How Can I Trust a God Who Lets Bad Things Happen?
By Greg Wright

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(r), Copyright (c) 1960, 1962, 1963,
1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Our text is from Proverbs 3:5. It is a verse about trusting God. Perhaps many of you memorized this verse as a child. Some of us, perhaps, were awarded special prizes for memorizing this verse and others. I don't remember the prize, but what I do remember is the way this verse has served to encourage me throughout my life, even as a young man.

Here it is, from Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding."

Notice that it says, "Trust in the Lord." Not in your friends, for even the kindest people will disappoint you.

Not in our talents and abilities, for it often pleases the Lord to bring us to the end of ourselves that we might learn to lean upon Him.

Not in our own righteousness, for it is only the righteousness of Christ that pleases God, while ours is worse than filthy rags.

How much are we to trust in God? The verse says, "with all your heart."

Not with mere mental assent, for knowing facts about God and knowing God are two different things.

Not with just your emotions and feelings. Certainly a sincere love and trust for God will engage our emotions. But for God to be trusted with all our heart, the trust must be confirmed by our most deeply held beliefs and expectations.

So what are those things for which we trust God?

We are to trust God for temporal things, for He understands the things we need in order to live.

We are to trust God for spiritual things, for He knows our spiritual poverty even better than we do.

And we are especially to trust Him during times of affliction. Not only does He have the power and strength to help us, but He is moved to help us because of His unchanging love, grace, and mercy.

We are not to rely on our own understanding. According to Proverbs 14:12, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." How many of the brightest and best among us -- men who speak with eloquence and quote with ease the great philosophers -- how many of these remain in darkness when it comes to the Word of God and the knowledge of Salvation.

We are not to rely on our feelings, for our feelings will deceive us.

We are not to rely on our intuition and experience.

Rather, we are to humbly acknowledge the limitations of the wisdom of Man, and we are to quiet our hearts and trust in God.

Someone might ask, "How can I trust a God who lets bad things happen?"

That's what we are going to explore now, the problem of trusting God during difficult times.

Isaiah 61:3, as it is given in the King James Version, speaks of God comforting His people, giving them, " beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified."

For some of you today, when you look at your lives you see ashes, there is mourning, and there is heaviness in your spirit. However, if you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, our Sovereign God, the God who uses all things for your good and His glory, is committed to bringing beauty out of the ashes in your life, joy out of the things that make you mourn, and praise out of your heavy spirit.

In a way, we acknowledge a kind of trust in God every time we pray. We wouldn't pray at all unless we thought God could act on our behalf.

What motivates you to pray? One thing that is a perpetual motivation for me to pray is the huge responsibility of driving a motor vehicle.

Responsibility of driving an automobile.
When one sets out to drive an automobile, he takes on a grave and serious responsibility.

It was the sober recognition of this responsibility that motivated me to create this driving prayer, something I pray almost every time I get in my car: that God would not let any harm come to me, to my automobile, to my property, or to my passengers, and that God would not let me cause or participate in any harm to anyone else or to their automobiles, property, or passengers.

Until I was forty-four years old, God had always kept me safe while driving. Then one day, shortly after Steve died, I was in an automobile accident. The fact that the accident occurred shortly after Stephen's death made it really irritating. But the thing that exacerbated the situation was the way I had just diligently prayed for safety.

Although I would recover from the back injury in a few weeks, it took a while longer to recover from the damage done to my faith.

The problem of not trusting God.

I really did not make much progress until I came to understand more about the basis for trusting God. It is easy to trust God while all of life goes smoothly. However, if we are to continue to trust God in difficult times, our basis for trust must be deeper than our immediate circumstances and experience. Our trust in God must be deeply rooted in our understanding of the character of God. It is through knowing the character of God that we grow in our ability to trust Him.

In addressing our privilege and responsibility to trust God at all times, there are certain aspects of God's character that are especially helpful to consider:

While it will not be possible to give any of these aspects of God's character a thorough treatment today, I hope to focus on each of these enough to encourage all of us towards growth, steadfastness, and persistence in waiting on God and in trusting God at all times and in all circumstances.

So let's dive in, starting with the Sovereignty of God.

The Sovereignty of God.
Several things quickly come to mind when we affirm the sovereignty of God:

In view of this, I would pose a question. If the will of God cannot be thwarted, is it not reasonable to assume that God uses even our mistakes for good -- our errors, our oversights, and our omissions?

I could build an altar to Guilt, and I could offer daily sacrifices of mourning and regret for not being more careful in monitoring my son's safety. Indeed, I sadly admit that Stephen and I should have been more careful regarding his BMX activities. But I also know that God is bigger than my mistakes and yours, and He is committed to bringing good out of them. So when Stephen crashed it did not thwart the plan of God. It did not force God to resort to a different plan. It was all anticipated, all foreseen by God.

One might ask, "Does not the sovereignty of God undermine human responsibility?"

The word of God clearly embraces both. We certainly see this in Acts 2:23 where Paul, referring to the crucifixion of Christ says, "this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." Here we see that although it was the will of the Father that Christ be crucified, the perpetrators were godless men, responsible for their godless acts.

How often do we see sovereignty and responsibility together in the Old Testament? God raises up a wicked nation to chasten idolatrous Israel, only later to punish that same nation. Certainly we see this in Isaiah 10:5-7, "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy, and to cut off many nations." So here we see Assyria, a tool of God, yet held accountable for its wickedness.

Hear is another question that people often ask, "If God is sovereign, then why is the world such a bad place to live? Why is there so much pain and suffering? Surely this cannot be the will of God.

There are people like Rabbi Kushner who will argue for a God who is good but not sovereign, a God who means well but does not have the power to control everything.

Some will argue for a God who is sovereign but uncaring about the suffering of His people. The temptation to think this way goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Satan first tempted Eve to doubt the goodness of God.

Some modern scholars will argue for a God who is still learning, a God who gets better over time, a God who makes mistakes and learns from them. To this we let scripture speak for itself. From Psalm 18:30 we read, "As for God, his way is blameless: The word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him." In other words, God is perfect: He never makes a mistake.

No, to understand the reason for the existence of evil we don't go the musings of men; we go to the Word of God. There we see that God created a perfect world and placed it under the stewardship of the then perfect man, Adam. When Adam and Eve sinned, they caused the whole world to come under the curse of God. And today, all the pain and suffering that we see in the world is the result of Adam's sin and the continued evil actions of sinful men.

Thus the stage was set for one of the most beautiful and glorious mysteries of the Sovereignty of God. This is the God who brings beauty out of ashes, the God who brings joy out of mourning, (see Isaiah 61). While God neither sins nor approves sin, God is pleased to use evil for good purposes. While sin is always a violation of the commands of God, it never takes place except when it is part of the will of God to allow it.

Nevertheless, the sinner is responsible for his wicked acts, regardless of how God chooses to use them and over-rule them for good. Indeed, unless the sinner turns to Christ, in the end he will glorify God by experiencing God's wrath.

But for our purposes here, if you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you can rejoice to know that God is pleased to bring beauty out of all the ashes in your life.

For the Christian, the sovereign God, the very same God who sees every sparrow fall, is patiently and deliberately at work in all that happens in your life, working to bring good out of it.

How can I compare the eternal value of "God working in me," to trials and disappointments in this world? Is it not worth whatever it costs to be conformed to the image of Christ? Do I treasure the security and the predictability of the unchallenged and uneventful day more than I treasure the privilege of having God at work in me, conforming me to the very image of His son?

May we all learn to rejoice in the sovereignty of God. And during those dark days when life is tough, may we rejoice to know that the Sovereign God, the God who does all his Holy will and whose plans cannot fail, knows us by name and is intimately involved in our lives for good.

Now let us turn to consideration of the wisdom of God.

The Wisdom of God.
When we consider the case of Job, do we not tremble at this dark Providence: all his children--dead; and all his wealth--looted, plundered, and destroyed. Yet he trusted God, as we read in Job 1:22, "Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God."

One might object that Satan did all this. Yes, but who gave Satan permission, as it says in Job 1:12, "Then the LORD said to Satan, 'Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.' So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD." You see, Satan was only the second cause: God was the first cause. Satan was just a tool, although Satan will some day bear the full punishment for all the misery he brought into the world.

Then, when Job refused to cave in under the pressure of Satan, Satan went back to God and received permission to attack Job's body.

From Job 2:6-10, "So the LORD said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.' Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die!' But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips."

Then the friends came. They started out being good friends, and they sat down with Job and mourned with Job in silence for seven days and seven nights. Who would do that today! But then they all began to talk, and these previously faithful friends became Job's accusers.

At last, under these miserable comforters and the uninterrupted afflictions of a body that was racked with pain from head to foot, Job's resolve weakened and he questioned the wisdom and justice of God, "Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; Let the Almighty answer me! And the indictment which my adversary has written." (Job 31:35)

Finally, God did answer him, but He never provided an explanation for his afflictions. Rather, he confronted Job with the glory of the infinite wisdom of God.

From Job 38:1-11, "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together; And all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who enclosed the sea with doors, when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; When I made a cloud its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band, And I placed boundaries on it, And I set a bolt and doors, And I said, 'Thus far you shall come and no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop'?'"

Job continues to listen as God questions him, till finally God demands a response, as seen in Job 40:2-5, "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it. Then Job answered the LORD and said, 'Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add no more.'"

This is where we all need to turn whenever we are tempted to question the Wisdom of God, to a careful consideration of the infinite wisdom of God's works in creation. We might think we have a valid argument with God. However, if we carefully consider the majesty of the wisdom of God, it will be easier to see the limitations of our own wisdom and to quiet our hearts before Him.

When Stephen died on February 8, 2001, I was in the middle of reading the book of Job. So I knew that it would be folly to accuse God, and I knew it would be wrong to question the wisdom of God.

But I did wonder about this, although I don't think I realized it at the time: I wondered how much God really loved me.

So having considered the wisdom of God, let us turn now to the love of God, and especially, the love of God in salvation.

The Love of God in Salvation.
One day, not long after Stephen died, I sat in the living room with my wife Nan and said this: "I am very confident that Steve is in heaven. But sometimes I wonder about myself; what if I don't make it to heaven."

Certainly, that seemed like a strange question to hear from one who was experientially acquainted with the Doctrines of Grace, and although my wife Nan was surprised that I would ask such a thing, she was very patient and very encouraging. "You're going to make it," she assured me. And she was able to say this because she knew that the same God who brought light out of darkness, the same God who regenerated us, is the very same God who is committed to keeping us from falling and to making us persevere to the end.

My insecurity at that time provided an example of how grief and other kinds of stress can impact and undermine our sense of God's love for us. For another example, certainly the apostle Paul had more than his share of stress. In Romans 8:35 we read, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"

Why would anyone think that being persecuted for Christ would separate us from the love of Christ? Why do you think Paul asked this question? This is what I think. Surely it is easy to feel loved when all is going well for us. But let a crisis come, and what is one of the first things that invade our minds:

And we can have these doubts, even in the context of being persecuted for Christ.

Most of us will never know the trauma of being stoned, tortured, or beaten with a whip. But imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by people who hate you so much that they would be delighted to rip the very flesh off your bones. In the midst of such hatred, how easy it would be for believers to see themselves separated from the love of God.

It is especially during times of grief and stress that we must cling tightly to the Word of God and what it reveals about the character of God. How essential it is to have our confidence and security grounded in truth rather than feelings, for during times of stress, feelings will let you down.

In order to be better grounded in truth, let us consider how God has loved the Christian. We know that God's love for his people dates back before the foundation of the world, "Just as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." (Ephesians 1:4)

What does this mean? It means that before the earth was made God already knew you, though you were not yet born. When the great flood covered the world, you were already in the mind of God. God knew your name, where you would be born, who your parents would be -- God knew all this because He ordained it. God is the first cause of your very existence.

It was God who determined the circumstances under which you would hear the gospel. And though when you trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior it seemed to you to be your personal choice and decision, it was God renewing your heart through the grace of regeneration that made you willing to trust.

It was God who gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit, that you might know and experience the presence of Christ, and it is God who will bring you safely home to Glory.

However, the love of God for you is not limited to saving you. No, the love of God for you extends to your day-to-day personal experience.

The Love of God in Your Personal Experience.
Speaking of my own personal experience, when I got upset about being in the automobile accident, I overlooked something very important. I was so upset about the accident that I overlooked the fact that I was forty-four years old before my first accident. This means that during twenty-seven years of driving God kept me safe from all accidents. Certainly, in the midst of disappointment it is easy to overlook the many ways God has blessed us.

But even the disappointments, are they not blessings in disguise? Consider the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. How many of these fruits require affliction before they can be developed?

They require the chastening hand of God. In Hebrews 12:5-13 the chastening of God is described, "And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, 'MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.' It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed."

Let us examine some of the ways that the chastening hand of God works for our good:

Perhaps this is the sweetest part of the chastening hand of God. For as Christ draws near to us, as He shows Himself to be that friend who is closer than a brother, it becomes firmly ingrained in our experience that God is for us. As it says in Romans 8:31, " If God is for us, who is against us?"

Because God is for us, He gave His son to be our ransom. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

Because God is for us, He comforts us with a deeper experience of Himself. "The LORD will command his loving kindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life." (Psalm 42:8)

Because God is for us, He does not willingly afflict us. As we see in Lamentations 3:33, "For he does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men." In other words, no affliction comes to us unless there is a need for it.

Because God is for us, He has pity and compassion for us, as we see in Psalm 103:13-14, "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust."

How much does it mean to you that God is for you -- when the physician confronts you with news of your failing health?

How much does it mean to you that God is for you -- when the business where you worked for many years announces cutbacks and you lose your job?

How much does it mean to you that God is for you -- when the car crashes and the life of one you love is taken?

How much does it mean to you that God is for you -- when you want to work but you can't because your back and knees are failing?

How much does it mean to you that God is for you -- when the child that held the focus of your love, your hope, and your dreams rebels against you?

How much does it mean to you that God is for you -- when all your hopes of a God-centered, happy marriage are dashed by infidelity?

How much does it mean to you that God is for you -- when on a warm day in February the Sovereign Hand of God removes your only child?

It means everything. It means that every event in our lives has a purpose, that nothing is truly random. It means we are not alone. It means that we can have hope that though our grief weigh heavily upon us, we will rejoice again. We will again lift up our voices in praise to God.

On the night Stephen died several people gave my wife Nan verses of scripture which would give her comfort and encouragement. She received them gladly, but she really wanted to hear from God. She wanted God Himself to give her a verse to hang onto. The next day as she was reading her Bible, Psalm 89:1-2 seemed to leap from the page,

"I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself." (New International Version)

Nan describes her experience this way: "When I read those verses I knew that was the message God was giving me. Those verses were to be my anchor and my guide through my dark night of grief. The message is not about comfort for the sorrowful, although God gives that too, but it is about God's faithfulness and His unquenchable mercy. Not only did God show me that I need to keep praising Him no matter what happens, but that He gives me the faith to do so."

I was confused. And although I did not admit it at the time, I could not understand how Nan could be singing about the faithfulness of God in the aftermath of the death of our only child. I know now that she was trusting in the character of God. She knew God, and she had great confidence in His character.

Let us rejoice in our God who is sovereign, who is powerful, who is wise, who loves us, and who promises to be with us always.

Let us exalt our God, who works all things out for good to those who know Him and are called according to His purpose.

Let us glorify our God by unconditionally trusting Him in all circumstances.

Let us submit to being torn away from all the things in this world that would draw us and distract us, and let us learn what it means to find our happiness and our joy in Christ. Then as we grow deeper in our communion with Him, may we never doubt His character.

To the lost.
I would speak, just for a moment, to those who do not yet know what it means to live for God, to those who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. For it is important that you be aware that the comfort described here is for believers. If you are not a believer, you are already under the wrath of God, as it is written in John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

Thankfully, God has Himself provided the means of reconciliation through His Son, Jesus Christ. Are you tired of being the enemy of God? Does your sin weigh heavily upon your soul? Do you long to be reconciled to the God who rules heaven and earth? Then come to Jesus.

You might say, "There is still much about theology that I do not understand."

Neither did most of us in the beginning, and most of us still have some questions. Do you know that you are a guilty, hell deserving sinner? Do you know that Jesus died in place of sinners? Do you know that Jesus is your only hope for eternal life? Are you willing to submit to Him as your Lord and to come to Him in faith, trusting only Him? Then you know enough. Come to Jesus.

Hear the Word of God: "For WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." (Romans 10:13) May God be pleased to grant you the grace to believe.

And now to all of us, may God give us the grace, the faith, and the perseverance, to trust in the character of God, to trust in Him with all our hearts, and to lean not on our own understanding.


Home Help for Those Who Grieve Reflections