Dealing with setbacks (Why do bad things happen to good people)

I had been in pastoral ministry for a few years when one of the young couples in our church experienced a tragedy of epic proportions. Their two-year-old child drowned in a swimming pool accident. Nothing would ever be the same for them and their grief would be something they would process for rest of their lives.

Being in my mid-twenties and having to walk through such sadness with someone was a new experience for me. I felt ill equipped to be an effective pastor. I struggled to both comfort them and deal with the question that I would deal with for the rest of my ministry. Why?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

There are many variations of this question. And of course hundreds of books have been written about the subject of suffering. Theological discourses have been produced and many people have both found faith and lost faith through their experiences of suffering.

I have vivid memories of when my older brother died after a short battle with cancer. Nick was 19 and I was 16. One of the many things that struck me was that at the time I believed that these only things happened to “other people”. I never expected it to happen to me or to our family. Nick’s illness and death taught me that almost everyone will face tragedy and sadness in their life and that no one is exempt from suffering.

Yet, at the risk of sounding trite, our sufferings are very often the experiences that shape our lives and make us better people. Someone once said that suffering either makes you better or bitter. That’s true.

Without wanting to diminish anyone’s pain, here are some thoughts I have about dealing with suffering.

  • We need to mourn. Jesus mourned the death of His friend Lazarus. Mourning is the gift of processing pain and loss. Mourning is done both in private and with trusted friends.
  • We need to receive the love of others. The apostle Paul speaks about “bearing one another’s burdens”.
  • We need to be able to wait for the redemption of God. Again the apostle suggests that, “all things work together for good…” I use the term “wait for redemption” because it takes time for healing to come, for us to experience redemption.
  • We need to know that others have suffered as we have. The apostle Peter reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering and that we should be comforted by the experience of others.
  • We need to know that God knows. King David writes in Psalm 23, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

Should you be in a place of suffering, my prayer is that you will find peace and that you will come through the pain and experience God’s sufficient grace.

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