|Why do bad things happen to good people?
When I was in graduate school, my mother battled lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Arduous chemotherapy caused severe complications and near-death. Her suffering was agonizing to watch, and I wondered why this awful disease had stricken her. How could something so awful happen to someone so good?
When she reached remission, we were thrilled. But only months later, traitorous scans revealed liver cancer. Would the horror never cease?
Maybe you can relate to a devastating diagnosis. Or perhaps a person, rather than circumstances, caused your pain — a dishonest colleague, an unfaithful spouse, a malicious bully or an unreliable friend.
I want to understand the purpose behind suffering. I want to know why offenders sometimes go unpunished — or even thrive. I want things to feel fair! Can you relate?
In the Old Testament, Jeremiah pleaded with God over this: Why does wickedness prosper? He penned these words over 2,500 years ago, and we’re still wondering.
As a prophet, Jeremiah ministered in Judah about 600 years before Christ. Small states like Judah subsisted between ambitious, powerful empires like Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Jeremiah shifted in and out (mostly out) of favor with kings, even imprisoned. He attempted God’s work, but evil seemed to surround him. God’s people — stubborn, corrupt and selfish — turned away from faith, despite Jeremiah’s calls for repentance. God even threatened to withdraw His favor and His covenant. (Jeremiah 16:13)
Does this sound familiar?
Despite God’s desire to see people turn to Him, many believers and nonbelievers alike don’t choose His path. Whether we experience evil at the hands of others or at the crossroads of difficult circumstances, it doesn’t seem fair. Sometimes it feels like God ignores the issue or even blesses sinful behavior. And maybe, like Jeremiah, the wrongdoing looks to us like an obstacle in our calling.
When I wrestle with injustice, Jeremiah’s first sentence gives me pause: “Righteous are you, O LORD …” (Jeremiah 12:1a). In the original Hebrew language, “righteous” means “just, blameless, innocent,” or to be “in the right.”
Jeremiah doesn’t understand his suffering, yet he affirms God’s righteousness first.
I can definitely work on that. When cancer struck my mom a second time, I was stunned. I wish I could say I immediately went to God, but I was too shocked and too scared.
Jeremiah recognizes God’s character, and trusts this above all. He doesn’t accuse God of wrongdoing. He doesn’t get angry and give God the silent treatment. Instead, when Jeremiah doesn’t understand his circumstances, he admits his struggle and asks the Lord for help. As for me, I was terrified God’s plan would steal my mother from me. I prayed a seemingly impossible prayer, asking for the courage to let her go if that was His plan.
Jeremiah trusts God, even in devastation, and we can follow his example. We worship a fair, loving and merciful God. His ways are not our ways, and we won’t always understand them (Isaiah 55:8), but we can rest in His character and His promises to hear us. The Lord guided my mom through additional treatments and an eventual transplant. To this day, she calls herself a “walking miracle.” However, not everyone sees this result.
God doesn’t immediately remove Jeremiah’s suffering either. In fact, it gets worse before it gets better. But God assures Jeremiah that the wicked will ultimately perish (vv. 7-13), and the invaders will fall (vv. 14-17). And despite the horrific sins of His wayward people, God grants restoration and renewal.
Let’s learn this lesson with Jeremiah: Even in the darkest times, remember and trust God’s character. We can bring Him our discouragement, despair and downfalls. He is a God of justice, even — and sometimes especially — when our circumstances are not what we hoped for.
Lord, I see evil in the world, but I also see You. Help me remember that You are a loving Father weaving all things together for good for those who love You. When I face challenges or injustice, remind me You are my refuge. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.