Bible Q&A: Why doesn’t God stop all bad things from happening?

Our Bible Q&A series explores the questions you’ve asked us about the Bible.

This article represents the author’s personal view. It accords with Bible Society’s values, but is not intended to express our position as an organisation.

Question: Why doesn’t God stop all bad things from happening?

Answer:

I suspect more people than usual will currently be asking this question. Christians naturally turn to the Bible, yet the Bible offers no seamless answer to the problem of pain. It speaks in stories and images, and tackles this thorny issue in more ways than one.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5 that death came into the world through Adam. Genesis 3 adds that evil, embodied by the snake, was already there, before humans ate of the forbidden fruit. Job reminds us that suffering is a mystery and the only sensible response is to submit to the sovereignty of God. Ecclesiastes suggests that suffering is the great leveller and that the equation, righteous living = God’s blessing, doesn’t always add up. The Old Testament prophets tend to draw a link between Israel’s disobedience and God’s judgement. In the New Testament, the evil and suffering we encounter in daily life is merely the tip of the iceberg: a fierce cosmic battle between God/Jesus on the one hand and Satan/evil spirits on the other.

In other words, the Bible seems to say that there is no straightforward answer to the problem of suffering. It is multifaceted. It is complex. And like Job, we have to admit our inability to second-guess God. He is sovereign. The great thing is that in the midst of turmoil, Job still hears the voice of God. He has suffered. He has been tested. But he hasn’t been abandoned.

Let’s imagine someone in a situation of extreme distress or even mortal danger. Which would provide more solace? An elegant, reasoned, watertight answer to why this is happening to this unfortunate individual and why God is not stopping it? Or the experience of Paul: 'The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus' (Philippians 4.7)?

My native language is German, and ‘Autumn’ is one of the 20th-century Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems that has entered the collective German-speaking consciousness. He starts off by describing the leaves falling from the trees and then uses it as a metaphor for universal death and decay. Rilke doesn’t conclude that, therefore, God is either callous or doesn’t exist. On the contrary – like Job and like Paul, he concludes: 'Thus all doth fall ... but there is One who holds this falling infinitely softly in His hands.'

In other words, while we can’t know for sure why God is not stopping individual or collective crises from happening, we can know that his presence and his peace are still there to guard our hearts and minds.

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