Jesus Christ once said, “[God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). We’ve probably all witnessed this ourselves over time. But often, it leaves us with a question: Why? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people and vice versa? Or what about natural disasters? Why does God allow bad things to happen to random people? These are hard questions we sometimes struggle to answer.
The first thing to recognize is that regardless of His reasons, God has the authority to make the decisions and/or allow things to happen.
On a surface level, we might think God is being unfair. For example, we can look at the Bible and see that God says we are to keep His commandments out of a love and respect for Him (Deuteronomy 30:16, Micah 6:8, John 14:15, 1 John 2:2-6). One might assume that if we did this, he’d treat us pretty nice, right? So why do bad things sometimes happen? Is it because we slipped up and sinned?
While there can be natural consequences for sin, this isn’t always the case. In John 9:2, Jesus' disciples asked this question about a blind man. Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3). In this case, Christ says this man was blind so that the works of God—indeed the divinity of Christ—could be shown. Regardless of the exact reason, He says it happens for a reason.
The first thing to recognize is that regardless of His reasons, God has the authority to make the decisions and/or allow things to happen. It’s helpful to look at the context of what Jesus was talking about when He made the statement about rain falling on the just and unjust in Matthew 5:45. At that time some people only treated those people that they perceived as righteous well. In pointing out that a Christian should treat all people with love and respect, Christ said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). Jesus was addressing the problem of people casting judgment on others. But it brings out a broader spiritual principle: If only God has the ability to judge people and bless or curse them with or without rain in due season, then it goes to follow that only He can decide how to deal with people both specifically, and humanity as a whole.
Still, we’re left with the question, why allow suffering?
Before answering that question, let’s look at this from a different angle. Do we ever wonder why God allows good things to happen to people? Even to people who might not believe the same way you do? For example, perhaps a man grew up a bitter atheist, raised to believe that if he was a good boy, good things would happen to him. When bad things began to happen to him, he concluded that God was a fairy tale. At a point much later in life, something happened in his life to show him that God existed! He begins to pray and ask God for help and understanding, and God begins to open his mind and lead Him. Does this happen overnight? Of course not. While the atheist might still be in the learning process, will he do everything the right way? Probably not. But since he is beginning to recognize and understand the need for God in his life, God begins to work with him.
As an outward observer, we have no way of knowing what is in someone’s heart. Only God knows the heart (Jeremiah 17:10). In addition, note what the apostle Paul said when people were judging how well he was obeying God: “For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Corinthians 4:4-5). We simply do not know what is in another person’s heart. We don’t know how long God has been working with them, or what their attitude is. God and God alone knows their hearts and decides if and how to answer their prayers.
So does this mean God just randomly does good and bad? Not at all. But the example of the atheist shows us that God is present in our lives and listening. But there are times when forces—whether they be man-made natural--are set in motion and unfold before our eyes in a tragic way.
We live in a world that has, by and large, rejected following God. We can trace this back to the choice Adam and Eve had between the two trees—that of life, and that of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-7). Most people, even Christians, have struggled to worship God the way He wants to be worshipped. We try to cram Him into our lives between soccer practice and work. Even into the holidays we try to celebrate. Perhaps you’ve examined the origins of Christmas and found the presence of Christ lacking (more on that here). Because of mankind’s overall rejection of God, He has allowed this world to take a course other than what it could have taken in the garden of Eden. Satan is now the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). The choice made in the garden of Eden has been compounded by billions of choices over human history. We now reap the natural consequences of those choices.
The good news is that this time will not last forever. A time is coming when Jesus Christ will return to this Earth and establish God’s kingdom on Earth! (Revelation 19:11-21). Until then, we can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Consider what Paul wrote: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We are exhorted to pray for all people, not just believers of like mind. Why? Because God desires for all people to come to the knowledge of the truth.
His desire, His goal, His aim, is to have a relationship with everyone. While that will not be fulfilled until the return of Jesus Christ, we can find comfort and hope through a relationship with God, even in the midst of tragedy.