One of the most common, yet confounding questions asked whenever discussions of religion or spirituality arise is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Countless articles and books have been written on the topic, with varying degrees of success in providing a reasonable answer.
There’s no denying many people live good lives – at least outwardly – and yet often encounter serious difficulties and tragedies. For those of us inclined to believe in cause-and-effect – that good things should result in more good things, as well as bad things leading to bad consequences – we find ourselves wondering, “What’s the deal?”
There’s no easy explanation for bad things happening to people who live upright lives – although that hasn’t discouraged theologians and philosophers from trying.
But the Scriptures offer some insight into possible reasons. One of them – even if it may provide little consolation while we’re going through struggles – is that personal suffering equips us to empathize with and console others when they go through circumstances similar to ones we’ve already experienced.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, we read these words from the apostle Paul:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
That, without question, is a mouthful. It’s tempting to try and dissect this passage into itty-bitty pieces, but the gist of it is that as we go through seasons of suffering, and receive comfort from God, we in turn can share what we have learned through the process to offer comfort to others. In fact, the apostle uses the word “comfort” nine times in just four sentences.
Consider Paul, the one-time persecutor of Christians who, after his life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ, had endured adversity in many forms, including persecution, imprisonments, beatings and stoning, shipwrecks, illness and other hardships. If anyone knew about suffering, and the need for comfort while going through it, Paul was the guy. He was intimately acquainted with the subject; a card-carrying authority on it.
But how does suffering prepare us to serve as comforters for others? I’ve written about this before, but after undergoing open-heart surgery, I knew about it from personal experience, not from reading about it. So when I encounter others who have either recently gone through the procedure, as I did while serving as a cardiac volunteer at a local hospital, or hear of someone who has just received the unsettling news from a cardiothoracic surgeon, I can relate to what they’re going through. Sharing about my own “journey of the heart,” I’ve tried to offer hope, reassurance – and comfort. Along with what I found to be a good game plan for recovery.
Most of all, it’s understanding that we don’t have to go through life’s challenges alone. Whether it’s a health crisis, financial difficulties, the loss of a loved one, overwhelming family challenges, addiction, or some other issue, there are other people who have gone through similar circumstances.
Even more important, our faith in God can sustain us during even the greatest adversities. And we, as followers of Jesus, can remind each other of that. During high-stress times, it can be easy to lose focus and forget, so it’s our job to encourage one another to remember. We can point to promises like Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
And then, drawing from our own experience, we’re able indeed to, as Paul wrote, “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is email@example.com.