Is God Still Good When Bad Things Happen to Children?
Parents have many nightmares and my wife and I were woken up by one of those nightmares early this morning. The terrifying, loud crash and shuddering of our house was immediately followed by the terrified shrieks of our children. My wife beat me out of our bed, but I wasn't far behind. As I grabbed my phone, I did a quick mental inventory of our kids' bedrooms. Nothing in them, including the beds, would've made that big of a noise. My concerned puzzlement was quickly solved because, with fear in her voice, my wife yelled, "John, the ceiling's collapsed!"
As I bounded up the stairs, I quickly breathed, "Father, please protect my children." I followed my prayer with the shout, "Do I need to call 911?" By that time, I had reached our eleven-year-old daughter's room.
I wish that I had taken a picture of the carnage before I cleaned it up, but, I didn't, so words will have to suffice. Half of the ceiling was on the floor, dust was heavy in the air, the ceiling fan was dangling from what remained of the ceiling, pieces of insulation and the plaster ceiling were everywhere, and our daughter was sitting upright, gasping for air, crying, and with terror-filled eyes. Across the hall, our six-year-old son was also sitting upright in his bed, clutching his teddy bear, shaking, and with his wide, scared eyes trained upwards to his ceiling, expecting it to come crashing down at any moment.
The next words out of my wife's mouth immediately calmed me, "She's ok. She's not hurt."
I replied, "Don't move," and then quickly returned back downstairs to grab a flashlight and some shoes for my daughter in case there were nails on the floor (there were nails on the floor, by the way). Upon returning, I had our daughter go downstairs and had my wife pick up our son and carry him to the safety of our bedroom.
As I surveyed the damage, I thanked God for protecting my children. We live in an older house that has plaster walls and ceilings. Plaster is much heavier than today's sheetrock; if the several hundred pounds of plaster had fallen on our daughter, I would be writing this from the hospital.
"God is truly good," I thought as I realized the gravity of the near miss.
While cleaning up, I reflected on what had happened and realized that I can't frame the conversation with my daughter in terms of "God is good because He kept the ceiling from falling on your bed." To do so would imply that God is not good if the ceiling had fallen on her bed, harming her. That, of course, would be lying about God. God is always good, even when ceilings fall on eleven-year-old girls.
Sadly, many professing Christians view God through the lens of consumerism. God is here for their pleasure. Instead of serving God in humility, they expect God to serve them, to make sure that their life comports well with their idea of "good." Furthermore, as consumer-minded Christians, they treat prayer like the Lost Boys clapping and God like Tinkerbell. In that perspective, God is wringing His hands in anguish, wishing that His children would only put a little more effort into their prayers so that He can intervene.
Except, He is not a tame God, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. God is holy, however. This means that not only is God without sin, but God cannot abide sin or be in the presence of sin. God is also perfectly just, meaning that God must punish sin. If God didn't punish sin, He would cease to be God.
By way of contrast, all humans are sinners and are frequently unjust, which is a sin. And "all humans" means "all humans," including eleven-year-old girls. The concept of humans being sinners isn't foreign to Christians. Verses like Romans 3:10 tell us that "None is righteous, no not one." A little later in the chapter, Romans 3:23 bluntly states, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Non-Christians may find the sinfulness of humans a strange concept, though. Looking around the world, the evil present should be obvious. And for every rejoinder along the lines of "environment creates evil," an individual raised in the best environment who enacts evil on others can be found. Not to mention that it would be an odd person who would claim to have never done anything wrong at any point of his or her life. Considering that God is holy, there is no amount of sin that He can allow to go unpunished. And all sin, any amount, has the weight of God's eternal and just punishment bearing down on it. One day, all sin not covered by the blood of Jesus will earn the guilty party the everlasting sentence of hell.
With that very basic of Christian doctrines in mind, it's amazing that any of us are allowed to live lives that comport to any definition of "good." That means that when I talk to my daughter about her ceiling, I'm not going to frame it with "God is good." I'm going to frame the conversation with "God is merciful."
It's only God's patient mercy that allows sinful humans to enjoy His world that He created for His glory. It's only God's patient mercy that keeps His just and wrathful hand at bay instead of immediately enacting the eternal punishment that all humans who are not repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus deserve. And it's only God's patient mercy that kept my daughter safe last night, because, you see, my daughter has yet to repent of her sins and place her faith in Jesus. God is kind in allowing her more time to bow the knee to King Jesus.
There's another angle to the conversation, though, and an angle that confronts the poor understanding of Romans 8:28 that many Christians have. Quoting Romans 8:28 whenever they avoid a car accident, or in similar situations, many Christians view the verse as their lucky talisman. That interpretation fails to understand that for Christians who suffer hard providences, God is using that trial and/or suffering for their good and His glory. Specifically, the "good" of Romans 8:28 is Christians being made more like Jesus, not avoiding suffering and trials. If a plaster ceiling falls on the bed of an eleven-year-old girl who is putting her faith in Jesus, God is good because God is using that trial/suffering to sanctify her. One of the ways that God is good is by giving us what we need, not what we want or even what we think we need. Sometimes what we need is to suffer so that we can be made more like Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria