Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? - Overview

What is your definition of 'bad'? Should good people never stub their toe? Fail a test at school? Get stuck in traffic? The idea that bad things shouldn't happen to someone is a challenge because how do you determine what is 'bad' and where do you draw the line? And who is a 'good person' and where is the the line drawn between a 'good person' and a 'bad person'?

Still, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is the number one question that people ask when they consider the existence of God. The implication is that a good God would not allow bad things to happen to people, especially to the 'good' people that have done 'nothing wrong'. Usually this question is asked during a time of confusion and deep hurt. With gentleness, every Christian must be prepared and ready to give an answer to this question.

Unfortunately, the question itself is poorly worded and has several misconceptions in it - which is exactly why this question is so enticing to ask. However, once the misconceptions are resolved, it becomes clear that there are reasonable explanations. As should be demanded by the most skeptical of people, these explanations are fully compatible with the world around us and with the Scriptures.

First, let us consider our presuppositions.

Attributes of God

God is love.1 God is light.2 God is true.3 God is faithful.4 God is good.5 This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it is clear that the Bible teaches God is pure and righteous. The Psalmist confirms the Scriptures and his own experience when he says upright people will flourish "" ( :) Because God is upright and there is no unrighteousness or wickedness in Him, He truly can be our Rock, the reliable foundation for our lives today and our lives to come.

If there were any imperfection in God, this 'flaw' would mean He is unreliable. (What if our need at any given time fell in that time and place of imperfection?) Fortunately, that is not the case. Furthermore, He does not change. No matter how you approach Him, He always remains the same. This is why the half-brother of Jesus tells us, "" ( :) Many, many people have expressed the same sentiment after spending a lifetime in fellowship with the living God of the Bible. God declares his consistency, "" ( :) This is reiterated in the New Testament, "" ( :)

Based on the Scriptures, the base presupposition of our question that God is love and good is correct. Based on personal experience, some people confirm that God is love and good and other people think He is not. Let's continue our evaluation.

Understand God's Intent

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It is clear from the Bible that God's desire is for our good welfare. The full body of Scriptures support these truths. God addresses the ultimate 'bad thing' through the prophet Ezekiel: ( :) He spends this entire chapter talking about sin and the consequences of sin, His mercy and judgment. Ezekiel 18 concludes with this plea for us to turn away from destruction.

Based on the Scriptures, the base presupposition of our question that God desires our welfare is correct. Based on personal experience, some people confirm that God desires our best and other people think He does not. Let's continue our evaluation.

Do Bad Things Happen?

It would be very difficult to say that bad things don't happen. They do happen. People get cancer. People hurt one another. People kill one another. Accidents happen. Jesus refers to 18 people who were crushed to death by a tower that fell in Siloam.6 That is a rough thing for the families of those 18 people.

Even so, the Scriptures indicate there is a benefit to all things for those that are called by His name. ( :) This knowledge becomes a comfort and salve during the painful period and a medicine to others once healing has begun. (The Scriptures make no such claim for those who have not received Jesus as their Savior.)

Furthermore, not everything that can be interpreted as bad is actually bad. A good gardener knows that properly pruning some plants will allow those plants to bear more fruit in the future. (We don't know if plants can feel the pruning, but if they can, would they say 'ow!' if they could?) We know that a loving parent disciplines their child even while that child considers the discipline a bad and hurtful thing. The parent disciplines with the hope that present discomfort will bring greater fruit in the future. We also know that God disciplines His children because He tells us plainly:

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Based on the Scriptures, the base presupposition of our question that bad things happen is correct. However, it also seems that there is a percentage of 'bad' things that happen that are not really 'bad' at all, but are rather disciplinary in nature. It seems to me that there are times when God gets blamed for being harsh when He is simply answering those that have requested discipline by their errant thoughts or deeds.

Are people Good?

Most people evaluate the goodness of people by comparing one person to another person. "Grading on a curve" would be a term to describe this. There are some people who do a lot of bad in this world, people we may choose to call 'bad' people. There are others that seem quite philanthropic and generous with their time and resources, which we may choose to call 'good' people. When posing 'why do bad things happen to good people', the person they're talking about may seem to be part of the group that do good things in the world. Or perhaps they think that the person is 'innocent', while not having done a lot of 'good' in the world, they certainly haven't done enough 'bad' to deserve what has come upon them.

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The biblical definition of 'good' means a right standing before God. In the context of these verses, there is no person that is in a right standing before God based on their own work or virtue. This is written many other places in the Scriptures as well. In other words, there is no 'good' person. As a matter of fact, the Bible clearly says "" ( :) With this definition, the premise of our initial question no longer stands and the question itself is null and void. No person has earned God's favor enough or is 'innocent' enough to not have 'bad' things happen to them.

Indeed, a friend of mine recently asked me, "Why do good things happen to bad people?" If virtue or innocence had anything to do with what goodness or badness we encounter, then bad people wouldn't encounter anything good any more than good people encountering bad. What we see in reality actually matches what we read in the Scriptures when Jesus tells us, 0 results"" ( :)

Based on the Scriptures, the base presupposition of our initial question that people are 'good' and should be excluded from having anything bad to them is simply not correct. Redefining 'good' to be the comparison of one person to another is misleading and denies the true virtue of a person that would allow them to avoid having bad things happen to them. So we see here that a key premise in our initial question is false: virtue and innocence are irrelevent.

However, we don't need to stumble over this word. We can simply change the question to, 'Why do bad things happen?' Please join me in exploring this in the related sections.

Next: Why Do Bad Things Happen - Free Will


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