When Bad Things Happen, It’s Not Because We’re Bad

Life is complicated, and there are no easy answers.

Now while this seems perfectly straightforward and logical, such a statement is at variance with much of what we are taught when it comes to Christianity. In all fairness, it’s difficult to come up with a sermon every week, but when sermons and magazine articles consist of

  1. An introductory story, generally humorous,
  2. A Bible verse that somehow relates to that story,
  3. A flurry of Bible verses to back up the initial verse,
  4. An ending joke, and
  5. An ending hymn that ties into the theme

As God’s children, part of faith is recognizing, and accepting, that our perfect Father loves — truly loves — us. Hailey, art print at Steve Henderson Collections

there is a tendency to simplify things, and the simplified message we get is,

“If things are going badly in your life, it’s your fault. You’re either disobeying God, not listening to Him, or displeasing Him in some way, because if you were truly being good, then the problems would go away. That’s what it means to have faith.”

Advice from “Friends”

Interestingly, it’s an old, old message, one we find in the Book of Job, but just because we find something in the Bible doesn’t mean that it’s positive advice we need to follow. The story of Jael in Judges 4, the woman who drove the tent peg through the head of Sisera, comes to mind. (When I was an evangelical church-going girl, I labored under the misapprehension that everything in the Bible is there with God’s approval, and somehow or another He was pleased with stories like this. Just don’t try it at home.)

But back to Job — yes, the concept that things going wrong in our life is a sign that God is punishing us is a recurrent theme, but it is in the words of Job’s “friends,” better named accusers, about whom God speaks in the ending chapter,

“My anger burns against you (Eliphaz) and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)


Okay, so sometimes we’ve got attitude. Any parent of maturity and wisdom knows that you tread lightly when it comes to a person’s spirit. Kymberlynn, art print at Steve Henderson Collections

Job’s consistent message through the book is that he has done no appreciable wrong, with the full recognition that he is an imperfect human being and could not possibly come up to the standards of perfection of God — and any God of intelligence and compassion would know this. But his accusers, similar to those of today, continue to propound the message that he had to have done something wrong to merit punishment, because that’s what God does — he punishes bad people which, in the accusers’ minds, are predominantly made up of God’s children who are naughty.

Materialistically, Evil Thrives

If these self-appointed righteous looked around, as Job did, they would note that there are lots and lots and lots and lots of truly bad people out there who, by the materialistic standards of the world, are doing quite well. For some reason, God isn’t punishing them, possibly because He is so busy focusing on the wandering thoughts, expressions of impatience, driving infractions, and dietary foibles of those who call Him Father.


Grace means just that — our Father is gracious in His interaction with us, and the resulting sense of freedom we experience comes out at joy. Grace, art print at Steve Henderson Collections

By any standards of decent parenting (which you probably won’t find in “Christian” parenting books, by the way), such harshness is unwise, not to mention cruel. How many of us advocate micro-focusing on small issues in the life of a child who, for the most part, is trying to do right? And yet, that’s the type of God many people serve, which may explain why “Christian” parenting books focus on instant, non-questioning, mindless obedience as a sign that the child is “good.”

Craven submission to authority is not goodness, but it is an excellent route to slavery. As sons and daughters of God, with an Elder Brother who is firstborn of many brothers (Romans 8:29 — sorry about the verse jumping), we are so much more than slaves, and our expectation of how we can be treated by our perfect and loving Father can at least come up to what we’d expect from a good, honest, compassionate, loving, wise, secure human being in the same position.

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

The question of why bad things happen to people is one that goes back a long time, as evidenced by its treatment in Job — a book variously ascribed to be written sometime from the 4th to the 23rd centuries, B.C. — and it is a subject of both pop-Christian and pop-culture books, in addition to thoughtful musings by people whose interest is less in their celebrity than in the actual answer to the question.

mother child daughter fabric worship surf ocean beach sea

As children of God, we learn by imitation. The best parents are patient with their children’s attempts. Into the Surf, art print at Steve Henderson Collections

But no one has yet come up with a good answer.

As sons and daughters of God, however, perhaps we can, like Job, dispense with the constant flagellation of ourselves, the insidious worry that we are disgusting to God, the gnawing doubt that He could possibly accept us as we are right now, and still love us.

Instead of seeking, searching, wondering, guessing, probing, and agonizing over what we’re doing wrong — something that a judgmental God won’t tell us, apparently, even though we ask — maybe we can rest in His unconditional love for us, and take our chronic and aching problems straight into the room with Him.

“I hurt,” we say, much as a toddler brings to us their scratched finger, an older child their feelings about not being invited to a party, a teenager their humiliation at backing the car into the garbage can. When we are free of the fear that God’s default response will be reprisal and fury, we enter then into the true comfort of God, resting securely in our position as His beloved children, able to lean on the strength, wisdom, and compassion that are His.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I explore the things we are told and taught about Christianity.

Posts complementing this one are

The Walt Disney World of American Christianity

The Lost Christians of America

Tired of the Command to Repent?

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
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5 Responses to When Bad Things Happen, It’s Not Because We’re Bad

  1. Amen and Amen! In our Ladies Bible study at the church I go to, we have been studying through the book of Ecclesiastes. In 7:15 ; 8:14 ; 9:12 and other places, the writer struggles with these very issues. We have recently been celebrating the 500th year of the Reformation, where Martin Luther stood up for “by Faith alone, through Grace alone, in Christ alone”. Just as it was a great relief to Martin Luther that Jesus has done it all, and that nothing, no sin of mine or anyone else, or “trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword can separate us from the love of Christ” (Rom 8:35), so it is a great relief to us that Jesus has done it all. Jesus did not promise us that everything would be well with us all the time, he exhorted his followers to “take up their cross” Matt 16:24, but he did promise that “all things would work together for our good” Rom 8:35 and that he would give us the strength to endure, just as God strengthened Job to endure. What Love! What a Saviour!
    Thank you for your writings, they always challenge me to think!

    • Thank you, Rosemary, for your kind comments on my writing. I believe that ALL Christians are called to think, wonder, ask, seek, search, analyze, and bring to the table what we have learned. We leave it too much up to 1) the Celebrity Christians (who frankly have little insight or wisdom on Jesus’s words at all), 2) the pastor (who is just another person, hopefully with some decent reading and study in theology if he’s going to be teaching it, but not necessarily so; at any rate, he or she should be humble enough to recognize that he or she has much to learn from the people in the pews) and 3) The Greats, like Martin Luther — a figure in history that we know something about, but not all. He was a man like the rest of us, and he had some great insights, but like a man like the rest of us, he didn’t get it all, and there is much room for us, now, to contribute to the conversation. It’s even possible to disagree with The Greats — as a character in a book I read recently said, “Did all conversation stop with The Nicene Creed? Do we stop at the 4th century when it comes to literature, science, technology? Then why do we do so when it comes to Christianity?”

      There are so many terrific resources out there, and thanks to the printing press, we are able to access books of all sorts to feed our minds and lead us into the next step of our journey. Speak up, speak out, recognize that as a daughter of God you learn from a gracious and loving Father, and as you learn — so much of which is done in the process of living, working through pain, living through bewilderment, walking with our hands in God’s — pass it on.

  2. yreka68@comcast.net says:

    Hi there, love your writing. The first time I read, Job, I could not believe our Father would let Satan do what he did to him It made me cringe and truthfully, I still have a long way to go in this Christian life to understand the torture that was inflicted upon him.

    • Actually, you don’t have as far to go as you think. Within Evangelical circles, we are taught to think of everything in the Bible as history, when there is poetry (Isaiah, Psalms); advice (Proverbs) and stories that are told for the means of teaching (Jesus’s parables, and — what about Job? It’s very much written like a story). I, too, had difficulty thinking of God inflicting Job in a manner that seemed a bit callous, decidedly from Job’s perspective and any of us as humans who relate to him, but then I started thinking of it from a literature standpoint:

      Let’s say it’s a story — a really really good story. In order to get the full impact, EVERYTHING of Job’s has to go — family, friends, job, money, resources, health — EVERYTHING. Not one element can be left so that the reader can say, “Okay, it was really bad, but at least he still had his children . . . or some source of income . . . or his reputation,” or whatever — just anything that the reader would grasp onto to argue the point. You can’t argue the point — everything was taken, except for his wife, which I find interesting.

      Isn’t this what we do in stories when we want to get a point across — we set up the parameters so that we can teach the lesson. In the case of Job, the lessons revolve around the bad things that happen to us and why, and the “friends” supply the standard answers that we are always given. Whenever I read what the “friends” say I think, “This stuff makes sense to me, and it’s how I’ve been taught — but it’s WRONG. How am I being misled?”

      Please do not feel that it is an advancement to your Christian life to reconcile our loving Father with the infliction of torture upon His children. This very same attitude is the one that prevails in Evangelical circles, where millions of people who profess to believe in Jesus’s love for mankind cavalierly accept that billions of people will burn in hell for eternity because they did not say a series of words, which have been so conveniently placed in one place for us as the Four Spiritual Laws (notice the word, “Laws”?). The average person of intelligence asks, “If it’s this intractable, then why didn’t Jesus lay it out this way?”

      Immerse yourself in the Gospels. Listen to Jesus’s words. Try to empty your mind of every sermon, every devotional, every “help” that has tried to explain what things mean to you, and just read the words. When you have questions, stop, and ask God, “What about this? This is confusing?” He will lead you through this.

      A mature Christian is one who, like Christ, is like our Father — and our Father is incredibly giving, incredibly loving, incredibly patient. He grieves when he sees the pain that we inflict upon one another, and His anger does burn against sin — violating people, humiliating them, cheating them, starving them, leaving them destitute and without hope. Those are things that many of us hate as well — because we are made in God’s image, and He has stamped Himself on our hearts.

  3. Pingback: Judging Others — We’re Usually Wrong | This Woman Writes by Carolyn Henderson

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