How I Face Tragedy-Don’t Give Up on God!

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

After devastating occurrences taking place in my life one after the other I have given up on God! As somebody who from an early age has been taught to trust, confide and love God, I have thoroughly began to feel that me loving and believe in him has been a waste of time! He is the biggest disappointments of my entire life, which is extremely hard for me to be saying! Without him I feel alone even though there are many people that I care about and love that surround me everyday!

I would like to forgive God and restore my faith because without him I can’t see a way forward! I would love it if you can explain why bad things happen to good people?!


Dear “J”,


I’m not surprised that you feel this way. I’d feel that way, too, if all those things had happened to me.


Wait a minute! They have happened to me. I’ve had open heart surgery as a child to fix a nonexistent hole in my heart after the doctors made a horrible diagnostic mistake. My first daughter died in my arms. I’ve had numerous operations to remove my colon, fix my knees, extract broken disc material from my spine and several more operations to try to fix a broken electrical system in my heart. When they failed a pacemaker was implanted in my heart to make my heart beat. Without it my heart will cease beating immediately. I have nicknamed my pacemaker, “repeat”! My wife has had a nervous breakdown. I have stood on the ledge of a three story building in so much emotional pain that it took every mental ounce of strength to climb back down and not jump. Both of my daughters have bipolar chemistry issues. One of them was sexually assaulted. I know what it is like to be angry and disappointed in God.


I’ve shared the above not for sympathy—I have had plenty of that over the years. I share to let you know that it is OK to be sick and tired of God. It is OK to be totally disappointed in Jesus. It is normal to wonder if following Jesus was just a waste of time. I don’t blame you a bit. Your anger and disappointment are natural emotions that you can’t stop from arising deep within to affect how we feel about pain and suffering. The big issue is what we do with those deep emotions.


I shared my own pains to let you know that you don’t have to give up on God. You can give up if you want to. I can’t stop that. But, since you asked for some guidance, let me share with you some thoughts that may be a help.


First things first. I am sorry for your loss. The God you believed in, the One Who stood beside you, Whom you trusted and in Whom you confided is no longer part of your life. The magnitude of that loss is incalculable. The pain there I know is deep. I am sorry.


I assume that you would like to reconnect with Him. You would like to know if He even exists and if He does, could you ever trust Him again.


I don’t know how well I can answer your questions, but what I can do is share with you the theological framework that I used to reconnect with God the night one of my daughters was lying in a hospital bed with 90% of her lungs filled with fluid. The attending physician said to me quietly, “Tonight, your daughter may become a statistic.” I turned on God and snarled in anger, “If she dies, You and I are finished.” I wasn’t just speaking about that night. It was from a life time and suffering that I spoke those words. I was so angry that God would let her suffer like this—gasping for every breath—feeling that each would be her last.


Here is how I sorted out my relationship with God.


First, why do bad things happen to good people? Because we live in a fallen, sinful and suffering world.


The Bible says that God created the earth without sin. He had great plans for it. Adam and Eve had a great time in the Garden of Eden. I imagine they laid around in hammocks, soaking in the sun, eating grapes and pomegranate nectar. But, when they rebelled against God, the earth itself was cursed. Suffering had entered the scene. Satan took control of this fallen world. Adam had to weed weeds and burn under a hot sun. Camelot disappeared.


Immediately after sin entered the world, God devised a plan which would one day culminate in no more suffering. Jesus would come to redeem the world of sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross, and, according to the Book of Revelation, He will eventually recover the world to God’s control and suffering will stop and peace will prevail. Until that occurs, bad things will continue to happen to good people.


Second, the purpose of suffering is to help to make us look like Jesus.


Consider, “J” that all you have endured were designed and/or allowed by God to fashion you to look more like Jesus! For non-Christians, suffering is for nothing. For Christians suffering is for Someone. In other words, God uses suffering to mold us to look like Jesus. How we respond to our trials makes all the difference in the world. When we suffer we can get bitter, angry or depressed. Or we can say, “Thanks, Jesus, I know that You will use even this to help me look more like Jesus.”


Let me share several passages for you to ponder:


Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11).


But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).


And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).


Notice in the last passage that the “good for those who love God” is to be “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Respond properly to pain, God is in the business of making us more like Jesus.


Third, we will only understand the workings of God when we see the big picture.


In Psalm 73 Asaph struggled just like we. He was serving God and was frustrated because his ungodly neighbors were doing better in life than he was. Asaph even wondered whether or not he was wasting his time in following God. He was sick and tired of the God he had followed since childhood. He was plagued with disappointment and anger until he went to church and saw what was really going on behind the scenes:


This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth.

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.

If I had said, “I will speak thus, “I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:12-26).


I love Psalm 73. Do I dare tell you that during my doubting period I preached for a number of years and wasn’t sure that there was a God. Thank God for this Psalm. I knew that the Bible teaches that when the Word of God is proclaimed it will be strong and powerful. I could still preach with integrity because that’s what Asaph did during his angry-doubting period. God told him to keep his mouth shut about his doubts and keep on preaching while he was working out his issues with God.


Fourth, I no longer imagine that God has promised to remove all suffering from the earth—including mine. What God has promised to do is to help me find victory in the midst of any and every suffering through the power of Jesus Christ.


Lying in a hospital bed the night before major surgery I came across Philippians 4:10-14:


I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles … (Philippians 4:10-15).


For the first time I began to engage with the fact that troubles were going to come whether I liked it or not. Sufferings are inherent in life whether I wanted to admit that or not. The secret to enduring them is to learn contentment and to find peace even in the most difficult of circumstances. How? Through the poured in power of Jesus Christ.


Don’t miss the fact that the way Paul found victory was in the company of others who shared their grace and sustenance with him. It is never good to handle pain and suffering alone.


You shared some of your sufferings in your letter. I shared some of mine at the beginning of my letter to you.


I want you to hear Paul as he described the troubles he had endured in life. We are both in good company.


I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).


How could Paul endure these things with contentment? Because of the power of Jesus Christ and the sufficient grace of God. Look at how God works in the following passage.


To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).


Fifth, the Bible is the best source for telling us what God is really like—not our own wishes, expectations, or preconceived notions.


God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3:14).


According to God, He is Who He is. He is operating in a fallen world where things don’t always work out as they should. One day He will retake this broken world from Satan and Sin. Until then, He is helping us find power, grace and contentment in a variety of difficult circumstances.


I loved Albert Fox. He was my mentor in my growing up years. He taught me to have an appreciation for science and physics—and many other things—and Jesus. Then he got brain cancer. About three weeks before he died he called me to his bedside and whispered in my ear: “Watch carefully, I will show you how a Christian dies.” And he did. Three months later he passed on to glory—strengthened and content by the power of Jesus Christ.


Well, “P”, I hope you find here a few principles which will help you along in your spiritual journey. May God bless you with forgiveness for how God seemingly has hurt and abandoned you. Perhaps you will begin to look at God more like a partner through life’s struggles instead of One Who disappoints and lets you down.


I am sorry for your pain. Yet, I pray for you much better days ahead.


Love, Roger


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