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In a hospital room filled with cameras, my father and mother, Scott and Janet Willis, sat down and spoke to news reporters. Their burn-covered faces gave testimony to their brush with death. But the outward scars were only a reflection of the much deeper emotional scars.
My sister and five brothers had died just one week before. A piece of metal had broken off the back of a semi-trailer truck, puncturing the gas tank of my parents' minivan. The vehicle exploded into flames, immediately burning to death four of my brothers and my youngest sister. My parents and brother Ben managed to get out of the van and were rushed to the hospital. Ben didn't make it through the first night.
Before the cameras, my father thanked those who had generously helped our family in our time of need. My dad, a grade school teacher from Chicago, praised the people of Milwaukee who, like the Good Samaritan, reached out to help a fallen traveler. He was glad to have the opportunity to show his gratitude publicly.
But there was something that made this press conference different. My dad was not only a schoolteacher, but also a minister of a small church in Chicago. As a man who had dedicated his life to the service of God, how would he react to what seemed so obviously a tragedy? If there is a God, how could He allow something like this to happen?
My dad opened the press conference by quoting a psalm from the Bible. I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.1 Why this psalm? Even in the midst of physical and emotional pain, he knew from reading the Word of God that he was to trust that God is good.
Upon finishing his prepared statement, he answered questions from reporters. They were kind and compassionate. However, as most intelligent people would do, they politely asked if he could shed light upon the ancient question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
It is hard enough to publicly praise God in times of pain and suffering. But is anyone able to reasonably explain the why? Do matters of faith fall outside the explanations of reason? With cameras rolling, my dad had to face the sincere questions of reality.
My dad had already stated that he knew "God had reasons ... and that God was good." Indeed the Bible tells us that all things work together for good to those who love God.2 It also gives examples of people of the past, showing how God changed what appeared to be tragedy into good. The best example is the story of Joseph, recorded in the book of Genesis. In our limited knowledge of the past and present and our inability to see the future, we simply do not yet see the finished story.
My dad responded to the reporter's question by refusing to be called good. "We are not special people," he said. "We are sinners like everybody else, just sinners saved by God's grace." As one who had studied the Bible, my dad knew and called attention to God's standard of good. Indeed the question that must be answered by all who are honest is, are any of us truly good?
When compared to God's goodness, even the kindest, most skilled, and most moral of people fall short of His standard. This is what the Bible calls sin.
God's expectations of us are much higher than our own expectations. Examine the details of the Law He gave to Moses. Look at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. God expects us to even love our enemies and to do good to them that hate us.3
Jesus clearly stated, No one is good but One, that is, God.4 The Apostle Paul explained our sins and concluded that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.5 Being just, God declared He will pay us the proper payment for our works, of which the Bible says the wages of sin is death.6
Understanding how God views us, and the punishment we deserve, my dad correctly remarked to the reporter that "the question should really be changed to, why do good things happen to bad people?"
But thankfully God is not only just, but also kind. As Jesus, He became a man and lived a life without sin. Jesus died on the cross so He could take our punishment in our place.7 Why did something bad happen to the only good person? It happened so something good can happen to bad people!
The central message of the Bible is that God offers a pardon to all sinners if they accept responsibility for their sin, ask for mercy, and claim Jesus as their substitute.8
Although God offers us this pardon freely, it is not without consequence. God expects us to be willing to change and promises to help us overcome our nature that is prone to sin. This is the reason most people refuse God's pardon. We want complete freedom from all higher authority. We don't want to give up our sin. We like it too much!
But there are other consequences to accepting or rejecting God's pardon. Being God, the Creator and giver of life, Jesus rose from the dead and promises to judge us someday. Those who accept His pardon He will welcome into His heavenly home, giving them immortality and a new sinless nature. Those who refuse His offer He will send to hell, a place of pain and eternal fire.
So the choice is before us--to repent and trust God at His word, or to deny His mercy and doom ourselves to judgment. Although it is a choice of faith, to believe in something that cannot be seen, yet it is not without reason.9 If you have never formally accepted God's pardon before, do so today. God promises to always hear this prayer from a sinner.10
If you have further questions, I urge you to read the book of Romans and judge for yourself what it says. Even better, read the whole Bible. But do not reject God's offer. For indeed, next time you ride in your car, you don't know at which destination you might arrive.
1 Psalm 34:1.
All Scripture quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2002 Good News Publishers. Used by permission.