How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 4

Click here for Part 1 of this article.

Click here for Part 2 of this article.

Click here for Part 3 of this article.

It’s time to face the music. It’s time to get busy and struggle with our faith. It’s time to search for what God is trying to tell us in allowing so much tragic suffering and death. It’s time to consider what God may be asking us to do about it.

First, we must simply admit:

7. We will never fully understand God’s actions

In Part 1 I said that I can’t answer all of your questions about why God allowed particular people—some of them people you loved and cared about—to die of cancer, or in an automobile accident, or from a hurricane or flood. That’s because I don’t know why God allowed these things to happen.

Only God’s understanding is infinite. Our understanding is small and limited. Often, we simply don’t have enough information to understand why God allowed an innocent person to die, and their loved ones to suffer.

Sometimes the best we can do is to trust that God actually does love everyone involved, and that in the eternal scheme of things there is some reason for what happened, even if it looks completely senseless to us.

Yes, if circumstances had been different, maybe things could have turned out better. However, God has to take into account all of the factors that affect our lives as they unfold. Those factors include the inexorable workings of a material universe that doesn’t care whether we puny humans live or die. They also include all of the human factors of love and hate, enlightenment and insanity, compassion and sadism, that make human life and human community so complex and tangled.

We humans see the particular circumstances that surround particular tragic events. God sees all of the circumstances, past, present, and future, near and far, that influence those events.

We see only the immediate aftermath of deaths due to accidents, cancer, or heart disease—and of natural disasters that claim thousands of lives. God sees the eternal consequences of those events.

Where is God in this?

As the years pass and we look back on the events of our lives from a longer perspective, we may gradually come to see and understand more of the factors that God took into consideration in providing for or permitting events to unfold as they did.

In case it’s not clear by now, God never causes evil things to happen. Here’s how it works:

  • God provides for good things to happen to us.
  • God permits evil things to happen to us.

And as I said earlier, God permits evil things to happen to us only if it was necessary for our freedom and our salvation.

Also, if God does allow something evil to happen, then there must be some good that can come from it. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it was good that it happened. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that something good will come from it. Only that something good can come from it.

Whether or not something good does come from it is up to us.

The greatest good that can come from human tragedies is that it may cause those of us who see and experience them to grow in compassion for others who are suffering. When tragedy prompts us to get busy and do something for those who need our help and care, it is part of our growth toward angelhood. (See, for example, “Ihor Lakatosh’s Story: How Healing the Body Helps the Soul.”)

When we make the decision to respond with care and compassion, we give those who are suffering the gift of knowing that even in their darkest times, someone truly cares about them. That’s what human life is all about.

This brings us to our final point:

8. Whatever happens, we can choose to grow spiritually from the experience

I can’t tell you why the tragedies you grieve happened. Only God knows. We can only hope that it will become clearer in time.

I also can’t say anything simple that will make it all better. You must still face these severe temptations and tests of your faith.

What I can say is that painful trials and temptations are a necessary part of our spiritual development.

But more than that, when we are going through these harrowing tests of faith, we are most fully engaged with our true humanity. In fact, we are forming our humanity. To adapt the famous line of Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try men’s souls.

Under ordinary circumstances and on ordinary days, we simply go about our business, doing what we have to do to in order to survive in this world. Yes, these ordinary days and small moments do build up the sinew of our lives, and gradually mold us into emotionally and spiritually mature adults. Not even the smallest moment of our life is wasted.

But consider what is going on when we are facing the ultimate questions of life!

Consider what is happening when we are questioning the very foundations of our faith!

Consider what we are doing when we face these heart-wrenching spiritual crises!

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

At these moments, we are like Caesar at the Colosseum, watching the gladiators fight their battles. When the battle has ended and the fate of the combatants hangs in the balance, everyone in the stadium looks to Caesar. Will his thumb point up toward life? Or will it point down toward death?

That is the ultimate power we have over our own life when we face these agonizing battles of spiritual trial and temptation.

Our life on earth is a spiritual Colosseum where we fight the life-or-death battles in our soul that will determine our eternal future. It is not designed to be easy. It is designed to bring us face to face with the ultimate questions of life.

We are not meant to avoid or run away from these deep and harrowing questions. If we are to be truly human, and become angels, then we must enter the fray. We must face the foes of evil, pain, suffering, uncertainty, anxiety, and all the other “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

When we are facing these spiritual battles we are at our most human because that is when we make the ultimate choices of who and what we will be. Whichever way we point our thumb—up, down, or sideways—that is the direction our life will go. In these times of anguished trial and temptation, we determine the meaning of all the other, ordinary daily moments of our lives.

That’s why I can’t answer your questions for you. You will have to struggle to find answers for yourself. I do hope, though, that the ideas I have offered here will give you some clearer light and a better perspective from which to face the battle, and move from darkness and anxiety into the light and peace of greater understanding.

To achieve greater understanding, we must be willing to let go of our own ideas about how God ought to run the universe so that we can gradually come to understand how and why God does run the universe.

What does God have in mind for you in these events?

When we are willing to let our old ideas and our old self die, and let God give us a new self and new meaning for our life, we will also grow in our ability to help and comfort friends and family who are suffering from tragedy and loss.

Perhaps that is why God has allowed these things to happen in your life.

Perhaps you are experiencing these particular tragedies because God is asking you to grow in compassion for those who are suffering from their losses.

Perhaps God is challenging you to think more deeply about the meaning of your life and your relationships.

Perhaps God sees that through facing the painful spiritual battles that these tragedies have triggered in your soul, you may become a comfort and a blessing to friends and family who are struggling and in pain because of them.

Perhaps through the seemingly random and senseless illness and death of those you care about, you can grow in love, understanding, and compassion.

If so, you will be moving closer to the eternal future of enlightenment and love for your fellow human beings that God has had in mind for you from the moment you were born.

This four-part article is a response to three spiritual conundrums submitted by readers.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, Spiritual Growth
10 comments on “How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 4
  1. Richard says:

    Kudos, Lee, on a very masterfully presented piece of work. I especially liked this last segment!

    Interestingly, this last piece has many parallels to some writings I have been penning for either my own blog or perhaps self-publication, in my own search for understanding and inner growth as I try to deal with my current life’s circumstances.

    Though my writings may not reflect the same points of view having all the same spiritual references as your piece does, it is eerily similar in overtone. It is a bit ironic how closely they travel as they unravel in their nature to present perspective.

  2. Richard says:

    You’re probably right. I must have been subconsciously searching for someone just like you to offer the right kind of support with the proper perspective and presentation.

  3. Baldeep Kaur says:

    Very nicely written Lee. Recent Malaysian airline & Gaza tragedies makes one question the strength in the positive energy.One feels everything around is breaking apart and one feels ashamed to be human. Dalai Lama said somewhere that there is more goodness in the world than evil but as a society we focus more on the negative than the positive. I try my best to keep my faith in positive energy alive and thriving but it is sad to see negative forces win again and again. or is it that they have already lost as they decided to embrace negativity…

    • Lee says:

      Hi Baldeep,

      Thanks for your thoughts. It certainly is a battle for light to overcome darkness both within us and in our world. I do like the thought that for evil, winning is losing. The more it operates, the more it brings about its own demise.

      • Richard says:

        Unfortunately, since the existence of evil is a necessity in our human existence here on Earth, it can never really bring about its own demise regardless of its persistent efforts to influence or destroy anything and everything it can

        As you’ve said, all evil cannot be extinguished from our lives without extinguishing us in the process, no? Therefore, sadly, no such ultimate demise could ever occur over any period of time.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Richard,

          Yes, good points. I was speaking more poetically than literally.

          Evil tends to be self-limiting, in that there is no coherence and solidarity in it. Sooner or later, instead of attacking the good as it desires to do, it turns on itself and becomes “a house divided against itself,” to use Jesus’ words (Matthew 12:25).

          For example, a government whose officials are motivated by concern for the welfare of its people can work together harmoniously to achieve constructive goals for the country it governs.

          However, a government whose officials are motivated by a desire for money and power will be riven by infighting and backstabbing as each tries to gain more money and power than the others in government. So that government’s doom is inevitable. It has happened to empire after empire throughout history–and is still happening today in our modern empires.

          So although I agree with you that evil does not go away in an ultimate sense, but persists to eternity, it exists in a state of continual self-limiting internal strife and revolution, causing particular evil people and groups to rise up to power and then inevitably fall to weakness, subjection to others, and (in this world) death under the weight of their own evil.

          This is what takes place over time to evil individuals, groups, and nations here on earth, and this is what takes place in hell to eternity.

        • Lee says:

          About evil being extinguished from our lives:

          This can happen through a process of spiritual growth and rebirth during our lifetime here on earth.

          It is true that we will never rid ourselves of 100% of our evil impulses. There will always be shadows in our life. Even the highest angels are not perfectly pure.

          However, what matters most is what Swedenborg calls our “ruling love” or “primary love.” Whatever we put first in our life–whether loving God, our fellow human beings, money, or power–that will determine the overall nature of our life.

          If, through a process of spiritual rebirth here on earth, we put God and our fellow human beings first in our loves and priorities, then the evil parts of ourselves will be pushed more and more to the side, and our life will be one of love, understanding, and service to God and our fellow human beings despite our remaining flaws.

  4. Walt Childs says:

    Excellent points, Lee, and a perfect conclusion to this series.

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