At some point, every person finds himself in the midst of pain and struggle. Job loss, poverty, sickness, abuse, injury, broken relationships, the death of loved ones--these are but a few of the things that may cause a person to ask, "Why is this happening to me?" I'm a firm believer that sometimes--usually, in fact--stuff just happens. Matthew 5:45* says, "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Simply because a person is experiencing trouble, that doesn't mean that they are coming under the judgment of God. Ecclesiastes 9:1-2 echoes Jesus' sentiment that all people are subject to the same things:
But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.So, just because disaster has overtaken you, that doesn't mean that God has designed it, or that you have brought it on yourself.
On the other hand, it might.
Hosea 8:7 says, "For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." There is a law of reciprocity in the universe, which God has established as a natural law, that says, "What goes around, comes around." Or, as Galatians 6:-7-8 puts it:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.Am I contradicting myself? Maybe. That's because one hard-and-fast rule can't be set for all situations in life. Sometimes when disaster happens, it's because of random circumstance. Other times, it's because we have brought it on ourselves through this divine law of natural (and supernatural) reciprocity.
Because there is no set rule that governs all human existence, it's important for believers to keep their eyes, ears, and hearts open to learn whatever God may have them learn from whatever life may bring.
Chapter one of the book of Joel describes a swarm of locusts that descended on God's people. While a natural phenomenon, locusts are also associated with God's judgment. This summer in Virginia, we experienced a cycle of locusts--a predictable cycle that comes every seventeen years. Surely predictable cycles happened in Joel's time as well. But this swarm was something special. God describes this onslaught as a devouring army that was sent as divine retribution for their sins.
But God doesn't drop disaster on His people because he's some sadist who just wants to get back at us. No--God wants to see His people repent and return to Him. He knows that the human heart is stubborn, and sometimes it takes tragedy in order to make us look to the Lord. Joel 2:12-14 says:
12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?
When the people repent and return to God, the Lord restores them and shows His mercy. Joel 2:23-27 shows that God renews the land's vitality, but He also restores the people's spirit and their reputation among the surrounding nations.
23 “Be glad, O children of Zion,
and rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given the early rain for your vindication;
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the latter rain, as before.
24 “The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
25 I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
But God doesn't simply stop at physical renewal. He brings spiritual revival to the people who have returned to Him. Joel 2:28-29 says:
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
The disastrous circumstances of our lives can produce fear in our hearts, but Jesus reminds us not to fear. There is a greater spiritual work taking place than we can see in the natural realm. He tells us that we are precious to God, who values us highly. In Matthew 10:26-31, He says:
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
When you're going through tough times, sometimes you ask, "Why is this happening to me?" Maybe it's just the normal events of life (and this is usually the case). But maybe you're reaping the spiritual or physical consequence of sin, that you have brought on yourself. The trouble you're experiencing might be the hand of God bringing you through disaster so He can renew you on the other side. It's up to you to pray--and ask God to show you which is the case. "Nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." The Lord is a God who reveals Himself to those who seek to understand.
*All scriptures taken from the ESV.