On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck packed with explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. At 9:02am, he detonated the explosives, killing 168 innocent people in the worst terrorist attack on US soil until September 11. Of the victims, 19 of them were children.
It was the first event in history that I can personally recall that made me consider the question:
WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
It’s one of the toughest questions of all time. It’s also one of the most difficult questions to understand, and even harder to attempt to explain.
THE SHORT ANSWER:
We live in a broken world.
THE LONG ANSWER:
We live in a broken world resulting from people’s poor decisions that God has allowed.
Think about it. Could God have stopped Timothy McVeigh from killing those 168 people? Sure.
But to do so, God would have had to revoke the gift that He gave to both you and Timothy: free will.
God has offered each of us two significant gifts. Of course He offers more than just 2 gifts, but the 2 greatest gifts He has made available to us are:
This is the most valuable gift any of us will ever be offered. The Apostle Paul wrote that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. However, he also said while we deserve death, God offers us the gift of grace and eternity with God based on the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. The second most valuable gift ever made available to you is this:
2. Freedom of choice
We are given the choice whether to follow God or not. If we didn’t have a choice, we would all be puppets on strings. But we aren’t puppets. We aren’t forced to take actions. While God could force us to make every choice that we make, He chooses not to. I refer to this as God’s “divine restraint”.
This topic ventures into a theological debate among Christians as to whether free will exists or if God orchestrates every choice of every person. The intent of today’s blog is not to spark a theological debate, but rather, to help provide understanding to the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The reason God chooses not to make our choices on our behalf is because He wants authentic relationships with us. If we were forced to love God, it wouldn’t be love. Love is a choice. That is the beauty of love—that it is not forced or manipulated. If it were forced, it would be something other than love, but not love.
If God were to revoke mankind’s freedom of choice, we would also be revoked of our choice of whether we wanted to love God and love others. I would argue that loving God and loving others are the most important goals of life considering that Jesus said they were the most important commandments of all.
God very well could have intervened with Timothy’s horrific plans in 1995, but He didn’t because He loved Timothy McVeigh just as much as each of the 168 that Timothy killed.
When people choose to use their free will to destroy others, their choices create pain and suffering in our broken world. When someone like Timothy uses their God-given gift of free will to harm other people, I truly believe it breaks God’s heart. I certainly do not believe that it was God’s will to have 168 murdered that morning. Nor was it God’s will for terrorists to take the lives of 2996 people on 9/11. Nor was it God’s will for countless other attacks, school shootings, or loss of innocent lives.
While I believe God grieves many of the tragic events we watch on the news, He does not stop bad things from happening even though He could. What is more important to God than preventing bad things from happening is honoring the gift He has given to each of us with the freedom of choice.
A memorial stands today in Oklahoma City where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood. Across the street, a church that had been partially damaged by the explosion placed a giant statue of Jesus with His head bowed in grief. At the bottom of the statue, the artist inscribed John 11:35:
I think the statue is a perfect depiction that helps me better comprehend why God allows bad things to happen to good people.
Q: Did God want Timothy McVeigh to kill 168 people April 19, 1995?
Q: Could God have stopped Timothy McVeigh from killing 168 people April 19, 1995?
Q: Then why didn’t He?
A: Because God gave Timothy free will, just like the rest of us. Good or bad, Timothy’s decisions are his to make.
Q: Did it break God’s heart when those people perished in 1995 and other calloused attacks?
A: Of course. The statue across the street across from the OKC memorial is a pretty accurate rendition of God’s heart in tragic events.
Q: So what does this all mean to you?
A: God has given you the same freedom of choice that He has given every other person He has created. You can use your freedom to love God and love others with your words and actions. Or, you can use your freedom to spread hate and destroy people with your words and actions.
Don’t take the gift God has given you lightly. Use your freedom to love. Use your words to encourage. Use your actions to serve. Use the gift of free will to make this world a better place.
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17