When people ask this question, what I think they mean is: “Why is this bad thing happening to me?”
We don’t stress much when bad things happen to “bad people”, or when good things happen to “good people”. It’s the sense that a bad thing has happened to us (and of course we always “good”) that bothers us so much.
Below are a handful of theories we have on why bad things happen to good people:
- It gives us a chance to love one another: This isn’t really a reason why bad things happen to good people; it’s really more of a result of the tragedy. God, or the Universe, or whoever doesn’t cause bad things to happen just so we can love one another. But we do get the chance to love one another in the midst of tragedy, and that is a tremendous gift.
- There are really no “good” people: This theory seeks to strike at the heart of our dilemma by arguing that because there are no “good” people (consistent with Scripture), bad things only ever happen to “bad people”. That may be true, but it sure as hell doesn’t make us feel any better! Even if we agree with Jesus that “no one is good, but God alone”, we still want to know why we have to endure pain and suffering.
- Everything belongs to God, so we don’t get a say: Another theological argument that fails to address real human pain and suffering (and you wonder why I don’t care about theology!), this theory tries to argue that because God created Creation, everything in Creation is His. Thus the clay (that’s us) has no right to say to the Potter, “What makest thou?” This argument would work great except for a few minor flaws: 1) I’m an American and I always get a say in my self-determination; 2) God created me with free will, so He must want me to have a say; 3) If God didn’t care about human pain and suffering why did He bother to send His Son for us?
- There is no God: Getting angry at God for the tragedies of life, and denying He exists as a response, is about as mature and thoughtful as my toddler falling and scraping his knee, then popping up and denying the existence of gravity.
- God isn’t loving, so I don’t want anything to do with Him: This theory is at least more honest than the previous one. People who reject God because of human suffering don’t deny His existence; they just don’t want to be in a relationship with a Being they perceive to be a Tyrant.
I actually love that last theory because it gives me the perfect segue to what I think is the real answer to our question. People shouldn’t want to be in any kind of relationship with the Tyrant who’s responsible for human suffering. The only problem is, his name isn’t Yahweh. It’s Satan.
I believe that bad things happen to good people because of Satan’s treachery in the Garden of Eden and the resulting Fall of Man. Bad things happen to good people because that’s just the way the world is.
What seems to be the Biblical truth: Even though bad things happen to good people because of The Fall, God can and will be glorified in the aftermath.
Whenever I encounter tough questions like the one we’re discussing today, I’m always reassured when I find stories in the Bible of people who struggled with the same question. It makes me feel less of a fool (or at least a unique fool) and it gives me hope that there is hope to be found. In the case of today’s question, one need look no further than the story of Lazarus.
I’m going to zoom right in to John 11:32-44 because I think that’s where the answer to our question lies:
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Pause here, because we’re about to hear our “question of the day” from Jesus’ contemporaries. That’s right! We’re going to hear 1st century Palestinian Jews ask each other, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Bam! There it is! When we ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” we already know the answer is, “Because that’s the way the world is.” We’re not kids. We understand natural consequences, life and death, etc. When we ask our question, we’re really asking why God lets bad things happen. Right? If God is really all-knowing and all-powerful and all-present, why doesn’t He stop bad things from happening to good people? And that’s what the Jews surrounding Jesus were asking as well: “This Jesus fellow supposedly opened the eyes of a blind guy. If he’s so great and powerful, why didn’t he stop his friend from dying? Maybe he’s not who we thought he was after all…”
And so our crisis of faith begins.
But the story isn’t over yet, and God isn’t done explaining His side of the story.
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Is this easy for us to accept? No. Do we like this answer? Not really. We’d much rather the world be about rainbows and lollipops than rape and murder. But does this answer give us hope? Yes, definitely. The answer, and our only real source of hope, is Jesus.
In the midst of suffering we can have hope because God can use our pain, if we let Him.
What is one thing amazing thing that could come out of your current struggles?