FamilyLife Today® Podcast

If God is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen? Vaneetha & Joel Risner

with Joel and Vaneetha Risner | April 5, 2024
Play Pause

Does God care about your darkest feelings? If you're wrestling with anger towards God—whether it's the loss of a loved one, feelings of betrayal, or a sense of abandonment—Vaneetha & Joel Risner help navigate through pain toward lasting meaning.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Does God care about your darkest feelings? Vaneetha & Joel Risner help you navigate the hurts and find purpose in pain.

MP3 Download Transcript

If God is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen? Vaneetha & Joel Risner

With Joel and Vaneetha Risner
April 05, 2024
| Download Transcript PDF

Dave: Pain has a purpose.

Vaneetha: Yes, and I feel like that is so important for people to understand. We don’t need to know the purpose. We probably will never see it.

Jesus says to the disciples, when He’s washing their feet, “What I am doing now you do not understand, but afterwards you will.” [John 13:7, Paraphrased] So, in the midst of it, we won’t necessarily see the purpose, but knowing there is a purpose is pretty amazing.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: I wonder if you’ve ever said these words to God: “God, I’m mad. I’m really mad at You.” [Laughter]

Ann: Yes, a lot.

Dave: I don’t think you say that much. I have.

Ann: What?! No, I totally have.

Dave: You’re such a lover of God and others.

Ann: I love God. But I love you, and it doesn’t mean I don’t get mad at both of you sometimes. [Laughter]

What I was thinking, Dave—well, why did you ask that?

Dave: Because I do. I’ve felt that from my childhood [and] even present day, there are times I’m thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Anybody that’s a chaplain for the Lions—[Laughter]—can get mad at God.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

Ann: I’m thinking of the people and the women I’ve talked to. When you talk to people and [hear] their stories. When you hear a parent that has lost a child, you are thinking, “Oh, man.”

Dave: That’s my mom.

Ann: That’s one of the big ones. When you talk to a couple that has watched a spouse die or get divorced [you think], “Oh, man, that’s a hard one.” When you have your own disability, that’s a big one. Then if you have—

Dave: —even a prodigal—

Ann: —yes, a prodigal or maybe you have been misdiagnosed, or treated poorly or wrongly, or an accident has happened or a mistake has happened medically. I’m going through that list thinking, “Our guest has gone through all of those—every one, and she still loves Jesus. Who is this woman?” [Laughter]

Dave: I want to know why and how. Vaneetha Risner is back with her husband, Joel. Yesterday, we started talking about—well we never even go to your Bible study, [Laughter] called Desperate for Hope: Questions We Ask God in Suffering, Loss, and Longing.

Again, if you missed yesterday, go back and listen, because we heard your story. But let’s talk about some of these questions because you decided, “Let’s write about these.” One of them is: “God why are You so mad at me?” That was one of your questions.

Vaneetha: Yes.

Dave: I took it right from your Bible study. Walk us through that question.

Vaneetha: There’s this question that we have: “If God loves me, why did this happen? Why are You mad at me? Why is this happening?”

I think that’s the question we all come to in suffering, in some way or another. I’ve asked that numerous times. So, it’s funny—

Ann: —oh, good. Thank you.

Vaneetha: —you started, Dave, with this and asked Ann about being mad at God. She mentioned, “I’ve been mad at you, and I’ve been mad at God.” I think that is the key. You’ve in a relationship with Dave, so you are honest enough to say how you feel because you know that’s going to draw you closer.

If he makes you mad and you say, “Okay, Dave, you’re still a wonderful husband,” and you don’t tell him how you feel, that’s going to actually put a wall up in a weird way.

Dave: Yes.

Vaneetha: Whereas, when you yell [or] talk it out, there’s a closeness.

That is God. This is a relationship. I think I didn’t totally understand that. God wants us to tell Him how we feel, because He knows. But what we do is, we do what I did; we lean away. We think we have to say, “God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.” That is true, but if we don’t feel it, we don’t need to be saying it.

We need to tell God how we feel because that’s good in every marriage, being honest and saying, “This is how I feel.” We get to hear God speak back to us His love and His presence.

Ann: Have you heard Him speak back to you His love and His presence?

Vaneetha: I have, and that’s—to answer your question, Dave—that’s why I feel like I’m a very lucky person, very blessed. I would not trade my life for anybody’s.

Ann: Wow! That’s pretty powerful.

Vaneetha: Because Jesus has been better than I imagined.

Dave: You don’t, in a quiet moment, wish you didn’t have polio. You don’t wish the doctor didn’t misdiagnose [you]. You don’t have that.

Vaneetha: I look at people who go running, and I think, “Oh, that would be really fun.” But some people say it’s not that much fun. [Laughter]

Ann: It’s not. You’re not missing anything. [Laughter]

Vaneetha: I’m not missing anything.

But the intimacy I have with Jesus, I don’t think I would have other ways. The times when my life has been super good like, I would say, from the time I came to Christ to when I turned 30, my dreams all came true, and my relationship with God was pretty superficial. It was “Okay, I’ve got to have my quiet time. Let me check it off. Let me get that done. Okay, go to church.” I taught Bible study. I did all those things, but the presence and reality of God was not the same as when I was desperate.

Ann: So, because you became desperate, He became all the more present. 

Vaneetha: Yes, yes. I feel like desperation and crying out to God. You know, the children of Israel complained about God, but we need to look at God and talk to Him, and not look at our neighbors and our friends and say, “Why did God do this?” [accusatory tone], but, “God, why did You do this?” [Inquisitive tone]

There is a radical difference. We see that throughout the Psalms, Job. They’re all talking to God.

Ann: That’s good.

Vaneetha: I think that is the big difference. We think, “Oh, we can talk to our friends about how we’re mad at God,” but then we go to God just pretending to be holy. God talks about “…the people draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” [Isaiah 29:13, Paraphrased]

Ann: Joel, let me ask you, because you lost your first wife to cancer. Did you experience any of that anger toward God.

Joel: No. I don’t mean to sound like I was perfectly holy, but I did not experience anger. I had loss, grief, sorrow; but we had a really good marriage. I remember thinking, after she had died, “How can I be mad at God, because in 23 years, she poured more goodness into my life than I imagine most people get in a lifetime.” [Laughter]

Ann: That was great.

Joel: I wish it hadn’t stopped, but I can’t be mad about something that was so good.

Ann: That’s so sweet.

Vaneetha: He’s really holy! [Laughter] He is a much nicer person than me.

Joel: No, no.

Vaneetha: I think George Mueller, when his wife died, said, “I’m thankful to God for giving me the time I had, and I’m thankful God took her when He did.” But I’m not there yet. But, Joel, it’s true. You’ve never said you—you were just so grateful for the years that you and Barb had.

Ann: That’s really sweet.

Vaneetha: That’s a wonderful testimony.

Dave: As you walk through these questions, early in the Bible study you say one of the things that gets you through is “the three P’s.”

Vaneetha: Yes.

Dave: Talk about those, because I know our listeners are thinking, “I want to get through. I have these questions. Help me on that journey.”

Vaneetha: Yes, yes. As I was praying about this Bible study, I was thinking, “What do people need to hold on to? What do they need to remember when life falls apart?”

The first one is the presence of God. I’ve talked about how amazing that is in suffering, but it doesn’t have to be this supernatural, “Wow! I saw lights from heaven.” But just reading the Bible and asking God to make it real. But knowing that God loves you is the fundamental piece of it, because I think a lot of people don’t feel loved by God.

Ann: Yes.

Vaneetha: If you don’t feel that God loves you, then it all falls apart, because then you think God is against you, and God is punishing you, and life isn’t fair because God doesn’t love you.

I like to say—in the Bible study, I talk about the question [that] people say: “If God loves me, why did this happen?” We see that Gideon said to the angel of the Lord, “If God is with us, why did all this happen?” [Judges 6:13, Paraphrased]

That’s sort of our question to God. Satan wants us to ask that. Satan wants us to say “if.” He said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God….” [Matthew 4:6] So, he wants us to doubt God’s Word; but the Bible is full of God’s love for us. That’s why Jesus died because God loves us so much. The question really needs to be, “Because God loves me, why did this happen?” not, “If God loves me, why did this happen?” And that changes everything.

I’m sure there are people listening today, though, that don’t feel loved by God.

Ann: Yes.

Vaneetha: And they don’t know how to get there. I would say, just be honest with God. “God, I don’t feel loved by You. Show me Your love.”

Then I would say, open your eyes; because so often, we ask God that and then we don’t look for an answer. The answer may come in reading Scripture. It may be a song on the radio. It may be a conversation that a friend has [with you]. It may be a letter we get in the mail. It may be an email. It may be so many ways that God is saying, “I’m here, I love you, and I’m listening.”

Ann: I love, even in the Bible study, that you ask a lot of questions that you can journal—

Vaneetha: —yes—

Ann: —some of the exact things that you are asking now; you are journalling those thoughts, because we can randomly throw up these trite prayers, and we don’t have a conversation with God. We just say, “Why didn’t you, God?” and then we go on with our lives.

I think He would like to answer some of our questions. We had one of our friends, Jamie Winship, say, “God doesn’t often answer the way we would like in the why questions: ‘Why did You do this?’ But if we ask the question, ‘God, what do you want me to know in this situation?’ we’ll hear a lot of different things in a lot of different ways.”

Vaneetha: Right. I think if we don’t connect God’s love with concrete realities in our lives, it will stay sort of theoretical.

Ann: Okay, Joel, where’s yours? Where did you see God this week?

Joel: One place was this procedure Vaneetha had yesterday.

Dave: I knew you were going to say that.

Ann: I did, too.

Joel: She had this cyst on her spine between L-4 and L-5. It was pressing on a nerve, so for the last seven months, she’d been in various levels of pain and wasn’t able to walk much.

Yesterday morning, [we] went in, and she had a procedure. They drained that cyst, ad she told me, even on the way home from this medical facility, that she felt better than she had in seven months. [Laughter] That was—

Ann: Was that yours, too, Vaneetha?

Vaneetha: Yes. It was amazing. But one of the neat things was, I was lying on the table, and they were putting these serious needles in my back to do it. Just the—I just started saying verses, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because You are with me.” [Psalm 23:4, Paraphrased]

That’s one of the things that I talk about in this Bible study is [to] have these verses that you pray back to God in the moments when you are afraid. You know, Isaiah 41:10 [which says], “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Those things bring us comfort. I felt like God was in there with me. All of these things are these opportunities to draw near to God if we would call out to Him.

Ann: That answers your second question of your study: “How can I know God’s presence when He feels so distant?” You are saying [to] call out to Him.

Vaneetha: Yes, yes.

Ann: Look, write down, be observant.

Vaneetha: Right. In the Bible study, I talk about Hannah and how the words in the actual Scripture are angry tears. She was crying out, in the temple, angry tears. She wasn’t saying, “God, I’m so thankful that I get to be here.” She was pouring out her heart, and she was different when she left, and nothing had happened. I mean, Samuel wasn’t born.

I think just pouring out our heart toward God and letting Him respond to us in stillness; it changes us.

Dave: Let’s talk about your second “P.”

Vaneetha: Okay, second “P”

Dave: You know God’s presence, and then knowing—

Vaneetha: —Purpose.

Dave: “Pain has a purpose.”

Vaneetha: Yes, and I feel like that is so important for people to understand. We don’t need to know the purpose. We probably will never.

Jesus says to the disciples when He’s washing their feet, “What I am doing now you do not understand, but afterwards you will.” [John 13:7, Paraphrased] So, in the midst of it, we won’t necessarily see the purpose, but knowing there is a purpose is pretty amazing.

Ann: Yes.

Vaneetha: God is doing something in this, and it is for our joy, our eternal joy.

It may not feel great right now; most of the time suffering does not. Yet, we can trust that God is using it, not only in the lives of people we know [as] they see our faith in Jesus, but the angels and demons see it. We are in a much bigger platform than any of us see.

There are people [thinking], “Nobody sees my suffering. I’m alone in a nursing home. I’m listening to this on the radio, but nobody is coming in to see what I’m dealing with.” The angels and demons are watching. They are watching us trust Jesus and praise Him in the midst of what feels unspeakably hard.

Ann: Somebody could be thinking, “She doesn’t know. She hasn’t gone through this.” She’s kind of gone through everything. So, it’s sweet that, instead of being bitter toward God, you’ve lifted your eyes up to Him, and you’re using everything you’ve gone through for His glory.

Dave: Is it possible to get it? Because everybody is thinking, “I want that joy, but I don’t want the pain.”

Vaneetha: Nobody really wants to get there, but there is—yes, I don’t know if you can get the depths of joy if you haven’t suffered.

Dave: Yes.

Vaneetha: Because you don’t see your depth of need for Jesus until you are broken and in the pit and crying out saying, “If You don’t do this, God, it’s not going to get done.”

It really is when we need Jesus, He shows up; whereas, if we don’t need Him, we don’t ask for Him that same way. Just opening the Bible feels very academic. It’s like, “Okay, I read through the Bible this year, and I learned these things,” whereas, when you’re in the pit, it’s like “Jesus met me in the pages of the Bible.”

Ann: Yes, and it’s like you are dying of thirst in the desert and opening the Word is like a drink of water.  

Vaneetha: Yes, it was. Like that time after my ex-husband left, that was the best part of my day. The rest of my day was like hell on earth, to the point [which] I would just lie in bed at night saying, “God where are You?” I screamed at God, “Why do you hate me?” But I would get up in the morning, and God would say, “I love you.”

Dave: One of your questions—it’s your last one in the book—is, “What if it never gets better?” In some ways we look at you and say, “You’re better,” but not completely. So, what if it doesn’t?

Vaneetha: Right, and that’s the question, because we’re all going to die of something. Eventually, we will all be in heaven [as believers].

The example I have in the book is Leah. She wanted Jacob’s love her whole life. We’re both in Genesis in our Bible reading plan. Jacob is about to meet Esau, and he puts his people in the order of who he loves. Rachel is in—Leah’s got to go first, because if he’s going to get somebody it’s going to be Leah.

Ann: I just read that, too. I thought, “Poor Leah.”

Vaneetha: I know! She’s always in that place. So, yes, sometimes it doesn’t get better in this life; but it will be better in heaven. You look at Leah. She had Judah of the line of Christ. What an incredible privilege!

So, recognize: it may not get better. The prosperity theology is, “It’s going to get better. You just stay faithful to Jesus, and you’re going to get the healing. We prayed for you; it’s going to happen.” And, you know, it doesn’t always happen. People die. Barb died, and everybody was praying for her healing. And yet there is heaven.

Dave: She is healed now.


Vaneetha: Yes, exactly. If we see this life as just a passage to the next, it will get better. If it’s not good, it’s not over, because happily ever after is a blood-bought promise. If it doesn’t get better in this life, it will, because God is writing a very good story with each of our lives.

Dave: I said that was my last question, but I’ve got another one. [Laughter] This is for Joel. Talk about navigating suffering in marriage, because you two are married. You’ve had to navigate your wife, Barb, dying. Now, you’re with Vaneetha. There is suffering that still happens. Yesterday, she had a surgery. [You] don’t know if there will be others. You don’t know if you will [need surgery], too.

Joel: Right.

Dave: But a lot of marriages walk through some kind of physical or emotional suffering. How do you navigate that? How do you walk that journey?

Joel: I think [it’s] by reminding myself of how God has been faithful in the past.

Ann: Oh, that’s good.

Joel: I sometimes wonder, “Twenty years ago, could I have done this?” I look at all the things that have shaped me; and those last four years with Barb were a huge part of—I remember having friends in Pittsburg tell me, “You are not the same person you were.” Part of that was viewing things like physical suffering through an entirely different lens, because, as Vaneetha just said, unless the Lord comes first, we are all going to die someday.

I’ve thought, at times, and it may sound a little odd, that it’s a mercy that we grow old the way that we do. We look in the mirror, and we see our hair’s getting gray or it’s falling out. We have wrinkles.

Dave: Hair? [Laughter] Did you say hair? [Rubbing his own bald head]

Joel: Right.

Dave: I’d take gray hair!

Joel: We think of the things that we could do when we were 20, that we couldn’t even try to do now. I’ve wondered at times, “What if it weren’t that way? What if we stayed at our peak health until the day we died?” It would be so easy to not think about eternity.

Dave: Right.

Joel: So, as we go through these things, part of it is just normal aging, and as we go through loss and various experiences, it should give us a very different perspective on suffering.

I remember the morning after getting the news from the biopsy that Barb had cancer—I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but—everything changed. It was like getting a new prescription of eyeglasses and saying, “Okay, I never saw that clearly before. Now, I see that that is what’s really important.”

The suffering that we put up with, and that I see Vaneetha dealing with each day, makes me sad in some ways, but it also pulls us closer together.

Vaneetha: Yes.

Joel: I can’t imagine going through life any other way.

Shelby: We’ll hear more from Dave’s perspective on this and why it makes him feel like a “loser.” His words, not mine! But first, what an astounding perspective from Joel. “[I] can’t imagine going through life any other way?” Most people would say the exact opposite of that. They might say, “I can imagine a million different ways that I think would be better than what we’re going through right now.”

But Vaneetha and Joel are choosing to allow the suffering to make them more and more into who they truly are as reflections of their Savior. That’s just an incredible perspective to have when you’re going through it.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Joel and Vaneetha Risner on FamilyLife Today.

Vaneetha has written a book called Desperate for Hope: Questions We Ask God in Suffering, Loss, and Longing. This book is not only a Bible study, but also gives you video access and helps you gain practical wisdom for growth while going through really difficult times and trying to connect with God in the midst of hopelessness, in the midst of suffering.

You can get your copy right now by going online to, or you can find it in the show notes as well. Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Dave: I feel so—what’s the word—like a loser. [Laughter]

Ann: I didn’t think you were going to say that. What?

Dave: I tried to find the word, because I’m watching you, and I’m listening to you and thinking, “There’s such maturity there.” And I think, if she’s three minutes late behind me, I’m saying, “Get up here! What are you doing back there?” I’m just so quick to say, “Get in the car,” because she can walk ably, she can run. And [I] get so annoyed by things that don’t matter.

Joel: Right.

Dave: I know—I think what you said, if that all changed for either one of us, physically, it’s like a switch (hopefully) would switch very quickly and say, “Okay, it’s a different reality. I’m not going to be impatient.”

You’ve got to be kidding. She’s alive, and we are together. She may be in a wheelchair; I may be in a wheelchair, but we have each other.

Joel: Right.

Vaneetha: Yes.

Dave: At this point, I’m saying, “Come on! Hurry up. Why are you being so slow? Are you putting makeup on again?” [Laughter] I don’t need makeup, you know?

Vaneetha: We never get impatient with each other. [Laughter] Life’s a dream at the Risner household.

Ann: I think you’re right. With my parents being married over 70 years—

Vaneetha: —oh, wow.

Ann: —nothing changed my dad more. I felt like he was very self-centered, he was all about himself. When my mom started getting into the last phases of Alzheimer’s, that’s when he changed for the better.

Joel: Right.

Ann: He served her, he loved her, he encouraged her. I had never seen him treat her or anyone else so well.

Joel: Wow.

Ann: He changed because of the suffering. That’s what God can do.

Vaneetha: Amen, yes.

Shelby: One of the things that we love to talk about here on FamilyLife Today is the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. This is a getaway that helps you to enjoy three days of romance and reconnection with your spouse. Guess what? Right now, it’s 40 percent off, between now and Thursday, April 11th. You don’t need a promo code at all. All you need to do is head over to and click on the link in the show notes.

We still have 20 Weekend to Remember marriage getaways coming up between now and mid-June. So, don’t let any summer plans keep you from prioritizing your marriage right now. Get ahead of the busyness and make plans for just the two of you.

Again, you can find the link to the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway in the show notes at

Now, coming up next week is illusionist Danny Ray and his wife, Kimberly Thompson. Join us as Dave and Ann talk with them about magic, marriage, mind-reading, and communication tips for couples. That’s next week, and we hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® Ministry.

Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © 2024 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.