Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

By Tom Harrison  Tidings  January 2017

If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, loving and good, then why does He alIf God is all-knowing, all-powerful, loving and good, then why does He allow evil and suffering? This is a common question among those who argue against God’s existence.

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, the question should not be threatening. We know God did not create evil and suffering because Genesis 1:31 says: God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. 1 John 4:16 says: God is love. Therefore, the law of love rules the universe. But true love always involves free choice, so God gave us free will. That freedom came with the potential for sin.

Free will and sin opened the door for evil and suffering to enter the world. All of God’s good creation now exists in a “fallen state.” We, along with creation, wait for God to make things right again. Paul explained in Romans 8:18-21: Our present sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

The question of evil and suffering is less an argument about God’s existence and more about God’s nature—especially when tragedy affects us personally. As followers of Jesus, we know God can bring healing, protect us, keep us from harm and deliver us from difficult circumstances. We wonder why sometimes He chooses not to. Nobody knows God’s thoughts. Nobody knows why one is shielded from harm but not another. Paul acknowledged our limitation well (1 Corinthians 13:12): Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. Yet, in the same paragraph Paul also said, Love never fails. Again, the law of love still rules the universe.

In the face of evil and suffering—we anchor ourselves to the truth of God’s character and the truth found in Scripture. Whatever God does or doesn’t do—we have to remember He is just and He is love. In the end, His justice and His love will reign. All wounds will be healed, all hurts will be mended, all evil will end, and everything that is wrong will be made right. Justice will prevail. All suffering will be eclipsed by the broad expanse of eternity. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 puts it this way: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Until then, we cling to the assurance of Romans 8:28-29 that God can redeem any situation and draw something good from the pain: We know that in all thing God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. It may be hard to believe, especially in the midst of suffering, but God took the worst thing that ever happened in the history of the universe– the death of the incarnate God on a cross–and worked it for greatest good in the history of the universe: the salvation of the world. Because God achieved this great reversal, we can trust this One.

In chapter 13 of John’s Gospel, Jesus tries to prepare His disciples for the events leading to His crucifixion. He knows His disciples will weep and mourn. While intense, their sorrow will be of a very short duration. Jesus explained (John 16:21-23): A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. He promised to prepare a better place for them. He promised to return for them. Until that time, He would send help through the Holy Spirit. He prayed for them, and promised to be so closely entwined with them that they would be as one. Jesus gave them (and us) coping mechanisms!

Jesus has a “theology of suffering.” He did not desire pain. As He prayed in Gethsemane on the eve of His arrest (Matthew 26:39): My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. But He trusted His Father. He finished His prayer: Yet not as I will, but as you will. Jesus is the truth. He tells us the truth about earthly suffering (John 16:33): I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

We shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen to good people. As a matter of fact, nobody is really “good.” On the human continuum, we are better (and worse) than others. In comparison with God, however, we are all sinners who fall far short of His glorious standard of holiness (Romans 3:23). Furthermore, we will all die. The wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). But the best news is that our gift from God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23b). Jesus came to us, was crucified for our sins, rose from the dead, gave us His Spirit and His mission, and will someday take us to heaven to be with Him. Until that day comes when God wipes away every tear from our eyes and crushes death, mourning, crying and pain – we can trust Him. No matter how much suffering we endure – we must always remember the great victory we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.