Why do bad things happen to good people? This is an age-old question pondered by everyone I’ve ever met. If you’re like me you might be satisfied to some degree with certain answers but admit there are none that seem to fully hit the mark. So, I took some time to puzzle that through. What I came up with surprised me and finally helped to provide answers that fully resonate!
Before I jump in, here are few of the common responses I have heard in the past, along with my thoughts on each:
- Common response 1: “Bad things DON’T happen to good people. If you have bad things in your life, it is the effect of sin. You need to repent and get right with God because something in your life is not right.”
I must be honest with you, this line of thinking does nothing but make me mad. It is very shallow and is fodder for every kind of prejudice imaginable. Every time I hear someone say, “well they deserved what they had coming”, I cringe and think to myself ‘don’t we all’, for who among us is without sin?
I am also reminded of the scripture where Jesus’ disciples asked him “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him”. (John 9:2-3, NASB).
It is understandable and can sometimes feel logical to think that whatever bad thing is happening to someone is of their own doing, but this verse lovingly reminds us that it is not always the case, and that God can be glorified through our adverse circumstances. Let’s not allow thoughts like this common response to justify a person’s situation or prevent us from showing mercy or praying on their behalf.
- Common response 2: “God will never give you more than you can handle, so He must think you are really strong!”
Oh, that sounds so noble, doesn’t it? But the truth is that God knows we are weak and yet gives us more than we can handle all the time. Why? The Apostle Paul asked God once to remove a troublesome thing in his life. Let’s look at what he wrote to us about that:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to relieve me of this. But he answered me, ‘My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.’ So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. So I’m not defeated by my weakness, but delighted! For when I feel my weakness and endure mistreatment—when I’m surrounded with troubles on every side and face persecution because of my love for Christ—I am made yet stronger. For my weakness becomes a portal to God’s power.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, TPT
First, God does not give us the trial, and second, it is not because we have superhuman strength that empowers us and affirms to God how mighty and strong we are, but rather when we do face trials, because we are weak, God Himself can be powerful within us and on our behalf.
- Common response 3: “It rains on the just and the unjust. Because we live in a fallen world, bad things happen regardless.”
This view comes from Matthew 5:45 (“…for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”, NASB).
It is also true that not only do we live in a fallen world, but we also live in a world where the Lord has given man the freedom of choice. What that means is that sometimes your choice can affect my happiness. One would have to look no further than the most famous example of Hitler and reflect on the choices he made while in power of the Nazi party during WWII to understand the truth behind this.
But is that to say that God does not favor those who love Him, or does not know how to give good gifts to His own children? I agree this partially answers the question but by itself it can be cause for us to question the goodness of God.
- Common response 4: “God may not cause the bad thing that happened to you, but He allows it in your life to help build your faith and make you strong. Nothing touches you without going through Him first.”
A combination of these last two points is for years what I used most often when trying to answer to that question. I understood that God is not the cause of bad things in my life or anyone else’s. Because He is omniscient (all-knowing) He simply was not taken by surprise by any of them when they happen, and we learn from Romans 8:28 that He is already at work to turn what the evil one intended for bad into something wonderful, and according to His purpose.
As I understood there is a difference between causing and allowing, I also began to better understand the sovereignty of God, and to know that I can trust Him.
But at the same time, I couldn’t put my finger on why it always felt as if there was something still missing, and realized it fails to answer a second very common question of “Why would a loving God allow bad things to happen”. In other words, can’t He somehow prevent man’s choices (including my own) from affecting my life in a negative way in the first place?
It would be nice if things were that simple, but what this line of questioning fails to take into consideration is in order to accomplish that, He would have to override our freedom of choice, and that is something He will not do.
Where does that leave us? Are we to believe then that everything “bad” that exists is only so that we can have the opportunity to build our faith, or is there something still that we just aren’t seeing?
I believe Adam and Eve can help us to answer that question, but perhaps not in the way that you might anticipate. Yes, it is true we live in a fallen world and contend with evil today as a result of their choice, but there’s something else.
If you think about it, It wasn’t just that their choice to eat of that fruit introduced evil into the natural world, there was also a shift that moved both the definition and perception of what was good and what was evil outside of God and onto man.
Before they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve’s knowledge of what was good and what was evil was found in the Lord Himself, enabling them to see all things from His perspective. It was only when they made the decision to eat of the fruit that this changed. Now man not only defines what is good and evil for himself but perpetuates his perception of it onto others. What this means is that we lost our ability to rightly judge between the two. Without God and His Word to stand upon, we were tossed about like a ship in a storm and anyone, including and especially the evil one, could now come up and challenge our point of view.
Think about it in terms of politics or ideas. Wars are fought because nations rise against nations over their perception of what is good and what is evil. One nation can buy into the idea that capitalism is bad, and socialism or communism is good – or vise-versa. One culture could say only their religion is good and all other religions are bad. One family over generations could be in dispute with another family (Hatfields and McCoys) to the point where neither understands what started the feud in the first place, they only know that they were taught the other family is “bad” and they are “good”. Gangs rise against other gangs. All this over a skewed vision of how man perceives good and evil within himself and outside of God.
Think about it on individual terms. If my perception of what is good or what is evil is not based in God, and let’s say I get a life threatening disease, for example, or if I lose my job, or if nothing is going right in my marriage or family, or if I struggle and just cannot seem to get ahead in the career path I have chosen, or perhaps I have a child who suffers from a severe disability and I am powerless to do anything about it. How quickly and easily I could perceive all of that as only “bad”, and therefore perceive that God is not good.
This applies to the lifestyles as well. If a person’s chosen lifestyle goes against the word of God, good and evil become arbitrary to justify the way they live. It becomes a slippery slope that eventually leads to a place where evil and good are reversed, because we have lost our way and have chosen the path of destruction instead.
Whenever you find yourself wondering why bad things happen to good people, can I encourage you to ask yourself another question: “Is my perception of bad based in what man thinks, or what God thinks (what scripture says)”? And then remember, the Lord, the Most-High God, is a Sovereign God. This means He has full supreme power and authority. He is omniscient (all knowing), and omnipotent (all powerful) apart from any recognition, and as such is God regardless of whether we believe in Him or not.
It is our choice to align ourselves under His rule and authority. In doing so we allow for His correction of our “vision” of good and evil. Choosing instead to rebel against His rule as Adam and Eve did only results in choosing ourselves death and hell over life and love.
Evil will come to an end. 2 Peter 3:9-10 tells us that “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”
You can look at that verse one of two ways, either that people will “finally get what they deserve”, or (and I hope this is the way you choose to see it) that He has allowed evil to continue for so long in this world because He knew you and I would be here, now, and that we would be coming to repentance in this day and age, and we can thank God that He waited for us. The choice is ours.
In closing I want to leave you with the following passage from Isaiah as a reminder of and reinforcement of this. Think about what the Lord is saying here and what it means to you personally, and let it be a comfort and faith builder in your journey with him.
Isaiah 55:6-13, NASB
“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
“For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, and it will be a memorial to the Lord, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”