Pearl Harbor Reflection: Why Does God Let This Happen?

by Bill Brenner on December 7, 2015

I know some people who hate God right now. One lost a child to illness. Several have simply had a bad run of luck in recent years. They can’t understand why an all-loving God lets bad things happen to them.

I used to be there: When my brother died or when my friend Sean Marley  died. In the aftermath of those events, I wasn’t on speaking terms with God. At other points in my life, like my struggle to contain OCD and addictive behavior, I was talking to God, but nothing coming from my mouth was making much sense. I was rattling off prayers designed to make my life safer and more comfortable.

My relationship with God has gone through changes in recent years. I no longer pray for the safety of everyone I know. I just pray we’ll all have the wisdom to live our lives the way we’re supposed to for whatever length of time we’re going to be around. I’ve come to see life’s body blows not as a punishment but as situations we’re supposed to work through to come out stronger.

To those who ask why it’s worth having faith when there’s always the chance that there’s really nothing there after death, I ask, what’s the alternative? Even if there’s nothing on the other side, I’d still rather live by beliefs that include treating those around me right and striving for good. I’d still rather strive for a clean soul, though I admittedly have a lot of work to do on that one. If there’s nothing on the other side, at least I’ll have taken a shot at being a better person.

But as I’ve said, I do believe.

As part of that, there’s something else I believe: The bad things we go through — and we all go through the bad — is a test. I don’t think certain things are deliberately planned out, like a natural disaster, the death of a loved one or the break-up of a relationship. But I do think we’re tasked with coming out of these things as better people who can come through when others need our help later on. That’s what Mister Rogers was talking about right after 9-11 when he suggested children always watch for the helpers in the face of disaster.

In the movie “Pearl Harbor,” there’s a scene where FDR meets with his military advisors and expresses his desire to strike back at Japan. His advisors give him all the reasons why it can’t be done. Then he mentions the polio that left him in a wheelchair and how he’s spent every hour of his life wondering why God put him in the chair.

Too dramatic? Maybe. This was a product of Hollywood and the scene was probably only loosely based on what really happened.

Still, I can totally picture FDR saying those things. He did say them at various times of his presidency.

His faith helped him deal with some of the biggest challenges mankind had faced up to that point. In that war and wars since then, faith has helped a lot of people push forward with the tasks that terrified them.

They chose to believe despite all the terrible things that happen around here.

So do I.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin March 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

Great post.

I think part of the issue when people ask “Why would God let this happen?” is when the relationship they have with Him is transactional in nature. “I do these things for God therefore He must/must not do these other things” is probably the most simplistic way of stating it – but I’ve heard complicated views of God that in the end are transactional in nature (“Prosperity Gospel” comes to mind).

My experience was that once I realized that God had already done the ultimate transaction for me in the form of His Sons sacrifice on the cross I had a better context for understanding the bad things I see out there in the world.

Might this help others? I don’t know. All I know is that realizing this helped me.

JB March 23, 2011 at 10:13 am

Ditto on the great post. I was totally pissed off at God after my son died — but that is how at least I knew He was there (and could even be open to an HP when was ready to get sober) On the transactional thing — just about 2 years ago when I was working on my 9th step, I went to a monastery for a weekend retreat to write some amends letters — and to tall the priest some things I didn’t want to tell my sponsor. Part of that conversation centered on the whole “I know God took my son from me because I am a screw up and I did this, and this, and this…..” The priest – bless his heart — said “that’s not how God works” and then helped me realize how insanely egocentric my thinking was to believe that God would seek revenge on little old me. What Martin says ” God had already done the ultimate transaction for me in the form of His Sons sacrifice on the cross I had a better context for understanding the bad things I see out there in the world.” Thanks for writing this both of you.

Renee July 24, 2011 at 4:29 am

Excellent Bill! You said it exactly as I too believe. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. And Bill, you’ve already been forgiven. It is promised. Your slate is clean.

Travis July 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I know I’m a little late with the response, but I can kind of relate to you. I’ve recently developed OCD, possibly as a side effect from untreated strep. Except mine is religious/scrupulosity OCD. On one hand, it brought me to God (I wasn’t living how I should be before hand). And it’s been a fight. God has shown me a lot of amazing things during this. I love to just sit outside and look around and see the beauty He made. But the OCD gives me a lot of bad thoughts about Him and I sometimes get terrified that He would just leave me over these thoughts. And the harder I fight them, the worse they get. And sometimes I feel like I’ve committed the unforgivable sin or that God won’t forgive me and will just throw me out of His hands. And I sometimes ask ‘How can God love me if I’m going through this.’ Or ‘Does God hate me?’ But then He shows me something that shows He loves me and He knows it’s the OCD saying the bad things. Whether it be a random bible verse about love that really touches me, or something a person or friend says and that feeling inside that says ‘God wants you to hear this.’ Is it a pain? Yes. Do I sometimes just want to give up? Definitely. But then I remember that Jesus took on a lot pain, suffering, abuse, and insults for people like me. He could have given up. He could have walked away or said we didn’t deserve it. We definitely didn’t deserve it. We never will. But He didn’t. He didn’t give up on me. And He didn’t give up on the world. So I’m not giving up on Him either.

Cindy Valladares (@cindyv) October 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm

My life has been so blessed in many ways, and I have not experienced pain as some of you have. But I have many times been lukewarm in my love to God. I have asked, more than I have thanked. I have questioned, more than I have accepted. There is one passage that has carried me through my ups and downs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all the ways, and He will make your path straight” (Prov 3:5-6). I LOVE this verse; it speaks to me.

Recently read two Christian books that have improved my relationship with God: one is The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, the other one is The Shack by William P. Young. Two very different books with beautiful Christian messages and stories.

Great post, Bill. It’s through sharing His love and how He touches our lives that we’ll continue to grow. And good luck teaching RCIA.

Andy Willingham August 17, 2012 at 7:44 am

People are always quick to blame God or question Him when bad things happen. That’s a lot easier than holding on to faith that often doesn’t make sense. We also forget that God is there for us when we have turned from Him. Look at Psalm 78 and countless other verses. More importantly talk to those who have been there and now see how God was there when they didn’t want Him or when they thought He was nowhere to be found.

Eli December 15, 2012 at 9:18 am

Great post! Wonderful job writing! God Bless.

Bill Ross December 15, 2012 at 9:47 am

Thank you brother and it is on this sad day I have read your gentle discussion on faith that discusses the loss of a child and we, as a country, just lost 20 beautiful souls who are now in heaven. It is a time like this that every fiber of our and all other’s faith could be stretched to the absolute limits. As a young child growing up in the Catholic School System and eventually graduating from Catholic University, I constantly questioned the concept of why evil exists and why does God not obliterate it with his Almighty Power?

The answer that always comes back to me that makes more and more sense is that God, in His Humility and Love, gave all mankind “our free will” to choose between good and evil. The ability to chose is the Power he gave us from the beginning of mankind and when He saw we were getting out of control and knew we would continue this way, He had a plan to send His Son to endure the most intense physical suffering one can imagine. In a theological sense, He has always been there and if one traces the prophesies through the message of the bible to the wonderful grace in the souls of zillions of people who radiates God’s goodness in is up to every person alive today and into the future in every single country in ever single government to get damn mad and not accept evil, to not destroy life in their own countries and within their own countries and in the womb and to stop hurting children.

While the tragedy in Sandy Hook was done by a single sick actor that actor is a product of our larger global society of violence and evil. And the greatest greatest weapon we can use to fight this evil and come together as one global society is the power of love, good, and sacrifice that we saw in Jesus’s sacrifice in the cross. The power of universal love, if accepted and acted upon, can give all mankind to include the evil actors the ability to work unto good.

And now, it is time to Pray for the Souls in Newtown and that God’s love help all those that are suffering so, so, much.

Sara February 5, 2013 at 6:26 am

That choice to believe in spite of has been the most steady factor in my life. Like everyone I question God as to why the bad things have happened/or happen especially after a long run of things or the ocd/scrupulosity is on a run reminding me of stuff. However, I made a cemeted choice and that makes a huge difference. I’m not talking about my choice to come to faith originally but another choice to believe in God and stay with him even when I don’t and can’t understand what happens. Usually it involves a lot of tears ( and at times cups of chocolate) with God but there is no longer the same need to ‘get it’ and to understand it.
Thanks for tackling the tough stuff and for talking openly about things.

Greg January 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Wow, lot of people “Great post”ing you. Interesting.

Want to really challenge yourself? Go post something similar to r/atheist on reddit. See what the reaction of that community will be.

Don’t delude yourself by preaching to the choir.

IMO, this post, while well written, clearly smacked of someone who no longer is capable of thinking critically or logically on these topics.

You basically admit that you are bullshitting yourself:

> Some of you will say that’s just so much bullshit. But that’s what Faith is

And yet you go on doing that. That’s not self-love. That’s being dishonest with yourself in a very unloving way.

Bill Brenner January 16, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Actually, a lot of readers here are atheist and have many different beliefs from mine. If you look at other posts, you’ll see that I’m disagreed with on a regular basis. And I’m perfectly fine with it. As for the rest of your comment, I think you simply don’t agree with what I said and decided to resort to insults as a response. Good for you.

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