In his closing to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about two men who built homes. One built his home on the shifting sand, and the other built his home on the stable rock. Then the storms came, the winds blew, the rain fell and the house built on the sand collapsed and fell. Meanwhile, the house built on the rock stood firm.
In this story we see some important truths: We all will have storms in life. The rain will fall on the just and the unjust (see Matt. 5:45). Good things will happen. Bad things will happen. Inexplicable things will happen. And we had better decide now what foundation we are built on, because every life will have its share of pain.
God’s Power to Bring Good From Bad
We can’t live a trouble-free life. We can’t take a vacation from human suffering and tragedy. Maybe that is why former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli summed up life in this pessimistic way: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
Allow me to offer another possibility: There is a God who, despite the worst tragedy, can bring good out of bad. That is what I believe, and that is what the Bible teaches. This is not to say that God will make what is bad good, because bad is bad. But it is to say that good can come out of bad.
The Bible says, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom. 8:28). Or, a better translation would be, “He is causing all things to work and to continue to work together for good.”
This is a process, you see. You might look at your life and at a tragedy that has befallen you and be unable to see any good right now. But a while later, you might see a little good. And it may not be until you reach eternity that you see the big picture and the complete good. But until that day, God promises that he can bring good out of bad.
Christians Face Hardship Too . . . Why?
Some people believe that Christians are exempt from human suffering. They think bad things happen to nonbelievers but not to Christians. However, inexplicable things happen to godly people. Christians get cancer. Christians die in accidents. Christians have all the problems that other people generally have. And sometimes that comes as a shock to us.
We are surprised when we have problems in life, problems in our careers and problems with our families. After my son Christopher died in an automobile accident, some people said to me, “I can’t believe this happened to you, of all people.” I guess the idea was that because I’m a pastor and preach the gospel, I should somehow get a free pass on the suffering the rest of the human race experiences.
Yet, the Bible teaches that everyone will have hardship. The apostle Paul wrote:
“Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” —Romans 5:2–5
It’s difficult to fit some of those words together. How can the words “problems” and “trials” exist in the same passage of Scripture as the statement, “We know how dearly God loves us”? If God loves us, then why doesn’t he remove our trials and problems?
Because he loves us.
John’s gospel tells us that when Mary and Martha realized how ill their brother Lazarus was, they sent word to Jesus and simply said, “He whom you love is sick” (John 11:3).
In other words, “Lord, remember us, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, here in Bethany. We are your friends. You hang out in our home whenever you’re in town. Remember Martha? She is the one who makes the killer meals. Mary is the one who sits at your feet. And Lazarus? He’s your friend. And your friend is sick.”
They probably thought Jesus simply would speak a word, and Lazarus would be healed instantly. Or perhaps Jesus would rush to Bethany and lay his hand on Lazarus’ fevered brow.
Instead, we read that Jesus delayed his arrival. In fact, when Jesus heard about Lazarus, he said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4).
Although Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, he stayed where he was. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die, but then he raised him from the dead. The point was that God wanted to bring greater glory to his name.
The Meaning of ‘Good’
So, while it’s true that God loves us and works all things together for good, I think the problem arises with our definition of how God should show that love and what we feel that “good” ought to be in our lives. We think that “good” means no pain, no suffering and no hardship. “Good” means a problem-free life with the sun shining and the birds singing.
Don’t get me wrong. That sounds pretty appealing to me. As a matter of fact, we will have many beautiful days of joy, peace, happiness and good times. But there will be trials as well. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Here’s the problem: Our definition of “good” is what benefits us in the here and now, not in the by-and-by. We are interested in what will benefit us temporarily, but God is interested in what will benefit us eternally. We are interested in what will make us happy, while God is far more interested in what will make us holy.
Jesus loves us, and he wants to be glorified through our lives. He won’t always remove suffering, because it can make us stronger and bring us closer to him. Suffering can give us a platform from which we can glorify God and point others to him.