Everything Happens for a Reason?
God's Purposes in a World Gone Bad
By Paul Enns, Jim Vincent
Moody Publishers Copyright © 2012 Paul Enns
All rights reserved.
Why Do Bad Things Happen?
Just a decade ago, on a blue-sky morning with most workers in their offices in downtown New York City, a U.S. jetliner crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, some twenty stories from the top. Eighteen minutes later, another commercial jet slammed into the south tower, engulfing the upper floors in a gigantic ball of fire. Americans were stunned to learn that both planes had been hijacked by Arab Muslim extremists.
Billowing clouds of gray smoke churned across the ground surrounding the twin towers, and debris cascaded from above. Screaming in terror, people fled from the buildings, streaming into the streets as they ran to save their lives. Desperate and unable to escape the inferno, some people jumped to their deaths on the pavement below. One couple held hands as they jumped from the building.
STREETS STAINED WITH BLOOD
The graphic pictures of men and women fleeing the billowing smoke in terror, others disoriented, bloodied, and covered with soot, will forever remain etched in the minds of television viewers. A mountain of mangled steel ... body parts lying in the rubble ... streets stained with blood. It was an unparalleled criminal act and tragedy.
About an hour after the assault on the World Trade Center, a third plane, also commandeered by hijackers, plunged into the Pentagon, killing all sixty-four passengers and six crew members, and at least 189 military personnel at the Pentagon. Terrorists had penetrated to the very heart of America, Washington, D.C. If America's capital isn't safe, what is safe? The terrorists achieved their goal of striking terror into the hearts of many.
A fourth hijacked plane, apparently intended for a strike on the White House and the president himself, crashed into a field one hundred miles from Pittsburgh, killing all on board. Brave passengers apparently had fought the hijackers; the plane dove wildly to the ground, but these heroes saved the nation from further grief by diverting the plane from Washington.
THE WHY QUESTION
Thousands were killed in these four criminal, terrorist acts. Yet each death represented an individual story: A missing husband ... a mother gone ... a father lost ... a brother searching for his brother ... a son, a daughter beginning a career ... now gone. Unquestionably, many believers were killed in the devastation. Some believing father, mother died that day. Why did it happen?
Why do tragedies happen to Christians? Why were Christians included in this carnage? Why do bad things happen to God's people?
We will seek answers to those questions in this book. But let's remember that most personal sufferings are not found at scenes of war or national emergencies. Unseen, unknown, in the quiet corners of homes and hospitals, many Christians suffer tragedy and heartache.
Even though I was only a young boy, I remember my grandmother well. She was the picture of peacefulness and tranquility. She would sit by the window, the Bible on her lap, watching the activity outside; she would play checkers or other little games with her grandchildren. But perhaps the thing I remember most about her was her uncomplaining spirit. I never heard her speak a negative word; harsh, critical words were not part of her vocabulary or thoughts. On the contrary, she was thankful for the smallest things, for the proverbial "cup of water."
The grace of God and the peace of Christ enveloped her life; she had discovered the secret of submission to the sovereign will of God, and she lived in quiet assurance because of it. Her submission impressed me most because of all the pain and loss she had endured.
Humanly speaking, many bad things had happened to Oma. She was born in a Mennonite home and community in the Ukraine, near the Dnieper River. Because of religious persecution, her parents had migrated to the Ukraine from Prussia. There the persecution that her family had experienced would continue. When the communist revolution occurred in 1917, many Mennonites were brutally murdered and their farms confiscated.
During those tragic, bloody years, my grandmother buried two husbands and nine of her ten children. Life was difficult and bad things happened to good, God-fearing people. Typhoid fever, epidemics, murder—there were many causes for the suffering and death of the Mennonite families in addition to the brutalities caused by the communists. As I researched the family history, I was astonished to discover the untimely deaths of my grandmother's children: Jacob the first, age ten; Peter, age thirty-one; David, age unrecorded; Johan, age one; Aganetha, age unrecorded; Anna the first, age one; Anna the second, age two; Jacob the second, age twenty; Isaak the first, infant.
My mind reeled. How could my grandmother cope with tragedy after tragedy in her family? Why were these bad things happening to her?
In 1927, after living under Communism for ten frightening years, she was able to emigrate to western Canada with my parents. Oma settled in Morris, Manitoba, with her last remaining child, my father, and with his family.
Oma loved her family, and her love overflowed to the grandchildren. She interceded for them when they were going to be disciplined and wept for them when they were disciplined—and quietly slipped them a cookie or candy to soften the suffering. But all the while Oma had her own continuing adversity. Despite being in a land of peace and plenty, she suffered physically. My grandmother had an enlarged, ulcerated foot that refused to heal. I still remember the putrid smell of the sore. But never a complaint. Oma had discovered a simple trust in the sovereign plan of God—despite not understanding why bad things happen to God's people.
WHY DID GRANDMOTHER BURY NINE CHILDREN?
Grandmother's life, like the New York and Washington tragedies, raises a fundamental question: Why do bad things happen to God's people? Why did my grandmother bury two husbands and nine children? Why was she forced to flee from her home and adopted country? Why did she suffer with an ailment that refused to heal? She was a God-fearing believer. Why did believers die in the destruction of the World Trade Center and in the attack on the Pentagon? Where was God in all of this? Is He in control?
Does the Bible explain why bad things happen to God's people? As a pastor I visit people in the hospitals—Christians who have terminal cancer, heart attacks, limb amputations ... the list is endless. How do we explain the tragedies of life that Christians experience? Is God in control over the bad things that happen to God's people ... or are the tragic events of this world simply blind, chance happenings?
Some say, "Everything happens for a reason." Does it? Rather than be hopeful or fatalistic, let's go to the ultimate source of truth and assurance, the Bible, to answer the question. God's Word has much to say about tragedy, loss, and suffering. Join me as we address the question, "Does everything happen for a reason?"
How Did Bad Things Begin?
It's difficult to believe the statement "Everything happens for a reason," because so much that happens seems to be based on bad situations or even people who behave badly.
The story behind the terrorist attacks on American landmarks on September 11, 2001, a series of events now known simply as 9/11, is a chilling case study. The nineteen men who hijacked the four airliners planned their heinous crimes deliberately and methodically. Years, decades, and generations of hatred for Israel and America fueled the fires of murder and destruction. The hatred of these terrorists ran so deep, they willingly gave up their own lives to destroy the lives of others.
But more than that, these murderers planned for years, obtaining pilot licenses, studying airline routes and schedules, carefully calculating the destruction of as many people as possible. Their hearts and minds spewing hatred and murder, they studied and planned for this evil act. (That night President George Bush would tell the American people in a televised address, "Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.")
WHY THE TERRORISM?
U.S. officials linked the terrorists to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi dissident and leader of the group Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden would be killed ten years later while hiding in Pakistan. But the hatred among the terrorists showed itself in a litany of destruction leading up to 9/11: the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York killing six and injuring one thousand; a car bombing in Saudi Arabia killing five U.S. military personnel; the 1996 bombing of a Saudi Arabia apartment building killing nineteen American military personnel and wounding four hundred people; the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and injuring thousands; the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed seventeen sailors and injured thirty-nine.
What is happening? Why does terrorism exist? What would motivate people to plan the murder and destruction of other people? Why does this evil exist?
WHY THE VIOLENCE UPON THE INNOCENTS?
Before we answer the question "Why does evil exist?" here are two more questions concerning violence in our world. First, why are the innocent victims of violence?
Lorraine Yaslowitz hugged and kissed her husband, Jeffrey, good-bye. Once outside, Jeffrey did something special for Calen, his five-year-old son. He turned on the emergency lights atop his police SUV so Loren and Calen could watch from inside. "Calen was all excited about that because he loves that," Lorraine recalled. "We were standing at the window, and we were waving at him and blowing kisses.... He just sat there and kept the lights on and then finally he took off," she said, her voice breaking up, "and that's going to be my baby's final remembrance of him."
That very day in St. Petersburg, Florida, police officers Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger attempted to apprehend a criminal hiding in an attic. When they finally confronted the armed fugitive, both police officers were killed in the shootout.
Lorraine Yaslowitz described her husband: "If you were to have one word for him, it's 'devout.' He was devoted to what he was passionate about. He had a strong faith in Christ." But now officer Yaslowitz was dead as a result of a senseless killing by a criminal, leaving behind a young widow and three young children: Calen, age five, and two siblings, ages eight and twelve.
Some might say every police officer knows there is risk when in the line of duty. Yes, but there is also a God who could have saved them, perhaps by having the bullets graze them or striking a non-vital part of their bodies. Instead, Lorraine and her three children lost their father as he tried to uphold justice. Is God in control when senseless crimes occur, leaving broken hearts and destroyed families, including Christian families? Doesn't God watch over His people? Isn't that the promise of Scripture? How can we make any sense of this?
Second, why are the innocent unborn made victims of violence? From 1973–1994 unborn children in America lost their lives at the rate of 1.4 million per year through abortion. Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion, nearly fifty million of these procedures have been performed—an incomprehensible number of deaths of the innocent. Though abortion proponents argue that the issue is "a woman's right" to choose, the child within the womb has no rights and may forfeit his or her life at any time before birth.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN NATURE?
When it comes to bad things happening to God's people, none is more perplexing than natural disaster. Floods ... famines ... earthquakes ... Why are there so many disruptions in nature? Why does God permit such turbulence in nature that causes so much suffering and death?
In America, major flooding of rivers due to spring runoffs causes the loss of farmlands and sometimes livestock. During some summers, major hurricanes bring severe flooding and violent winds that destroy homes and claim lives in the Gulf states and along the Atlantic seaboard.
The opposite natural disaster, severe drought, destroys crops and creates famine. In Africa, insignificant rainfall during the first decade of the twenty-first century brought drought and famine. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that as many as 16 million people in seven countries were in danger. Three years of drought had destroyed crops and devastated the livestock in Ethiopia and six neighboring countries.
As I write this chapter, the worst drought in east Africa in sixty years has brought both malnutrition and death to several countries, most notably Somalia, where the rate of malnutrition among children is 58 percent. There "four million are in crisis ... with 750,000 people at risk of death" by the end of 2011, according to the United Nation's food and security analysis unit. Less than two decades earlier, the 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia claimed one million lives.
Outside of death itself, one of the worst dangers posed by nature's havoc is homelessness. Without shelter, there is risk of chilling cold—or fierce heat. In 2010, a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti with devastating effects. An estimated 200,000 people died, and an additional 250,000 were injured. But 1.5 million Haitians were left homeless. Although food supples were airlifted, many received little and remained exposed to the elements. The people of Haiti are still recovering today. How shall we understand this?
When a series of tornadoes rolled across Alabama's Tuscaloosa County in December 2000, many people lost their homes. Though most residents were spared (eleven died and 124 were injured), they endured much hardship as they had to seek temporary shelter.
And some were not spared. I read of the twenty-six-year-old youth minister at Unity Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa found under the rubble with the rest of his family. James Crowder and his fifteen-month-old son, Wesley, were dead; the pastor's wife and two daughters survived, although with serious injuries. They were described as a model family.
Why do these tragedies happen to God's people? Why is a young pastor's family broken through death? What is happening in nature? These are serious and difficult questions.
It's time to look for the answers. They are found in the Bible, God's Word to mankind. The answers do point to a God who cares. The Bible also points to a holy God who holds men and women accountable for their actions.
IN THE BEGINNING
When this world was first created, all was perfect. No violence, no hunger, no flooding. The Bible declares God's creation "was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Adam and Eve lived in unashamed bliss. Sickness, suffering, and death were not a part of their Edenic world. Adam worked; he had a major task in observing the animals and correspondingly naming them (2:18–19). God also placed Adam "into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it" (2:15). What was involved? The Scriptures are not explicit, but Adam no doubt worked at planting and harvesting fruit and vegetable crops. Yet it was on an unspoiled earth, providing lavish, beautiful crops." But Adam never got tired; he never missed work because of the flu or fever.
Adam and Eve, his wife and helpmate, never got sick. They never quarreled; family abuse was unknown to them in their early marriage. Death was not a part of their experience. They lived in a perfect world, without trouble of any kind.
A FATAL DECISION
But then something happened. The tragedy is told in the third chapter of Genesis and it is key to understanding all suffering that has plagued humanity since that time. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. As the head of the human race, Adam plunged all humanity into devastation and death through his one act of disobedience (Rom. 5:12).
Genesis 3:14–19, 22–24 explains the judgments of God upon man and woman. In raw form, the account explains the source of natural disasters—hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes—and, in fact, all human suffering. Sickness, family tragedies, and death all spring from people's sins against God and one another. Although Genesis 3 doesn't give us specific answers, it does help us understand why tragedies happen in this world. As one Christian counselor has stated, "We would all fare better in this world if we recognized that we live in a fallen world." That is a profound statement and an important factor in understanding why bad things happen to God's people.
What happened in Genesis 3? God placed man in the garden of Eden with a test to determine his obedience to God. If Adamobeyed God, he would lead the human race into eternal blessing; if he disobeyed God, he would sentence humanity to suffering and death. Satan, through the serpent (who must have been a beautiful creature before the fall), first tested Eve by offering her the fruit that God had forbidden (v. 1–5). And Adam, who was at her side and did not stop her (v. 6), agreed to partake as well.
THE MYSTERY OF EVIL'S SOURCE
But where did evil come from in the first place? Unfortunately, that is a mystery that will remain locked up in the counsel of the sovereign God. We know that God alone is eternal. Evil is not eternal. Evil first revealed itself when the angel Lucifer, more commonly known as Satan, rebelled against God (Is. 14:12–17; Ezek. 28:11–19). This was prior to the events of Genesis 3. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Everything Happens for a Reason? by Paul Enns, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2012 Paul Enns. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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