There are at least four possible reasons why something bad happened to you.
1. It’s Your Fault
One reason you are experiencing some-thing bad in your life is because you brought it on. You are a difficult employee, always grating against fellow workers and your boss, so you got fired. You smoked four packs of cigarettes a day for fifty years, and you got lung cancer as a result.
When Jesus healed the paralyzed man it was in the context of forgiving his sin (Mark 2:5, 9). We are not told what sins this man committed, but the text implies a cause and effect between those sins and his paralysis. Immediately after being forgiven, he stood up and walked (Mark 2:10-12).
Similarly, we do not know what caused the paralysis in the man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-6). We may reasonably infer his paralysis was in some way his own fault, because when Jesus later spoke with him He said, “Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:14).
No amount of denial of personal responsibility or blame shifting will take away the fact that some of your wounds are self-inflicted. Instead, come to the Lord, accept your responsibility, con-fess your sins, be forgiven, make restitution to those you have harmed, and get on with life (see 1 John 1:9).
2. It’s Someone Else’s Fault
Another reason you are experiencing something bad in your life is because someone victimized you. You had the right of way as you were driving through an intersection and another motorist ran a stop sign and plowed into you. Your injuries are his fault, not yours. Someone sabotages your semester’s work in chemistry lab because she wants to win the prize. You’re losing all that time and perhaps that honor are her fault, not yours.
Joseph was thrown into prison because of the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39).
You do not have to beat yourself up or let others point an accusing finger at you when something is not your fault. Realize there are bad people who intentionally victimize others and many more good people who accidentally cause others harm. Pray for them, when appropriate confront them or turn them in to proper authority for what they did, and get on with life. Sometimes God will vindicate you quickly, on other occasions only after a period of time, and on still other times only in the afterlife.
3. It’s Because You Are Part of a Fallen World
Still another reason you are experiencing something bad in your life is because the world system is fallen. The sin of our proto-parents Adam and Eve did not just hurt their own souls, it damaged the whole world sys-tem: women will have pain in childbearing (Genesis 3:16), the ground is cursed and farming will be difficult (3:17-19), people are kept from the perfection of Eden (3:22-24), Cain kills Abel (4:8), and so on. Satan’s offering Jesus the kingdoms of the world was a real temptation because Satan had them in his possession and Jesus wanted them (see Luke 4:5-7). Paul, looking forward to what Jesus will eventually accomplish, notes that creation is “subjected to futility,” in “its bondage to decay,” and “groaning in labor pains” (Romans 8:19-22).
Jesus spoke of eighteen people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:4). While it is possible that deliberately shoddy workmanship was responsible for the collapse, it is also the case that even with the best of workmanship things break, explode and fall down. Because the world is fallen — as Paul said, — they decay.
4. It’s Because God Has a Plan
Yet one more reason you are experiencing something bad in your life is because God is going to turn it into something good for you. Red Sox pitcher John Lester was in an automobile accident several years ago. When examining him at the emergency room the doctor discovered something odd and ordered further tests. The results indicated the beginnings of cancer. Had he not been in that accident it is doubtful the cancer would have been detected early when likelihood for survival is much higher.
In the last thirteen chapters of Genesis we read the story of Joseph whose jealous older brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he wound up in a position of power and influence. As it turned out, when a famine overtook Israel and people went to Egypt to buy food, Joseph was able to help their brothers out, despite what they had done to him. During that poignant scene at the end of Genesis, chapter 50, Joseph said to them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive (verse 20).
Jesus’ disciples assumed the man born blind was afflicted by his own fault or that of his parents (John 9:1-2). Jesus said it was neither, but rather “that God’s works might be revealed in him” (9:3). As the story unfolds we discover that the man both believes in and worships Jesus (9:38). Would that individual have come to faith if he had been born with his sight? We do not know, but we do know that many are not converted unless it is in the context of God working supernaturally against some evil they are experiencing.
Avoid Simplistic Analysis
We have looked at four possible reasons why a person could be experiencing something bad in his or her life. Four. Yet, many people automatically assume it is just one of these reasons — automatically and always. Let’s look at the dangers of assuming it’s always the same reason why something goes wrong.
1. It’s ALWAYS My Fault
Some people assume that whenever something goes wrong in their lives, it’s always their fault. You believe your lab work was sabotaged because God is punishing you for something or other you did years before. This is not a biblical belief, but rather the Hindu teaching of karma—in every case, you get exactly what you deserve, sooner or later. But Jesus taught God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). That you are experiencing wonderful things in life is not always to your credit, and that you are experiencing bad things is not always to your blame. Or, you tell yourself you shouldn’t have been driving in that intersection where the other driver ran the stop sign. But he or she was at fault, not you. While this is obvious to most of us, to the one consumed with self blame it is not. People who are always blaming them-selves likely grew up in an atmosphere of blame. Self-blame was modeled by a significant authority figure — a parent, close relative, teacher, clergyman — who was always blaming himself when some-thing went wrong, and you’ve internalized that belief and behavior. Or, you were the scapegoat in the family or class-room. When people wanted someone to blame, they blamed you and, though you outwardly fought against this, you inwardly believed them. Inner healing prayer ministry and good Christian counseling can be helpful to overcome automatic self-blame. So can reading those passages in Scripture that demonstrate God forgives repentant sinners when they did something wrong, nor does He hold a person accountable for something not his or her fault.
2. It’s ALWAYS Someone Else’s Fault Some people assume that whenever something goes wrong in their lives, it’s always someone else’s fault. Although Adam and Eve knew that they were not to eat of the fruit of a particular tree (Genesis 2:17; 3:3), Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent
Hilary Clinton blamed a “vast, right wing conspiracy” because she did not want to admit many citizens voted against her party simply because they did not like what it stood for.
Some people, when confronted with bad behavior, quickly shift the focus from themselves to how the one confronting them came across. They “shoot the messenger” so they can avoid admitting blame. Always blaming others is often a learned behavior. A person grew up seeing how others deftly ducked any ownership of bad actions, and has adopted this for himself.
Or, people will do anything to avoid accepting blame because of how their being responsible was handled in their formative years. If breaking a minor rule led to one being beaten or screamed at, he or she quickly learned how to avoid being blamed.
But this is not how God deals with us when we sin. God must punish sin but His punishment is fair, not mean, and is done as “tough love” to make us better people. Jesus did not approve of what Zacchaeus, the crooked tax collector, did, but He reached out to him so he could be saved. At the end of this ac-count Jesus comments that He came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus did this by dying in our place to pay the penalty price our sins deserve, “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) and “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. . . . [and] I have called you friends” (John 15:13, 15).
When you have done something wrong, admit it, and deal with it appropriately. You will find that God is there to help.
3. It’s ALWAYS Because the World is Fallen
Here the blame is shifted away from the individual (yourself or someone else) and on to the world system. While it is true that the world is a fallen place, individuals still are accountable. We are not robots. When one always blames the world system, not only are individuals wrongly let off the hook, alternatives solutions are proposed which are either insufficient or even harmful.
Sometimes better education is suggested as the solution to the world’s problems. While education is important, by itself it is not enough. Theodore Roosevelt (U. S. President 1901-09), himself an ardent political progressive, noted, “A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.”
People who believe the problems of the world are only corporate, and not also individual, are vulnerable to the charms of political Pied Pipers who establish dictatorships and kill millions.
Some people see the problem only as corporate because they have an ideological agenda; others because they recognize it’s difficult to help society by helping individuals one at a time; still others because they do not wish to confront their own sin. Yes, it is part of the Christian belief system to ad-dress corporate injustice, but individual sinners still need to repent.
4. It’s ALWAYS the Plan of God
While God is ultimately in control, He has given people the free will to make choices, many of them disobedient to Him and harmful to others. Yes, God allows things to happen and can work a victory out a disaster if we let Him, but He does not usually directly cause something bad to happen. Jesus, in His parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds), speaks of the origin of the tares: “An enemy has done this” (Matthew 13:28).
In Romans, chapter 8, Paul lists tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword. While, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us,” these things still hurt and are the work of Satan and those who do his bidding, not usually the direct plan of God. Passive resignation in the face disaster, ascribing its cause to God, may sound pious to some, but such fatalism is the teaching of Islam, not Christianity. +