Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why do we run? Here's one reason.

Yesterday, Janice and I ran at Wrightsville Beach, NC. I ran the marathon and she ran the half. As I do in all my races, I wore my Running with Amanda shirt and the collage of pictures on my back. Those pictures are of kids from around the country who perished in some way or another as a result of teen substance abuse. The shirt and the sign are meant to draw attention to our story, the story of Amanda's death, and to the fact that our faith in Christ is the only reason we can go on.

I had several comments on the shirt, with Philippians 4:13 emblazoned on the back, and on the sign, more than I ever had in previous races. I was able to tell Amanda's story several times and testify to God's grace and mercy that allow me to keep going. After arriving at back at my mother-in-law's home, getting cleaned up and a nap, I sat down at the computer to write my race recap. That's when I found an email waiting that let me know God is using us and this ministry to reach others.

I won't copy the email, because I don't want to reveal the identity of the sender, but I will summarize and I want to post an edited (again, not to expose anyone's identity) version of my response. The sender wasn't a runner in the race, but a volunteer who saw my shirt as I passed by. She visited this website and read our story, and wrote, "I admire your faith in God and I am working hard on finding it myself." She went on to explain that she believes in God, but struggles with the question, "Why do bad things happen?"

I responded to her question, explaining what I've learned as I study the Bible following Amanda's death. Knowing many struggle with this question, I thought I'd share with readers here what I shared with her. Please, if you agree with what I say here, share this with others you know who struggle with this question.

Why do bad things happen?

Before Amanda's death, I tried to always do what I thought was right, but I didn't do much of anything to honor or glorify God. I took my girls to church most Sundays, but that was really about it. I didn't know much of the Bible, never could seem to understand much when I tried to read it. But as soon as she was killed, I knew I had to find a reason to go on. Because losing her left me feeling so vulnerable, so inadequate, so incapable of protecting that which I was entrusted with to protect, that I couldn't see a reason to keep going. I know people who reached for a bottle, of booze or pills, to cover up the pain. To say those thoughts didn't cross my mind would be a lie, but closer to hand was a Bible and I reached for that instead.

For the first time in my life, I began searching the Bible for answers with a completely open soul. I was willing to accept whatever it revealed, because I had reached rock bottom, completely shattered with no strength of my own left. In this state, unlike the times before when I'd tried to read the Bible, answers came rather quickly. Pertinent verses seemed to leap from the pages, as if God was turning the pages himself, right to what I needed to read. I really think the difference was that I had reached a point where I was no longer looking for the Bible to justify what I believed, but to tell me what to believe. Some of those verses I found during that time are directly related to your question on why bad things happen.
"When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;" -- James 1:13

God is good, all the time. That's what we're taught. That's what we're told. And it's true. But it's hard to rationalize how such horrible things happen in a world where an omnisicient, omnipotent, omnipresent God could reach down and stop every tragedy before it stops. What happened to Amanda was an act of pure evil. So when I read James 1:13, I realized that God didn't take Amanda. It wasn't His will that she die such a tragic death. God is incapable of evil, that's what James tells us. So it wasn't God that did this. It wasn't His will. It was the work of Satan, who makes it His mission to separate us from God. But that raises the question, "Why doesn't God stop it from happening?"

The best I can come up with to explain this is to compare it with our role as parents. We do our best as parents to teach our children right from wrong, to encourage them to make good choices and decisions. But, in our roles as protectors, their comes a time when we have to step back and let them make their own mistakes. I remember the first time I ever let Amanda drive away by herself. I just knew I'd never see her again. All the times I rode with her, every mistake she made scared me to death, not for me but for her. Still, I had to come to the point when I turned her loose to learn some things on her own. Without experience, she'd never have learned enough to drive in a way I'd consider "safe enough." Similarly, I came to a point when I had to trust her to make the right decisions. My alternative was to keep her at home or with me all the time. When she made bad decisions, I punished her, but not forever. I had to loosen the reins enough to give her a chance to make her own mistakes and learn from them. I never would have "allowed" her go to that party if I'd known that's where she was going, but I had to let her out and trust her to make the right decisions. Technically, I could have prevented what happened that night by keeping her with me, not allowing her to go out. But I made the decision to let her go out, and trust her to make the right decisions. She made the wrong decision to go to the wrong place with the wrong people, a decision I could have prevented. I loved Amanda dearly and was devastated when we lost her. I think God feels the same way when things happen to us. He left us His word, our instruction book on how to live according to His will. He loves us enough to turn us loose and let us make our own choices, hoping always that we will make the choice to turn to Him, and broken hearted when we don't and He loses one of us.

Not every situation of bad things happening falls into this category though. What about sickness and tragedies over which we have no control?
" 1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. " -- John 9:1-3

I think sickness and illness are sometimes consequences of our sins, but not always. I think God allows Satan power over this earth, and the devil inflicts us with tragedy in the hopes of separating us from God, the way He tried with Job. But, if we place our faith and trust in Jesus, our hardships can be the strongest witness to others whose faith is weak. How we react and deal with tragedy can strengthen their faith and bring others into the fellowship of believers. Several have contacted me since Amanda's death, some turned their lives around because of what happened to her, others because they saw how we dealt with her loss. I believe God is using us and our loss to accomplish His will. He uses those ailing from things beyond their control too.
"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." -- Romans 8:28

Just the other day, working with the junior high boys in our church's youth service small group, a young boy testified to such a case. His older sister was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in the 8th grade. She is a senior now, cancer-free but suffering from the effects of years of chemo and radiation treatment. She and her family have been a source of inspiration to so many as they've held strong to their faith in God. Only two weeks after Amanda died, his sister sent me a message on Facebook to encourage me. I was inspired that someone so young, who had been through so much, could have the strength and desire to reach out to help me and my family. Her brother told another inspiring story I mentioned earlier. He said they thought, after the first surgery and round of treatments, his sister had beaten the cancer. When the cancer came back, they were devastated, but their faith remained strong. He said at church the entire family came to the alter to pray and ask for prayers, vowing to remain strong and serve God regardless of what the eventual outcome would be. That night, a family of 5, walked down the aisle to give their hearts to Jesus. This young man asked the question, "If not for our tragedy, would that family have come to be saved?" Even the things we suffer, no matter how bad they are, can be used by God to bring about good.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." -- John 16:33

These were the words of Jesus to his disciples. For a long time I thought if I found God's will for my life and followed it, I'd live a happy, healthy, trouble-free life. Had I really opened myself to the Word of God, I wouldn't have been so misled. Jesus didn't promise us any of these things in this life. In fact, He promises us we will have trouble. Our lives on earth will be characterized by challenges, but we can have hope because the next life will be for eternity without pain, suffering, or any of the struggles we face here.

My reading of the Bible, REALLY reading it since Amanda's murder, has convinced me that God doesn't want us to suffer, but He has to let us suffer. Just as we parents must sometimes do with our kids. When a child takes his first steps, we let them fall. Because if we don't, they'll never learn to walk on their own. When they're learning to ride a bike, we eventually take off the training wheels, knowing they're going to crash, but knowing they have to learn. Raising kids presents these dilemmas over and over again as they grow up, just as we put God in this position over and over again as we go through life.
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." -- 1 Peter 5:8

God doesn't want us to suffer, and just like James 1:13 says above, He doesn't tempt us through suffering. And I believe that's what suffering is, a temptation to become angry with God, to hate Him even, to drive us away from Him. Knowing that God doesn't afflict us to tempt us, that leaves Satan as the culprit. He's the one who constantly seeks our separation from God, so it makes perfect sense that he would try to drive us away. Thinking along that line, it also makes perfect sense that we see people who seem to be the worst and the meanest suffer the least. Why would Satan want to change the hearts of those doing his will, who are separated from God? Why wouldn't the devil seek to reward their ungodly behaviors to encourage others to follow their path to Hell and destruction? This is why I believe some of the worst people seem to have the best of lives here on earth.

Loving God, trusting Jesus, and following Him is no path to a trouble-free, worry-free life here on earth. On the contrary, it's declaring yourself an enemy of the Evil One and almost guaranteeing you will be assailed, assaulted, and attacked in an effort to turn you away and to turn others away from following you. But, the reward for staying the course will come when our time here is over, an eternal life without the pain and suffering we experience here. An ETERNAL life, for all eternity, forever and ever! That's what gives me hope, what keeps me clinging to Jesus in the midst of this seemingly never ending storm called life--the promise, the guarantee that when my time here is up, I'll spend far longer on the other side with Amanda than I would have even if we both lived long, full lives here on earth!

So regardless what trials and troubles this life brings, I'll trust in Him and look forward to the day I get to see Amanda again. Then I'll run to her, hug her, and hold her and never have to worry about losing her again!

Sorry this is so long, but I felt a need to address your question the best I could. I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity and for taking the time to look us up and read our story. Through folks like you, my beautiful daughter lives on. God bless you ma'am. Please let me know if I can help answer any other questions you may have. :)

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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