You want to know more about the woman I told about in my last letter. Her name is Jane, and she’s dying of cancer. She has a strong faith in God and is absolutely confident God can heal her. She isn’t being healed.
Your question is a valid one. I don’t think I can give you a completely adequate answer as to why bad things happen to good people. I do know that it has a lot to do with the freedom God has built into His universe. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, clues us in to the amazing fact that God created human beings in His own image so that we could have a relationship with Him. He also gave people the gift of freedom because you need free will if you’re to enter into a meaningful relationship.
I’ve always had an interest in puppets and ventriloquism. I regularly entertain and attempt to teach the children of our church with my vent figure, Ricky. I’m no professional, but I do a fair job at keeping my lips from moving and at giving Ricky a personality. I try to create the illusion that he’s an alive, independent person. But I know better. When I’m in need of some praise or affirmation I don’t get Ricky out of the suitcase where I have him stored and make him say nice things to me. Because I’m putting words into his mouth, what he says would be meaningless to me. God didn’t make people to be His puppets. He doesn’t put words in our mouths or jerk our string so we do His thing. He gave us the freedom to be our independent selves.
Without freedom you can’t have any of the great virtues such as love, courage, obedience, sacrifice, or faith. Love only is meaningful if a person also has the option not to love, or even to hate. Courage has meaning when there’s the choice to be cowardly. Obedience is admired because the person could have been disobedient. Sacrifice means something because selfishness is always an option. Possessing faith has value only when one’s dealing with doubt.
The book of beginnings, the book of Genesis, tells of how the first people used their freedom to make wrong choices. The result is that we live in a less than perfect, fallen world.
In a few brief sentences I know I can’t solve the age-old problem of suffering, death, and evil in the world, but maybe I can at least put it into some kind of perspective. First of all, a great deal of our suffering in this life is the result of our inhumane actions toward each other. Crime and war are obvious examples, but you also have to include such ordinary issues as conflicts in the home and at work. Famines frequently are the result of mismanagement of land or result from wars that displace people or drain natural resources. Natural disasters often involve people making poor choices by building houses on earthquake faults, steep hillsides, on river flood plains, or on ocean shorelines frequently hit by hurricanes.
I also don’t think we can blame God for accidents involving machines we’ve built that take us down the highway at 65 miles an hour and through the air five miles up and at 365 miles an hour. Such activity has an assumed risk factor.
When it comes to diseases, we’re just beginning to understand how many of them may be the result of tampering with our environment and pushing our lifestyles beyond natural and moral limits. I know you’re thinking, “But what about those diseases and disasters that seem to have no known connection to people’s misbehavior?” There’s the implication throughout the Bible that the reality of mankind’s sin has resulted in a fallen cosmos that no longer operates the perfect way God originally intended. An imperfect world seems to be the price we’re paying for the misuse of God’s gift of free choice.
Still, our world is filled with examples of good things happening. I believe that God is at work in countless ways. Many times I’ve seen good even come out of disaster and tragedy, and I suspect you have, too. God’s power to do good seems to be exceeded only by His power to have good result from evil.
I don’t know about you, but this is enough deep thinking for now. I’ve got to refill the bird feeders. I think I’ve created “Dave’s Diner” for the neighborhood birds.