Why do things go wrong?

JP: Very worthwhile article by the late James Montgomery Boice

Why Did God Let This Happen? (James 1:1-18)


Of all the questions I am asked, that is probably the one I have heard most often. Misfortunes come into our lives, unexplained tragedies occur, and we ask, ‘Why? Why did this happen?’ James gives some practical examples. The first concerns a person who lacks worldly goods (v. 9), compared with a person who is rich (v. 10). James says, ‘Don’t take pride in either situation.’ Reversals of fortune can happen overnight. Here is a person who through industry, commerce or the mere outworking of circumstances, has become relatively well off, and then suddenly he loses all he had. He is bound to ask, ‘Why did this happen?’ And ‘Why did this happen to me rather than to someone else?’

Sometimes it is not a matter of wealth; it is a matter of position or prestige. We can go through a period of our lives where we are highly regarded. We are riding on a pinnacle of high public opinion. Then the winds of fortune change, and we are right back where we started. A person in these circumstances might well ask, ‘Why?’

Pastors sometimes face these problems. I have a good friend who is in the Christian ministry and for nearly twenty years was used by God to start and then build up a solid evangelical church. It grew to more than one thousand members, had a strong missionary program and exercised a valuable outreach to its affluent suburban community. But there were people in the church who were unhappy with the pastor. They didn’t like his ‘leadership style’, as they put it. Suddenly he was asked to leave. It was a great and unexpected blow both to himself and his family. Why do such things happen? There was no immediate explanation.

Sometimes it is the loss of friends or family through death. Perhaps it is the death of a husband, a wife, a son or a daughter, or someone else important to our well-being, someone on whom we depended, someone to whom we looked for direction and understanding. Sometimes it is a person who seems essential to a certain work or ministry. When he or she is gone the ministry declines. When such a person is taken away, we find ourselves asking, ‘Why? Why did this happen?’

There are two ways in which we can ask those questions. We can ask them with our fists clenched, shaking them at heaven in rebellion against God, saying to him, ‘Why did you let this happen to me?’ In that form the question is really an accusation. It means, ‘If you are who you say you are, if you are a loving God, if you are true to your promises, none of these things should have happened.’

Or we can ask, as saints have asked down through the history of the Christian church when they found themselves in dreadful circumstances, ‘Dear God, why is this happening? I am puzzled by it. Please explain it to me.’ If you ask the question that way, if you are saying to God, ‘I don’t understand what is happening, because I live in a world where my horizons are limited and where, because of my sin, I certainly do not see things as you see them; I come to you for the insight you alone can provide,’ then God, who is faithful to his people, may indeed provide some answers.

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