The Reasons Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
Everyone reading this – and, indeed, everyone else, not reading this – has experienced bad, unhappy, disappointing, even tragic events. And, at times, we all have our faith challenged by such experiences, and find ourselves wondering “If God truly loves me, why is he being so cruel/unkind/uncaring?”.
This article is for you. Your question is fair, and there are several answers to it.
The chances are you may have come here looking for an answer to this question, today, due to a recent sadness, and for that, we pray that you will have the strength to survive the experience, and we pray that you may get some understanding and emerge with your faith stronger.
Indeed, before we start looking at some of the reasons, your unhappiness and uncertainty right now can also be seen as having a blessing within it. Pain sharpens one’s focus on God, and has brought many sinners to salvation.
British author and theologian, C S Lewis (best known for his Narnia children’s books and their allegorical tales that hinted at Christian themes) was understandably very unhappy while his wife, who he loved dearly, was suffering and dying of cancer. In a short book, “The Problem of Pain”, he writes
But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
As an aside, you might find Lewis’s very short work, “A Grief Observed”, written after his wife’s agonizing three years of suffering from bone cancer and eventual death, interesting and helpful, and, if you’re currently in the grip of grief, as we all have been, or if it revisits you from time to time, as it does to us all, you will surely recognize your own anguish within it.
Although a bit ‘heavy going’ in places, it may be rewarding. A PDF is available, free, here. Amazon of course sells it, including a Kindle version.
Could the World be Perfect for Us Christians?
Imagine if being a Christian was a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in our lives, and all we ever had to do was to utter a quick prayer to avert anything negative, and/or to ensure everything is positive.
We’d never get sick. We’d win every lottery we bought a ticket in. No accidents. No traffic delays – and no car problems either. We’d win every game of sport we played, we’d be promoted and given raises every day, and so on and so forth.
Except that, if we win every lottery we buy a ticket in, what happens if other Christians also buy tickets in that same lottery? We’re about to be promoted, but the other people being considered are also Christian – how would God handle that?
Already, we can surely see there are areas where this doesn’t and couldn’t work. And such magic super-powers would surely make it very difficult for us to observe God’s desire that we should live humble lives (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Plus, who reading this hasn’t also “benefitted” from a past loss. As painful as such experiences are, we have sometimes gained maturity and wisdom, learned to accept misfortune, and become stronger for it. To speak directly for a moment, I have become very much better able to understand and support people in their grief having suffered terribly myself in the past. As unwelcome as the lessons have been, I am a better person for my experiences and losses.
Sometimes, for sure, such unhappy experiences are a cruel teacher, and not all unhappy experiences are designed for us to benefit from, but we are the sum of our experiences, and we forge stronger characters via the crucible of adversity. We need some negatives in our lives to better appreciate and value the positives.
Now consider also, what would other people think if they saw us living among them, leading super-lives. Wouldn’t they decide they wanted to be Christians too; but for reasons of personal enrichment and benefit, rather than to welcome Jesus as their savior and start living a God-fearing Christian life? In a world where seatbelts and insurance are compulsory, wouldn’t it even become the law of the land that all must be Christian!
And so, whether law or just selfish self-interest, wouldn’t such a nirvana, in practical terms, rob us of our “free choice” and the requirement for us to “take a leap of faith” when accepting Christ?
What part of any of this pleases God? Surely this is not his plan.
An Imperfect World is Unavoidable
Unfortunately, in this imperfect world, pain, suffering, inequity, and unfairness are unavoidable and every day facts of life. And the gift of freedom – of free will – that God has given us unfortunately means that we are free to succeed or fail, to win or lose, to be lucky or unlucky.
Our earthly lives will unavoidably be imperfect. First, that is because we are imperfect ourselves, and when we truly examine some of the problems that assail us, we have to accept that we are in some part responsible for some of them, ourselves.
Secondly, everyone and everything around us is also imperfect, to a greater or lesser extent. Imperfection and sin intrudes on every part of our lives.
Maybe the driver of the car coming towards us is so imperfect that he is going to crash into us. Maybe the people who built the bridge, and the bridge they constructed, are/is so imperfect that it is about to collapse while we are on it. Maybe that person walking towards us is so imperfect as to be a drug-addict and about to rob and possibly shoot us. Maybe the person we love so dearly is imperfect and fails to appreciate our love and makes the wrong decision and goes with someone else.
You can doubtless think of many other examples.
God Never Promises Us Happiness on Earth
Some people mistakenly believe that becoming Christian brings them immediate earthly benefits and an entitlement to being spared the worst of life’s trials. As we mentioned above, that is unrealistic. Not only is it unrealistic, it is important to realize that we’re not promised a perfect life here on Earth. It is in Heaven that our perfect life is promised us.
Rather than being promised a perfect life on Earth, the Bible is full of tales of Christians who suffered most egregiously for their faith; and the greatest suffering of all was of course that of Jesus Christ himself, who voluntarily accepted a painful death on our behalf.
Jesus tells us in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 it even seems as if we are being advised that we can expect suffering as part of our Christian life on earth
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
A bit further on, we are told to look beyond the problems and afflictions that we suffer in the world, and instead to focus on the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
We Can’t Know Whether Bad Things are Necessary or Not
It is also important to accept that we don’t know and can’t know God’s plan. We are but the tiniest pawns in God’s great plan, and as in any game of chess, the Chess masters sacrifice pawns as part of their overall plan and strategy.
For all we know, the suffering, of whatever nature, that falls to us may be advancing God’s plan. It may be strengthening us and preparing us for a greater role (remember that if a pawn gets to the far end of the Chess board, it becomes a King); or it may be deflecting the pain and suffering from someone else, or demonstrating to someone (we might not even know who) something that in turn changes their lives.
As we discuss in our article on What to Pray For, we should generally try to avoid praying for specific things, because that presumes that we know best. That is like the pawn saying “Please, next move, will you advance me forward one square”. We’ve no concept of the rest of the Chess board, or what better moves there might be, either for us or for other pieces. If our sacrifice results in “our player” taking the opponent’s king in turn, who are we to object?
All we should do is pray for courage and strength to accept our role in God’s great plan, and if at all possible, to ask that some consideration be given either to helping us to understand and accept his plans for us, or for him to see if it is possible to make slight changes that would be very much appreciated by us.
Please also appreciate that if we don’t know what the “best” outcome for us and for God’s plan may be, that also means that we similarly don’t know what the “worst” outcome is. We should not immediately assume that just because something seems directly and personally bad to us, that it actually is bad, either to us or to God’s great plan in general.
We also have to accept that sometimes, the tragedy we experience is better than a worse tragedy that might have been the alternative.
A loved one dies in a tragic accident. But perhaps that means they were spared an undignified lingering death from some debilitating disease that otherwise would have befallen them.
A child dies – but what if the person causing the death of that child is so transformed by that experience that they change their life, and in the future, save the lives of ten or twenty other children?
We’re sure you can think of many other examples of this concept, too.
Putting Our Present Life Into Future Perspective
Our life on this world is brief, compared to our eternal life that is promised us. Who can’t accept the equation that we’re exchanging a few decades of challenge for the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” that is in our future. (Cited, above.)
Romans 8:18 & 8:31-39 give us hope and encouragement, and hopefully, assist us to accept the tribulations of our present life.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As for the future, Revelation 21:4 tells us what to look forward to. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
A Curious Footnote
I was finishing this article when I was interrupted by a knock on the front door. I opened it to see a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses, one with her angelic young daughter in tow. I welcomed them and spoke with them courteously, and as always, they were surprised and happy to find themselves speaking with an enthusiastic Christian.
The curious thing is that their focus was on this very topic, and they introduced me to some verses I had not otherwise planned to feature.
But “coincidence” can sometimes be the hand of God pointing in a particular direction (thank you, Lord), and so I’ll close, with a hat tip to the two ladies and the angelic little daughter, with their suggested words from 1 Peter 5:6-11.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
And, truly lastly now, our prayers to you, dear reader, whether you be here today in a time of sorrow or happiness.
May the Lord bless you with stalwart faith and the courage to accept the challenges of our earthly lives, prior to the immeasurable richness of our future rewards promised us in Heaven.