Do Tragedies Mean There Is No God?

Naturally, our thoughts turn to the attempt of answering the biggest question that arises after tragedy- “Why?”  Why didn’t God stop this tragedy from happening?  How I wish I had answers to the question of “why?” and the myriad of others that certainly come to mind, but I do not.  The questions that surround such a terrible tragedy will most likely never be provided to us this side of heaven.  Sadly, in the face of tragedy we often hear a number of comments that are the products of some bad theologizing and do little to give comfort and hope to those who are hurting.

I’m sure you are like me and have heard others say when something tragic occurs, “It’s God’s will.”  To be honest, I don’t believe that at all.  I do not think everything that occurs on earth is the will of God.  It wasn’t God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings on 9/11.  When a child is abducted it isn’t God’s will.  Abortion, drug abuse, and adultery are not God’s will.  And it’s extremely difficult to imagine the death of a young person being God’s will.  I want to be clear in making this statement that in no way does this discredit the immutability or sovereignty of God.  God is God- He never changes and He works all of history according to His plan and its eventual consummation.  Yet, God has also given us free will and we often use that free will to do things that do not please God.  So, when bad things occur we must not blame God for causing them and saying He willed it to happen.  This is why I have never been comfortable with the statement, “God took him/her.”  That implies God caused their tragic death, which isn’t true.  Bad things occur because we live on a fallen planet that has been cursed by our sin (see Rom. 8:21-23).

Something that has always helped me to understand the complexity of God’s will, a fallen world, and God’s sovereignty is the attitude of Joseph in regard to the events of his life.  When reunited with his brothers who did him wrong, he said in Gen. 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Was it “God’s will” that Joseph’s brothers threw him in a hole and sold him into slavery?  I don’t think so.  Did God work in spite of sinful actions to place Joseph in Egypt just in time to save the people from famine? Yes.  Not everything that happens on this earth is God’s will, but He can use bad things to bring about eventual positive results.

Another statement I sometimes hear at times of tragedy deals with the character and ability of God.  In other words, “Why didn’t God stop this bad thing from happening?  If He really is a God of love He would stop it.  If He really is all-powerful he would prevent bad things from happening.”  Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a famous book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” where he basically posits that God is simply unable to stop all the bad things that occur.  I disagree.  If God were not omnipotent (all-powerful), then by definition, He wouldn’t be God.  Imagine the world if God stopped everything bad or painful from ever occurring.  What would that say about the consequences of our actions?  If God did this, would it be an encroachment on the free will with which He created us?  As parents, do you not let your children make some mistakes in order for them to learn?  Is it not true that many times it is the crucible of pain that grows and strengthens us?  Is not the motto of an athlete in training “No pain no gain?”  If God never allowed anything bad to happen then the existence of the universe would be centered on us.  The point of life would be that we never experience pain, loss, or discomfort.  However, life and all that exists carries the purpose of glorifying God.  I once remember watching an episode of the Twilight Zone as a kid where a man received everything he ever wanted.  Everything went perfectly his way.  He thought he was in heaven. Yet, in the end, it turned out that the man was in hell.

It’s obviously difficult to address all of the ramifications of what we are to think about God in the face of tragedy.  My point is to simply say we must not make God something He is not in order to make sense of tough times.  Regardless of what happens in life, we must rest our anchor on the fact that God is perfectly loving, all-powerful, and sovereign to the end.  In my experience of helping families through times of tragedy, I have learned that it is best to focus on these things we do know about God, rather than on the things we don’t know.  We can never forget that God is God and He is not like us.  We are unable to grasp the “why?” of all that occurs and all that He does.  If our little three-pound brains could figure out everything about God, then He wouldn’t be much of a God.

Consider these Bible verses:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8).

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecc.11:5).

God can see a bigger picture that we will never see.  And in the midst of tragedy, we must know that God’s love for us and His desire to comfort us, heal us, and give us hope is never diminished.  In the New Testament there is a story about a young man named Lazarus who is a friend of Jesus who dies.  Jesus goes to his home and spends time with the family who is grieved and crying.  And it is in this story that we see the shortest verse in the whole Bible- “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  I find it interesting that this is the shortest verse in the Bible.  In the midst of tragedy and grief, we might expect the longest verse in the Bible- to explain to us why the friend died, and what was God’s plan and purpose.  But we are not given any of that.  All we are given is the compassion of the Savior.  We need to remember that when we weep, God weeps with us.  Psalm 56:8 states that God puts our tears in his bottle and records them in His book.  His heart breaks for those whose hearts are broken.  Tragic deaths do not show God to be weak or uncaring.  In fact, it shows his power and his desire to comfort us.

So, what is left for us is not to doubt God or be mad at God or blame God, but to trust God.  Tragedy is a time for all of us to draw closer to God, not to withdraw from Him. We must trust God that He loves us and will strengthen and heal us in our greatest times of pain and loss.


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