it was my fault that I became clinically depressed after years and years of one thing after another. If I had just prayed more? Had more faith? Been more obedient? Maybe all this was because God was mad? Or I was sinning? I’ve heard it all in my own head and from the mouths of others. From this, God grew goodness . . .
A full-time job as a therapist turned into a full-time job as a home-educator and then an advocate for our kids’ special needs in school. After exhausting all non-legal attempts to persuade a school district to serve one of our children according to federal law, we hired an attorney. One of the most stressful years of our lives. From this, God grew goodness . . .
Dealing with extended family discord, misperceptions, poor communication, and nearly complete conflict avoidance. From this, God grew goodness . . .
Thinking these snippets of real are “bad” things?
Me too—in the past.
Now, I see all as blessing. Now, I see all as sifted gifting from the hand of a completely good God.
Because I’ve lived it and I know it. I’ve lived through trials and tribulations, just like God said I would in this world, because we live in a broken world. To expect anything else is delusional. But I’ve seen God work miracles with the broken. I’ve seen God’s hand take every bit of brokenness and transform it. Every bit broken because of my own brokenness—every bit broken because of someone else’s brokenness—every bit broken because of broken biology and neurochemistry—I’ve seen His holy hand piece together a beautiful mosaic, rich with color, transparent and shining the light of His Spirit.
Would I want to relive the painful times?
No and yes.
No, I wouldn’t want to relive the painful times because I still hate pain. Pain is painful and, honestly, I think I have a lower pain threshold than most.
But yes, I would want to relive the painful times if they were the only way I would get to where I am now and if they were the only way I’ll get to where I’m going. I don’t know myself as well as God does—this, I know—so I’m letting Him decide what’s needed to complete the work He has begun in me. I’m learning to look through pain to see the positive result of pain tolerance instead of using all my efforts to wiggle out of pain. Because I wonder . . .
If I hadn’t had pain, would I have come to know God in the first place?
If I hadn’t had pain, would I have come to know God as intimately as I do now?
If I hadn’t had pain, would I have been able to empathize and comfort and counsel others who are in pain similar to what I’ve experienced?
If I hadn’t had pain, would I know joy as deeply as I do now?
If I hadn’t had pain, would I be as grateful to God as I am now?
If I hadn’t had pain, would I know real peace?
And, if I hadn’t had so much pain, would I still fear pain, not knowing—as I do now—that, with God, I can go through all things and that everything will be used by Him for good, sooner or later, for me and for others?
Of course, it’s easy to look back on pain and say it was worth it. But what about the future? What will it bring? Will I be faced with more trials and tribulations? Probably. But now I don’t fear the outcome. When faced with the unpleasant, I still won’t like it and, knowing myself, I’ll probably cry and scream (I’m just NOT the quiet suffering type!), but at least I know there’s positive purpose. At least I know there’s hope. At least I know that God gives purpose and hope.
I’ve read about these two in God’s word. They’re everywhere. But now I know them personally, having had them forged in the furnace of suffering. And now I know, from experience . . .
God is good. And God is powerful enough to use all that’s broken. In God’s hands, all that’s broken—is broken—for good.
I was in a store the other day and I saw a woman come to the counter with a beautiful vase. When I asked her how she was going to use it, she told me she was going to break it. She was going to break it into pieces because it was so beautiful and she wanted to take the broken pieces and put them together again, fashioning them into a table that would have far more beauty and function than a simple vase that would hold just flowers.
And I wondered if God views us like that vase. Does He see us as simply beautiful, just the way we are, but He allows us to be broken so He can put the pieces back together again in a far more beautiful and purposeful way? I don’t think so. I know so. I know He has taken my broken pieces and created something new and useful and beautiful. And He promises to do the same for everyone who will allow beauty, instead of bitterness, to be born from brokenness.
I went for a walk through my gardens. The path is broken stones. Do we walk through life on our broken stones placed beautifully by God so we can get close and see His beauty and get where we’re going?
More to come on HOW God transformed every single one of these life chapters from something “bad” to something definitely GOOD, as only a GOOD God can do . . .
It might take a book?