When life is seemingly spinning out of control, when terrible tragedies are imposed upon our friends and families, when one person's careless decision affects us in horrible ways, it's really difficult to reconcile how a loving God would have participation in such pain. To say that "God made this happen" is too hurtful to even conceive because wouldn’t that mean He wanted us to suffer? If God loves us so much, how could that possibly be true?
People like to say, "Everything happens for a reason; therefore it was meant to be." Um, not necessarily. This trite explanation we often hear is a bit of a misnomer and honestly ZERO comfort to those experiencing grief or suffering. Yes, God sees a much bigger picture than we do (Ecclesiastes 7:14), but we don't have the benefit of that perspective. Yes, God knows where all this is going, but we're stuck within the confines of time. Yes, God sees order and providence, but we often only see chaos and coincidences. Yes, God loves us and wants what's best for us, but that doesn't mean the actions of a sinful world or our own sinful choices won't have certain consquences.
Sometimes we make stupid choices, and the result is suffering. Was there a reason you got sent to the principal's office? Well, yeah, because you were cheating on a test and got caught. That's cause and effect. But God can still use a boneheaded mistake to bring about good things. Perhaps you were never meant to choose cheating, but perhaps getting in trouble for cheating will make it less likely that you'll cheat in the future.
Our every word and action, whether good or evil, could result in certain inevitable consequences (Galatians 6:7-8; Colossians 3:23-25). We could consider our chosen words and actions as investments in either the world or in God's Kingdom (2 Corinthians 9:6). Where will we "sow" our seeds—the flesh or the Spirit? (See Jeremiah 18:10; 2 Peter 2:10-12.)
Yes and no. Yes, it is true that nothing happens without God's allowance of it (Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 147:5). Our God is sovereign, totally in control of every single situation (Romans 8:28). He will bring beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). God cares for even the tiniest tragedies, like the death of a sparrow, with the utmost care (Matthew 10:29). His providence for mankind is evident everywhere we look (Matthew 6:25-34).
The Bible tells us that tragedy, trials, and tribulations afford an opportunity for God to do beautiful things in our lives (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 4:12-13), but that doesn't necessarily mean it was "meant to be." Sin was never a part of the "plan," yet God used the mistakes of the first human beings to show His love for people in the most magnificent way possible (Isaiah 53:1-12; 1 Corinthians 15:45).
The world is fallen, overrun by sin in every way. Sometimes, even under God's authority, Satan uses the fallen world to hurt us (see Job 1-2; Luke 9:37-42; 13:16). Grave illness, genetic deformities, freak accidents, tragic deaths, and the like are all things we may encounter. Yet we cannot forget that God's authority reigns supreme, despite what the surface level "reasons" appear to be, and He sees good potential in everything.
In John 9, the blind man was blind for some reason (although the disciples were wrong about the reason), yet God used it to show Jesus' healing power (John 9). When Joseph's brothers basically treated him like a despised slave, God used those events to weave an incredible destiny for their abused brother (Genesis 50:20). The Jerusalem authorities had evil intentions for crucifying Jesus, yet God used this pivotal moment for righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
If we allow ourselves to work through our grief, over time, we can eventually find goodness and purpose in the past's painful shadows (Jeremiah 29:11; Proverbs 19:21). No misfortune in life is too terrible or tragic to keep God's light from shining through in some way. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good purposes.
Even though we know intellectually that God is sovereign and will use tragedy for glory, that is often no comfort to the person who is grieving. No matter why God let it happen, their lives will still be changed forever. The "what could have been" will no longer be, and they need to be allowed to grieve that loss. The future they'd expected will no longer come to pass. The opportunity to live life "how it should be" is now gone.
Freshly-crushed hearts only see a world spinning out of control in numb disbelief of a new reality. Don't tell them, "It's going to be okay," because sometimes it isn't. The fact that God will use these events for good purposes is a perspective one can only unearth over time. When wounds are fresh, when souls anguish, they don't need a reminder that "there's a reason" in order to find comfort. Those words provide no comfort.
If we somehow knew God's reason for allowing suffering in our lives, would our grief-filled heart see that reason as "good enough"? Pain often makes no sense whatsoever. Yet when it feels hardest to trust God, that is the most vital time to trust in His wisdom and sovereignty (Psalm 91:1-16). During those hard times, trusting God is critical for survival.
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." —Jeremiah 17:7-8
So what should you do if your loved one is suffering? Hold their hands tight as the days dive into dark obscurity. Meet their eyes and say, "Yes, I know it hurts. I'm here."
When we're looking for a reason behind the madness that is life, instead of acknowledging a lie that says, "God, where were You when I was hurting?" or "Why did you make me suffer?" ask Him to help you see His hidden guidance, providence, and eternal perspective. God is quietly arranging the natural world around us, working out His good purposes in the physical and social universe. He does this so expertly that it's sometimes hard to see His miraculous work, especially while the storm is raging. These things may look like coincidences (either good or bad ones), but believers know that God is always present and in control—even when He is unseen—and that He is working toward our ultimate good in everything (Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:6).
Nothing happens without God's allowance of it (Ecclesiastes 7:14; Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 147:5). Our God is sovereign, totally in control of every situation (Romans 8:28). He brings beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). God's providence for His creation is evident everywhere we look (Matthew 10:29; Matthew 6:25-34). Although we don't have God's eternal perspective, if we allow ourselves time to grieve, we can eventually find goodness and purpose in past suffering (Jeremiah 29:11; Proverbs 19:21; Philippians 1:6). No misfortune in life is too terrible or tragic to keep God's light from shining through in some way (Romans 8:28). When we're looking for a reason behind the crazy in life, instead of acknowledging a lie that says, "God, where were You when I was hurting?" or "Why did you make me suffer?", ask Him to help you see His hidden guidance, providence, and eternal perspective.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org and loves to write novellas with local young writers at her workshops. She also contributes at GotQuestions.org, Blogos.org, and GQkidz.org. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her two kids, five socially awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.