“Helping Students Understand Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?” (Caroline Smallwood)

Our youth group has experienced the perfect storm in the last couple of weeks. We began a series that every one is pretty excited about. We are calling it “Ask Anything” and for four weeks we will be answering hard theological questions, aka apologetics for middle schoolers. On the fifth week we will have a panel to answer any questions the students have that were not already covered. Well, we all know that one of the main questions middle schoolers (and adults alike) ask is, “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Shortly before we planned to answer those questions from stage, we experienced a nightmare in our community. One of our student’s moms, who happens to also be a small group leader in our ministry and very active in the church as a whole, was in a horrible car accident. She was in a coma for a while and is now slowly recovering. Still unable to move much or speak at all, we are hopeful for her future yet asking “Why do bad things happen to good people?” more than ever.

So, in the midst of horrible pain and unexplainable circumstances, how do you explain the goodness of God to a middle schooler? How do you explain why God allows pain and suffering?

Not surprisingly, this has been even harder than we expected it to be.

We started with all the logical answers:

  1. Free will – God does not want us to be robots so He allows us to make our own choices. Sometimes these choices are sinful and have negative consequences. Because the other driver chose to not pay attention while she drove on that rainy morning, your mom suffered from that bad choice. God could force us to make perfect choices but then we would all be slaves, instead of free and beautiful creations.
  2. The world is broken – When Adam and Eve sinned it not only cut us off from a relationship with God, it also brought brokenness to all of creation. Roads get slippery when it’s wet, cars malfunction, and none of us are invincible. Because of this broken world we are always susceptible to danger and brokenness.

Although our students mentally understood those answers, their hearts are still breaking and they are looking for more than logical answers right now.

What they need is an answer of faith. An answer that speaks truth but recognizes the pain and confusion.

So, here are three ways to respond when a student asks “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and they want more than a theological answer:=

  1. You are not alone – During this suffering and questioning and scary time, I am here for you. I know it’s confusing as to why God would let this happen, but I will walk through that confusion with you. You don’t have to do this alone. We will get through this together.
  2. God wants to hear all our true feelings and questions – One of the most refreshing things about God is how real He is. He doesn’t require us to be fake. If our hearts are questioning and hurting and wondering then He wants us to express that to Him. It’s okay to feel all those ways right now. He wants us to be honest so that we can be aware of the state of our hearts and He can begin to work on them. Even if you are mad at God, don’t ignore Him. Take that anger to Him.
  3. Life certainly is hard and unfair. This is why we need God. – It is so unfair that you are experiencing this, especially at this young age. Life certainly wasn’t supposed to be like this and I wish we had the exact answer for why God let this happen. Until we do know that answer, together let’s decide to ask for God’s help during this tough time. It is not going to be possible to move forward without His help, whether we are mad at Him or not.

Times of suffering are some of the most critical times to not only speak truth to middle schoolers but also to show up with love and compassion. When your community, your youth group or just one student experiences suffering or trauma, don’t shy away from stepping into the messy. Isn’t this often where God meets us after all?

Caroline Smallwood is the Middle School Girls’ Director at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas. At a young age she knew she was called to work with middle year girls and has been doing so in a full-time role for four years. She has her Masters in Human Relations and has a passion for helping hurting kids.

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