In the book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” Rabbi Harold S. Kushner attempts to offer consolation for people who question why certain evils have entered their lives. While his answers have provided practical and compassionate insight for some people, I believe that the best answers can be found in the New Testament, where we are told to be joyful about those bad things that happen to us. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” In 2 Corinthians 7:4, Paul said, “In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” The Bible tells us that bad things happen for three specific purposes: in order to accomplish God’s master plan; to give us perseverance; and, to provide us with heavenly rewards.
God’s Master Plan
When the apostle Paul was persecuted and imprisoned for the cause of Christ, he wrote the prison epistles. In Philippians 1:12, he said, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Being so close to the physical circumstances around us prevents us from seeing the big picture. God’s master plan may include some steps where we have to endure some negative circumstances before the next positive step of God’s plan can be accomplished, either for us or for others. Perhaps the reason that we can’t see the forest is simply because we’re not omnipotent like God. We simply have to trust Him, which is indeed the heart of the gospel message (John 3:16).
In James 1:3-4, we are told that, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Verse 12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
John 16:20-24 says, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Earthly Rewards vs. Heavenly Rewards
In Matthew 6:1-21, Christ explains a trade-off between earthly and heavenly rewards. In verse 1, He says, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Concerning giving, in verses 2 – 4, He says, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Concerning prayer, in verses 5 – 8, He says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Concerning fasting, in verses 16 – 18, He says, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Concerning treasures in Heaven, in verses 19 – 21, He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This is also the message presented to us in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12, culminating in Christ’s summary, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
In Luke 16:19-31, Christ tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It’s a disturbing story of the rich man spending eternity in hell while the poor man Lazarus spends eternity in Heaven. In verse 25, Abraham told the rich man, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”