Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
Romans 3:10–12, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Psalm 14:1–3, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
Two questions seem to sum up many people’s objections to the idea that the Christian God is a loving God: 1) Why do bad things happen to good people? and the inverse 2) Why do good things happen to bad people?
Fundamentally, these two questions are flawed because they are based upon false assumptions—specifically, that there are good people who should only be given good things and that there are bad people who shouldn’t be given anything good or at least not given anything better than the good person. If we are honest with ourselves, we ask these questions because it doesn’t seem fair that we don’t have a decent car or a nice house while horrible-sinner over there just won the lottery; it isn’t fair that our kid is suffering from a disease while wife-beater at work just had another perfectly healthy baby.
The statement, “I’m a good person”, drags along with it, though left unspoken, the language of comparison, which if stated fully would be, “I’m a good person . . . because I’m better than so-and-so.” This type of justification is fraught with problems—chief and most problematic among them is that someone somewhere will undoubtedly be able to say the same thing about us. You see, if blessing (or lack of trouble) is contingent on our being better than the next person, or some other person, this would result in an ever-changing hierarchy based on how we stacked up morally to others. In other words, a chaotic and ill-conceived system in which we move from boon to calamity, and from curse to blessing—moment by moment, one thought or action at a time.
For example and based solely on appearances, we may believe we are better than our drunk and abusive cousin, but we may not be better than our aunt who constantly volunteers at the homeless shelter; however, she may not to better (because she cheats on her taxes) than the business owner who on the side builds houses for the poor, but he may not be better (because also on the side he is involved in numerous affairs) than us because we don’t do that. Because we cannot know the heart of a person we cannot adequately judge them to be better or worse than we are; we can only draw assumptions which, in all honesty, usually work out in our favor because when we compare ourselves to others we generally don’t look at those whom we think of as better than ourselves.
This type of reward system has another flaw which requires us to ask what our motivation is for behaving morally or immorally; if our motive for doing good is that we hope others will perceive us as good, doesn’t that make us not as good as we had hoped? That is to say, if we are motivated to do something good out of the selfish desire to look good, are we really good? You see, even if the outcome of the action is good, it is not the outcome which makes us good but rather the motivation. So we must ask ourselves whether or not we seeking public praise or affirmation of our goodness, or whether or not we are we doing good for the sake of it being the right thing to do?
Matthew 6:1-4 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
To bring this back to the question at hand—expectations for good circumstances. If our good deed is done with a selfish motive which in turn then makes us bad (because of what motivated us), then how could we expect anything other (since we are now bad) than a bad thing happening to a bad person? And if we are bad, we should then no longer expect good things to happen to us; so the question of why bad things happen is already answered—we are bad people and in fact we have never been anything but bad people who happen to occasionally do good things.
Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”
The Christian at this point may raise the objection that because they are a Christian and a new creation that they are now somehow good, yet Paul in 1 Tim 1:15 calls himself, “chief” or “foremost” among sinners; James 3:2 tells us “we all stumble in many ways”; and later James 5:16, James tells us to “confess your sins to one another.” You see even the Christian is not good as God sees good, we are only righteous when viewed through Jesus and His finished work.
So why are the questions, “why do bad things happen to good people” and “why do good things happen to bad people” precisely the wrong questions? It is because, as we have discovered, there are no good people, and if there are no good people, we shouldn’t expect good things to happen. But that is rather a trite, unsatisfying, and not quite complete answer. I say this because there is a good reason, a hope, for thinking that we can understand why events transpire they way they do; yet this hope is entirely for the Christian. And because this hope is for the Christian, the world will always struggle with these types questions. This is not to say that Christians don’t struggle with these types of questions but that we don’t have to struggle with them with the same hopelessness which the world has. Though the Bible promises us trouble (John 16:33); trials (James 1:2-4); weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties (2 Corinthians 12:10); and suffering (Romans 8:18), for the Christians it should not be a question as to “why” bad things happens, but rather it is an opportunity to respond with “faith” when bad things happen.
As evidence of this—because if there ever was a person who was an example of this it was Him—we need to look no further than Jesus. He lived a perfect life yet what was His reward on earth? He was falsely accused, lied about, beaten, whipped with a cat of nine tails, crucified as a criminal, and then mocked as He hung there dying. So if ever a person could ask “why bad things happen to good people” it was Him. Let Jesus be our example as we remember Romans 8:28-39:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
For the unsaved there is only the unsatisfying truth that they, like the Christian, are not good and are in need of a Savior to be the hope to help endure the seeming unfairness of it all. You see, for the unsaved, the idea “that it is all part of God’s plan” and “God causes all things to work . . . “ is foolishness and cruelty; and so they will never make any sense of it. But for the Christian, who like the unsaved cannot see the end from the beginning, it is a faith that because God is love that God is also good. This faith sustains us—that while God allows the good and the bad to happen, He is working His plan for our good.
The question which matters is not why do good or bad things happen because, as we have learned, we have no reasons to expect or demand that we should receive anything good; rather the only question we should be asking is, “Why have we, as bad and wretched people, been offered God’s good and best gift—Jesus?” Not only is the good gift of salvation offered but it is offered freely to all of us. Ask yourself if this is not the act of a God who is love? He invites us to place our eternal destiny in His hands and to trust Him through the good and bad. We no long have to be concerned about the why because we know our faith is placed in the Who whom orders our steps and circumstances.
For those who may be reading this and who are not saved but desire to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior in order to be in right relationship with Him and who long to have a peace which passes understanding when faced with difficult questions or hardships I offer you this and tell you that the time is now—do not delay.
Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 10:9-12, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
To the Christian I offer encouragement:
1 Peter 5: 6-7, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Psalm 103:2-5, “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Neither do I nor does the Bible claim that life will be fair or easy, but if we believe these verses then the questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why do good things happen to bad people?” aren’t questions which should necessarily lead to our doubting God but rather they should become opportunities to trust Him when either bad things happen to good people or good things happen to bad people.