04 September 2008

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

It’s an age old problem. It happens in every generation. Good people die before their time, sometimes in horrible ways, or are disabled by unfair injuries or are crippled by unexpected financial loss…and we really get upset about this! Our sense of justice is offended.

When bad things happen to people we perceive as good, especially children, we become indignant. Why doesn’t God stop all the unnecessary pain and suffering? Why should any child be afflicted with disease, neglect or abuse? Why should any good person at any age endure painful experiences?

And the fact that God created the world in the blink of an eye begs the question. With all that power, why doesn’t He protect innocent people from bad things and prove to everyone how benevolent He can be? To any person who hasn’t become emotionally callous this is a fair and reasonable question but is it really an emotional issue? We can’t reasonably consider this question without asking several more first. For example…

At what point does a “good” person cease to be “innocent?”

Is innocence lost at a certain age? Does an eleven year old automatically become guilty on their twelfth birthday or is innocence lost by intentional acts of wrongdoing? If so, how many acts of wrongdoing does it take to turn a “good” person into one that is bad? How wide is the grey area between the first act of wrongdoing and the one that finally qualifies us as “bad?” Is there an absolute standard we follow or do we view a person as “good” because they aren’t as wrong as the ones we think are “bad?”

Is our measurement of “good” limited by preconceived stereotypes?

Can a McCoy ever consider a Hatfield good? Can a capitalist ever consider a communist good?

Communists impose their philosophies violently on anyone too weak to resist. That is the definition of a good communist. To a communist, communism is the only good and they are taught this from an early age. Are we to consider them innocent or guilty? When a Bolshevist is true to communism, they are being honest, loyal and genuine. Aren’t these good qualities? Are we to pray for and defend this “good” person? Should we petition the benevolence of God on their behalf?

Who is good and what is good are only the first questions. Once answered, how exactly, do we want God to keep “good” people tragedy free?

Option one. Should He suspend all natural laws at the critical moment without regard for how it affects others? If He only helps the “good” ones, does it matter how the “bad” ones are affected? How much are we “bad” willing to sacrifice so God can help the “good?”

Option two. Should God allow good people to die before they experience horror? Would the victims of the holocaust have been better off if they had died as infants? Would God be considered merciful if they had?

Option three. Should we expect God to destroy those who create horror before they have a chance to do so? Would we approve if Hitler or Stalin had died as infants? Would God still be implicated if they had? If God eliminated all the people who do bad things before they did it, how many of the now-living would actually be dead?

Can we know the good or bad that any person will do before they do it? If not, can we ever say we understand what God is doing and why He does it?

Obviously, the title of this post raises more questions than we are able to answer. There are too many details about which we can’t be sure but there are some things made clear by the Bible and human experience:

No one but God is good. On one occasion, a wealthy young ruler referred to Jesus as “good master” and Jesus questioned that. He said, why do you call me good? There is no one good but God. Jesus’ statement has a huge impact on the original question. Instead of “why do bad things happen to good people,” we should be asking “why do good things happen at all.” No, we aren’t going to pursue that thought here. Don’t have time or space to do so. But, it does present a very different perspective on the issue.

The largest number of tragedies experienced by humans are caused by humans. C. S. Lewis said human moral failure causes 80% of all tragedies and that doesn’t account for problems caused by human error or ignorance. That leaves very few “bad” things we can attribute to God. The obvious solution is to remove the humans. Where would we be then? Fortunately, the default setting for humans is not absolute evil. God created us with the ability to change. We can liberate like Moses or enslave like Pharaoh. Our choices can influence the outcome.

God is equal to everyone and encourages us to be the same, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). That verse describes the big picture. On a personal level, however, Jesus became incarnate. He became like us so we could identify with Him and He died on the cross to meet our greatest need. Because of Jesus’ death, we can have a new nature, which is to say, Jesus attempts to change the outcome by changing the person. God wants this for every individual! If you want to change the situation tell the person about Jesus.

God controls the eventual outcome. The ultimate outcome for every person is in God’s hands and is not determined in this life. Justice will happen later, not now. We are all headed for eternity and for those who know and trust Jesus, eternity will be nothing but bliss, no tragedy allowed. The problems you have here will not be remembered there.

Here is what the Bible actually says,

“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

All things, even the bad things, will work together for good. What an amazing statement!

Please understand three things:

One, God is not oblivious to tragedy. He understands our pain. Jesus, Who comforts us, experienced every kind of pain and temptation so He knows what you are going through and how to provide support. And the blessing is, He will make it go away in eternity.

Two, I have not resolved the question. The bad things we see happening to people is not something we will completely understand in this life. But, we have good reason not to become cynical or accuse God.

Three, nothing said here is intended to minimize or trivialize the tragedy you or any other person has or will experience. The pain is real and never easy to fully understand. The bottom line…Jesus is a loving Savior who wishes to embrace you now and will deliver you from all tragedy eventually. ThinkAboutIt


John Watts said...

An age-old question and one for which we will probably never know the answer until we meet God face to face. 1 Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." I recently underwent eye surgery to remove cataracts. I had no idea how "darkly" my vision really was until the eye patch was removed the day after the surgery and my vision was now crystal clear. It is also useful to note that from beginning to end the Bible is all about choices. C. S. Lewis was correct that most, if not all, of the consequences we suffer are the result of less than perfect choices and constantly remind us of our need to depend upon God for wisdom to know what is right. Many times bad things happen to "good" people due to the wrong choices of others. We are not alone in the human family. Every choice that I make will ultimately effect not only my own future but the future of many others. Finally, I believe that the key phrase in Romans 8:28 is: "according to His purpose." Who among us would presume to perfectly understand or know God's eternal purpose in all things. It is by Faith that we lean on Him and trust Him to bring all things to a good end ... in His time, and according to His purpose. I think that most all of us can relate to some event in our lives that we thought to be a "bad thing" when it occurred but later came to see a greater purpose that God was working in our lives for our ultimate good and for the benefit of others. Bad things happen to all of us at one time or another; The key is to never let what is happening cause us to take our eyes off God Who is working a greater purpose in each of our lives. That's what I think.

EnnisP said...

Here is a good question. Why do non-Christian people often find ways to turn their "lemon" experiences into lemonaide but believers become obsessed with trying to figure everything out.

Are we supposed to accept our experpeicnes without question, figure them out or respond to them?

Maybe our bad experiences could turn out better if we were more active and less philosophical. I'm speaking to me now. I love to philosophize especially when I am down. Just a thought.

TJ said...

Good thoughts

Anonymous said...

Been reading the blogs but haven't had time to comment. Good thoughts. Sometimes it is just eaiser to blame God, it gets us off the hook. Hakeber