Bad Things, Good People, and The Sovereignty of God

If you make good choices, good things will happen; but, if you make bad choices, bad things will happen.

This is an axiom that I have been teaching my now 11-year-old son for as long as I can remember. I call it an axiom because the relationship between choices and outcomes in life is so often apparent, that it cannot be denied.

But, I’m on the verge now of having to burst his bubble. For his own good, I will soon have to start adding a bit of biblical wisdom to this idea that what we put into a thing necessarily determines what comes out of it. In essence, I’m going to have to begin teaching my son that life in a fallen world is not always “fair.”

I’ve been reading that relatively short, but often confounding Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. This morning, I came across a brief passage in the middle of chapter 10 that’s constructed by two related proverbs. Verses 8-9 say this:

The one who digs a pit may fall into it, and the one who breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
The one who quarries stones may be hurt by them; the one who splits trees may be endangered by them. (HCSB)

Here’s King Solomon’s point. In his day, to “dig a pit” or “break through a wall” was to engage in criminal activity. That activity brought inherent risk, and would sometimes lead to the criminal’s harm. Bad choices equal bad things, right?

Solomon wasn’t finished with his thought. He knew, in wisdom, that sometimes the one who engages in honest labor gets hurt, too. To “quarry stone” or “split trees” was to put in an honest day’s work. Still, the honest laborer, sometimes, finds himself injured. In this case, good choices do not necessarily equal the good results we expect.

Life in a world marred by human sin is often times “unfair,” and suffering abounds.

If you’ve lived beyond age 11, you intuitively know this already. But, that doesn’t make the fact any easier to accept. The dilemma inevitably leads us to ask questions like, why do “bad things” happen to “good people.” Conversely, we may ask, why do “good things” happen to “bad people.”

Solomon wrestled with these and related issues throughout Ecclesiastes, and his Holy Spirit-inspired wisdom are both challenging and formative. He expressed what we often times feel when we experience the undesirable consequences of life in a world gone mad. What we’re left with are answers that feel unfulfilling at times, but reassuring at others.

So, how should we respond when life’s output doesn’t seem to be in concert with our input?

1) Recognize and accept the truth of the matter: “good” things do not always follow “good” choices.

2) While “bad” output following “good” input is not a desirable result, these circumstances are entirely under the rule of our sovereign God (see the stories of Joseph and Job, for example).

3) As God is sovereign, and always in pursuit of His own glory and the ultimate good of His people, we can trust that He will use even the most negative of circumstances for these purposes (Romans 8:28).

Are you experiencing this dilemma today?

If so, how are you responding, and in what or Who are you trusting?