• The U.S.A. (1982): LITTLE KRISTEN was only 22 months old — just barely out of diapers and reaching that sweet, early talking stage. While her parents were chatting with grandma and granddad — they'd just dropped Kristen by for the day — Kristen, unnoticed, slipped out the front door. Within seconds tragedy struck! By the time Kristen's parents or grandparents realized she was gone, it was too late. Little Kristen continued through the front yard into the street. Coincidentally her grandparents' neighbor across the street was backing his car out of his driveway. He didn't see little Kristen. She was clinically dead before the ambulance reached the hospital. Vital signs ceased that night. • Merceuil, France ("Black Saturday" 1982): In France's worst road disaster, 44 children in one bus perish in massive highway accident southeast of Paris. "Where was God during the night?" asked one woman upon learning that four of her grandchildren had perished. The 44 children were from a small farming village in the north and en route to summer camp. • Treblinka, Poland (1942): Five-year-old Romacia Sztockman, a little Jewish girl, is singing: "We are going to bathe. We shall return clean and merry.... " She is really going to a gas chamber disguised as a bathhouse. Suffering and sweating in the summer heat, she and the other children begin their nightmarish march. Soon they are overcome by heat and a strange sense of terror. The sound of their singing begins to wane and lose its tune. Romacia and the other helpless children will soon cross the border between life and death. She is only one of more than two million Polish Jews who would perish.
Where Was God?
Why did little Kristen, these 44 French children and little Romacia have to die? Why, many ask, does God let healthy little children die? Overwhelmed and emotionally distraught, perhaps even on the verge of anger and bitterness because of a heartrending accident similar to Kristen's, some people lash out in harshness at God: "I can't believe in a God who would let that happen!" Or, "I can't worship a God who allows such accidents!" One of the biggest barriers to people really believing in an eternal, ever-living, all-wise, all-knowing God is the simple fact that painful suffering, death and other evils have been inflicted on innocent little children — not only now, but throughout recorded human history. I was personally sickened inside when news of Kristen's accident, so near where we live, reached me. Such tragedies are never easy to take. But before we blame God for that accident or for any of the multitude of terrible tragedies afflicting people worldwide, we need to stop and understand. There are explanations for accidents. There are reasons why God allows sad events and suffering to occur.
We must admit any number of factors cause accidents. Faulty equipment, carelessness, human miscalculations, lack of training, drunkenness. How many fires occur because children play with matches? How many small children die, drinking caustic, deadly solutions negligently left within their little reach? Thousands. Harmful toys, loaded guns, unguarded swimming pools and you can name others, claim children's lives almost daily. Parents, often, are either careless or fail to teach children proper precautions. Sadly, almost every day, as in the case of little Kristen, we read about a small child killed or injured upon darting into the path of an oncoming vehicle. If you have small children, by all means teach them and discipline them. Don't allow them to cross the street without permission and supervision. Especially teach them not to dart into the street. Impress the seriousness of your teaching on their developing little minds.
Teach and Discipline Your Children
Do teach your children. Be aware where they are and what they are doing. Instruction pays off even for older children. Learn to properly discipline your children for disobedience (Prov. 19:18). God expects parents to fulfill this responsibility. If you heed this sound biblical advice you'll not only help save your child's life, but save yourself unnecessary heartache. But getting back to the basic point: Can we blame God for Kristen's tragic accident or for other similar heartrending occurrences? Shall we humans assume no responsibilities?
A Series of Wrong Choices
Since the beginning of human experience God has given humans freedom of choice — freedom to act rightly, act wrongly or not act at all. Our problems began in the garden of Eden — and so it is there that we must go to find the fundamental answers to the basic dilemmas of humanity. The biblical narrative reveals that God created Adam and Eve in his very own image. He imparted mind power to our first parents — limited ability to think, plan, reason and, create — and, most important, ability to exerci3e decision-making powers. The first two humans were given a choice. Instead of choosing to do things God's way they chose to do things their way. God advised them to take of the tree of life, which represented God's way of doing things, obedience to his authority, an acceptance of his revealed knowledge, leading eventually to eternal life. He warned them against choosing the other way, portrayed by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — representing reasoning apart from God, acquiring knowledge by trial and error, and, in fact, living life in outright rejection of God's revealed way of life. A wrong choice, God warned, would lead to unhappiness and death for the whole human family. "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). They chose wrong! They rejected God and his way! They rejected his having any authority in their lives! That's why all this suffering and hardships we see today. That's why mankind has suffered throughout history. Mankind as a whole has chosen to reject God and God's way of life! God did not force father Adam and mother Eve to choose correctly. He hasn't forced mankind since. And he doesn't force us today. We're not robots. God has always given humans freedom of choice. And except for a very select few, whom God has called out and to whom he has revealed his truth, humanity has rejected right knowledge on how to live in harmony and peace — that right knowledge disseminated by God's law and spelled out in God's Ten Commandments. The first four show us how to love God and the last six teach us how to love each other. Instead humans have chosen to live contrary to God: cheating, lying, stealing, killing, coveting, fornicating and living selfishly for the most part. Is it any wonder, then, why we have unhappiness, suffering and war, so many terrible heartrending personal and world ills?
God Can Intervene
It's not that God can't intervene in the world's affairs. And it's not that God can't save children, or adults for that matter, from death or injury in accidents. He can! God can intervene and God does intervene to help and protect those choosing to live life his way. Jesus, the very personification of God, lived life on this earth exactly as God the Father would have, had the Father become human. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9), Jesus said. Jesus openly showed his love for children. God the Father loves children, too! "Suffer [allow or let] little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me" (Matt. 19:14), said Jesus. He opened his arms to little children, put his hands on them and prayed for them, verse 13. Jesus, who is at the right hand of God the Father this very minute, Acts 7:56, receives little children today! So does God the Father. Parents, choosing to live life God's way, according to his commandments and Bible instructions, can bring their children to God through his ministers today and, in prayer, ask him to protect them. And he will! He does! But the world, as a whole, is cut off from God. The world does not practice God's way of life and teachings in the Bible. Therefore, God keeps hands off this world and stays out of the lives of those who reject him and his teachings, just as he's done for the nearly 6,000 years of human history. Because of it, the world in general is having to learn a lesson — the painful lesson of what happens when the human race is cut off from God's protection, guidance and contact. That's why there are so many heartrending personal and world ills! That's why there is so much suffering!
Even the Righteous Suffer
Our world is on a course of life contrary to God's wholesome way of living. All humanity is suffering, including those who decide to choose correctly and live God's way. All of us affect each other. Others' mistakes and actions can and often do hurt. Others' selfishness and inconsideration, sometimes outright disrespect, persecution and hatred, cause pain. And often they are not another's actions, but our own. The poet-musician Asaph mentioned how saddened and bewildered he became after noting those living contrary to God seemed to prosper and get ahead. They scoffed at the idea that God even took note of their self-centered conduct. Their money, they thought, could buy them anything (Ps. 73:1-15). Said Asaph: "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Ps. 73:2-3). It was a trial for him. "When I thought to know this [understand it]," he said, "it was too painful for me" (verse 16). But when Asaph considered the end of it all, he knew better than to be envious of wrongdoers: "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (verse 17). Once Asaph got his mind back in gear and on God's truth, he remembered we humans eventually are responsible to God for what we do in this life — and we are eternally rewarded accordingly. Says God in Scripture: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:7-8). God has allowed even those who serve him to suffer the world's hatred and persecution since the very first murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Says the Creator God of those who chose to live the way of joy and giving that God set in motion: "And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb. 11:35-38). Jesus Christ himself suffered. People of his day tried to kill him more than once. He was accused and maligned, spit upon, slapped in the face, beaten unmercifully and cruelly crucified. And so God makes it plain to even those choosing right, not to think it strange when difficult trials strike, causing suffering: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (I Pet. 4:12-13). But he adds this to make sure that any suffering isn't from breaking his law but from seeking to do his will: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (verses 15-16). Why does God let the righteous suffer? Because it gives absolute proof where their loyalty is, and it allows those so tested to build godly character that will last for all eternity — character that continues on into eternal life when Christ returns to reward individuals who serve him. "And, behold," says Jesus, "I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.... Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life." (Rev. 22:12, 14).
God is Fair and Just
And the beauty of God's way is that all who have ever lived or ever will live will have an opportunity to choose right and have "right to the tree of life." Kristen's parents can take heart. All of you who have lost a loved one can take heart. Little Kristen will live again by a resurrection! All who have ever lived and died in ignorance of God's way of life, or ever will live will be given their opportunity to live a normal, right way of life. God is righteous! God is just! He is merciful! These thousands of millions of people, including little Kristen and other small children who did not know God and did not have the opportunity to understand and choose his way of life, will have their opportunity in a resurrection described by John in Revelation 20:12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened [books of the Bible revealing the right way to live]; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." How fair! They will live again! They will be taught Bible truth on how to live, and then be given an opportunity to live God's way. What comforting words for all of us!