Sooner or later, every Christian experiences a painful event that leads them to this question. It's one of the most difficult questions that people ask. We look around us and see people who have no morals, aren't Christians, and who seem to go through life with few real difficulties. And others - who seem to be good people -- have adversity and difficulty in their lives. It doesn't seem fair.
Even if we don't compare ourselves to other people, we still wonder about our role in the event. When something happens to us, when we're faced with a crises or painful situation of some kind, we begin to wonder. Is God punishing us? Did we do something to bring this on? Or does God have some plan to put one mess after another into our lives? We just naturally ask, "Why me, God?"
We've been through this a number of times.There was the summer of 1987, for example. First, I lost the job at which I had been employed for eight years, and it which I was an up-and-coming executive. Shortly thereafter, my ex-wife brought a lawsuit against us, asking for me to be found in contempt of court for not forcing my son to visit her on one of her spur-of-the-moment appearances. Another part of her lawsuit asked for custody of my daughter. Then, just a month later, our other daughter got more deeply involved in her problems, running away for the second time. We caught up with her in the emergency department at the Hospital, where she had been admitted after a drug overdose.
All this in a period of a couple months. Believe me, it seemed like there wasn't going to be any end to the trouble. Bad things happen to almost everybody.
So, what's the answer? Why do bad things happen to good people? I remember asking that, in a more specific way, of one of my close friends at CMBC. It was just a few years ago, 1993, and I was really struggling with my business. After working really hard for six years, I was actually going backward, and did less business in 1993 then I did the year before. I was struggling and working so hard -- it was tremendously frustrating.
I remember talking to one of my friends and asking him the same question. "Why is this happening to me? Is it something I've done, or is God just bringing this on me for some other purpose?"
I never will forget his answer. "It doesn't make any difference," he said. "The important thing is not why something happens in your life. The important thing is what you do about it."
Here's what he meant. As a Christian, your response to adversity should be something like this: You pray more fervently for God to give you direction and strength, and for Him to be involved in resolving your situation. You depend on your family and other Christians to help. You seek counsel from wiser and more experienced people around you. And you act with principle and ethics, and you don't try to steel, cheat or lie your way out of the situation. If you respond to your adversity in some way similar to this, then the situation and your response to it will serve to bring your closer to God, deepen your character, and make you a stronger person. In addition, we have God's promise that he will work out this difficulty for you in some way that turns to good.
And that will happen regardless of the cause of your adversity. So, the important thing is not to worry too much about why something happens, rather, the important thing is to concentrate on your response to it. God will use it to bring about good in your life.
That, in part, is what the verse means that says:
Rom 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
The "all things" in that verse means exactly what it says. All things. Bad things as well as good things.
Notice that the promise is not for everyone. It's just for His people - Christians - those people who love Him, and who been called according to God's purpose. So, if you're a Christian, you know that every difficulty you have will be something that God uses to turn to good. I've often thought about how I'd feel in these situations if I weren't a Christian. I'd be very depressed and lonely. I don't know how I'd be able to go on.
It's important to view all this through the perspective of "the big picture." The big picture is this. God loves us intensely. He wants each one of us to have a relationship with him, and He uses our lives, and every event in it, for the purpose of bringing us closer to Him, making us more like Him, and using us to work His will in the world. He promises us joy, not happiness; peace, not comfort; contentment, not affluence.
Having said all that, I'll try to answer the original question. "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
The Bible provides a number of answers. It seems that there isn't just one answer, but rather a number of reasons.
First, bad things happen in this world because the world isn't a very good place. It was a great place originally. Remember the Garden of Eden? All of creation was there for our ancestors to use. They didn't have to work, had no illnesses or diseases, no natural disasters, and personally walked and talked with God.
But then both Adam and Eve sinned, and everything changed. Difficulties and adversity entered their lives, and, in turn, into the world. Old age, disease, accidents and evil of all kinds came into the world. Today, our world is basically a sinful place, and bad things exist. Since bad things exist in this world, it only stands to reason that some times those bad things are going to effect good people.
And it goes deeper than just that. It's not just that the world is passively sinful. We have to face a power that is actively trying to hurt us. The world is influenced by Satan and his demons, who delight in deceiving and harming people. Jesus calls Satan the "prince of this world."
In John 14: 30, Jesus says, "now the prince of this world will be driven out."
In John 16:11, Jesus says "the prince of this world now stands condemned."
So, there is sin all around us, a world and people who are influenced by Satan. No wonder bad things happen. Through no fault of ours, we are the victims of an evil world. When a drive-by killer shoots an innocent person, it wasn't anything the victim did, it was an evil person. When we're cheated by a dishonest business person, when someone steals our things, when we're attacked and hurt by someone, when a teacher gives us a grade lower than what we've earned, when a boss fires us for no good reason - all these bad things arise out of the same source. People influenced by a world that is inclined toward evil.
When lightening strikes and burns down a house, when we're in an accident that was really no one's fault, when a baby is conceived with severe defects, when we get cancer, when any malady falls on us through what appears to be a random act - it's because we live in a world that is fallen, a world that's imperfect and flawed. It's not God's doing, remember. He created a beautiful, perfect world for us. It is, however, the result of a fallen world influenced by Satan.
But that's only part of it. Here's a second source. It's been my experience that we cause many of the bad things that happen to us ourselves. I don't mean we cause them in any mystical way. It's not good karma and bad karma and some unseen mystical accountant keeping books and balancing things out. Much less intimidating than that. I mean we directly and physically cause most of our own problems. It's one of the basic laws of our world. Our actions have consequences. Sometimes we cause good consequences, and sometimes we cause ourselves bad consequences. For example, we may be alone and have few friends - a direct result of our being unfriendly. We slid on a slippery road and totaled our car - a direct result of our driving too fast. Someone breaks into our house and steals our things - but we chose to live in a dangerous part of town. Our car breaks down -- but we didn't maintain it. We're inundated with bills - but we charged all those things. We get cancer -- but we smoked for 20 years.
The list can go on and on. You've got the idea. Much of the negative stuff we have to deal with was stuff that we created - consequences of our own actions. Sometimes our actions are just stupid. Like not maintaining a car. Other times, our actions are sinful. We chose not to follow the guidelines God lays down for us in the Bible, because we think we know better. The result is often a direct and negative consequence. God says, "Don't have sex outside of marriage." We think we know better, and do so. The consequence of venereal disease, dysfunctional relationships, and burdensome pregnancies is a direct result of our actions. God says, "Work hard for our employer." We chose not to, and the consequence of not being employed long by any particular company is a direct result of our actions.
So, sometimes we cause bad things to happen to us by our own stupidity, and sometimes we cause them to happen to us by our sin.
So far we have these things: Bad things happen to us
1. because we live in a fallen world
2. because we live among a lot of evil people
3. because we do stupid things
4. because we do sinful things.
There's more. The book of Job indicates that Satan himself can cause us harm. You remember the story about how Satan asked God's permission to cause Job harm, and did so. Later, God rewarded Job with more joy and more delight then Job had before Satan got involved. But it was difficult for Job going through it. Remember, he did nothing to cause his difficulties.
So, let's add number 5. Bad things sometimes happen to good people because Satan directly causes it.
There's still more. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen to us as a means of disciplining us. Remember the big picture. He wants us to depend on Him, to love Him, to be close to Him. And some times, He uses bad things as a means of disciplining us and bringing us closer to Him. There's a great passage in Hebrews 12 that explains it:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees."
Read that and you've got to come to the conclusion that at some point in our lives, we're going to be disciplined. The verse above promises it. Note, though, verse 12. See, it's not why something happens, it's how we respond to it that is important.
Notice, too that the discipline of God is for a reason - to "train" us so that we can be righteous, and have peace. God's discipline is forward-looking, not backwards -looking. In other words, He doesn't say, "Ah Ha! You did something last year, so now I'm going to get you back for it!" That's backward-looking. His discipline is forward-looking in that He wants to shape our character for the future. He wants to train us so that we're more like Him, and more able to do His work. See why the important thing is how we respond? If we respond by growing closer to Him, we're pleasing Him.
So, that's number 6. Sometimes bad things happen to good people because God wants to discipline us.
As far as I can tell, there is one more cause of bad things. It's sort of a subset of number 2 and number 5. Bad things happen to good people because we have a curse on us. I know that sounds strange. But the Bible treats curses as real. As you recall, Adam and Eve were cursed by God for their sin. Cain was also cursed by God. That was just the start. The word 'curse' appears 87 times in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and is treated as a spiritual reality from Genesis, the first book of the Bible, to Revelations, the last. Apparently, a curse is a kind of spiritual hindrance that somehow extends into our physical life and causes us difficulty and struggle. The Bible illustrates a number of ways we can come under a curse.
1. By disobeying God -- particularly by turning away from Him after you've known Him and had a relationship with Him 26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.
2. By withholding our tithes and offerings 8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
3. By some agreement made with Satan, or some major sin of our ancestors (curses can come down from one generation to the next.) Joshua 9: 23.You are now under a curse: You will never cease to serve as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God." 24 They answered Joshua, "Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you." 26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the community and for the altar of the LORD at the place the LORD would choose. And that is what they are to this day.
4. By providing some very spiritual people with good reason to call a curse on us. 2 Kings 2 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. I'm sure there are more ways we incur curses, but that's a start. Proverbs even talks about "deserved" and "undeserved" curses. Proverbs 2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest. In the last chapter of the last book, Revelations 23:3, we're promised that "No longer will there by any curse."
Ok, here's the final list. Bad things happen to us...
1.because we live in a fallen world
2.because we live among a lot of evil people
3.because we do stupid things
4.because we do sinful things
5.because Satan causes them
6.because God disciplines us
7.because we're under a curse.
In every case, though, the "why" isn't what's important. "What we do about it" is.