One writer has observed about the tendency not only of our culture but even believers, “We are willing to worship God only if God makes us safe. Thus you get the silly question, ‘How does a good God let bad things happen to good people?'”
Too many want God only for the safety and comfort that He provides. And if there is no discernible comfort or life is not “good,” then God is not wanted. Yet, in His extensive grace, God uses every circumstance of our lives to accomplish good for us. And, as Paul notes in Rom. 8:28-29, the great good He accomplishes is the conformity of the believer to Christ.
The greatest accomplishment of a believer’s life is increasing transformation into the likeness of Christ — something that is called progressive sanctification. And whenever sanctification occurs in our lives, by whatever means the Lord uses to accomplish that change, it is good.
That does not mean that the circumstances themselves are necessarily good. But God can and does use difficult and even sinful circumstances for good purposes in our lives. For instance, when God uses my sin against others to confront me with the reality of my heart’s sinful propensities and condition, that is good. When the Lord uses my sin to bring about repentance in me, that is good and a gift from the Lord. When God uses sin against me to reveal pride in my own heart (“how dare they sin against me!”), that is a grace from God because my heart’s motives are revealed. When God uses sin against me to produce reconciliation with a brother in Christ or a family member, that is a good and redeeming use of evil.
Life with Christ is not ever guaranteed to be “safe.” But life with Christ is always good — even (especially!) when He is removing the dross of sinfulness from our hearts through difficult circumstances and means.
Certainly it is true that it is better to deal with our sinful tendencies and desires without dramatic episodes and confrontations, but when we sin against others or when others sin against us so that the ungodly desires of our hearts are exposed, we have received a kind grace from God. We have then been given an opportunity to repent and change. And that means we become more like Christ. And that is always good.
Let me repeat what I wrote a few paragraphs ago — whenever sanctification occurs in our lives, by whatever means the Lord uses to accomplish that change, it is good. That truth also means that when I am angry about my circumstances or bitter or discontent or unhappy or “frustrated” or disconcerted or anxious or fearful it also means that to that same degree I am not wanting the transformation of God. The more I want my circumstances to change without me having to change the more I am evidencing my unhappiness with God and my desire to remain unsanctified and untransformed.
Conversely, the desire for transformation is why a couple can weep with gratitude and grow in love for each other when adultery is confessed and forgiven. That is why a parent can be joyful when a sick child is not healed and dies. This is why a Joni Eareckson Tada can give thanks for a diving accident. That is why a pastor can joyfully press on in life and ministry when his wife has stage four cancer. There is always something more significant in life than the removal of our problems and trials and persecutions. What supersedes everything else is conformity to Christ. What is better than everything else is increasingly bearing the image and likeness of Christ, both internally and externally.
The events of our lives — all the events including the ones we are prone to deeming “bad” — are from the hand of God and they have a definitive purpose in our lives to accomplish good for us and glory for God. They are to make us like Christ and that is the means by which “bad” can be used for good.
Here are also a few additional resources that I have found helpful on the topic of suffering and God’s sovereignty.