Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

This oft-repeated question says nothing about God, but everything about human beings.
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Many people find it difficult to deny Jesus existed, so they throw in the good old classic question, the inevitable comment, the predictable attack on Christianity that runs along the line of why would a God who is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful allow bad things to happen to good people? We've all heard it numerous times, and it doesn't get any more convincing on the hundredth or thousandth asking. Actually, we can just as well turn the word order of the question around and ask why an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God would allow good things to happen to bad people? After all, while seeing good people suffer is horrible, it's not much fun seeing evil people having fun.

It has to be said, though, that this question is sometimes asked in all innocence, by people with a genuine desire to understand what seems impossible to understand. Or it is asked by people who have suffered or whose loved ones have known grief and loss. How could God let this happen to me and to mine, why would God not stop this pain and help me? At its most severe, it can be devastating. The Holocaust, the abduction and murder of a child, the long and painful death of a kind and gentle person. The critic of Christianity would respond that God is either not all-knowing, not all-powerful, or not all-good. I would say that the question and even the problem are actually more of a difficulty and a conundrum for the nonbeliever than for the Christian.

The materialist and the atheist, those who would deny God, believe that at death all is over. Life is finished, it is done and complete; we are dust, mere food for worms. To these people, pain has no meaning other than what it is: pure, unadulterated suffering, without any redeeming purpose. There may to the atheist be a certain formless heroism attached to the person who faces suffering with courage and without complaining, but if we are all body and flesh, and no soul and spirit, if we are mere products of a selfish gene and nothing more, one wonders why this heroism would in any way be significant.

There is, though, a greater point, and that is that the atheist is convinced that these years we spend on earth—perhaps 80 or if we are lucky, and only a handful if we are not—are everything we have, and constitute the total human experience. Christians, on the other hand, believe that these years on earth, while important and to be used wisely and also to be enjoyed, are preparation for a far greater life to come. They are, in effect, a thin ray of light from the great sunshine that is eternity and life in heaven with God. My end, as Mary Queen of Scots had it, is my beginning. And her end was at the sharp point of an axe, as she was beheaded on the orders of her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Mary was certain that there was an existence beyond that on earth, as have been myriad Christians since the time of Christ.

While it is neurotic rather than Christian to welcome suffering, and no intelligent and comprehending Christian would welcome suffering for its own sake, the Bible actually makes it quite clear that faith in Jesus Christ and in Christianity does not guarantee a good life, but a perfect eternity. Indeed, there is more prediction in Scripture of a struggle, and perhaps a valley of fear, on earth for the believer than there is of gain and success. There may be Christian sects that promise material wealth and all sorts of triumphs in exchange for faith, but this is a non-Christian, even an anti-Christian bargain, and has never been something that mainstream and orthodox Christianity would affirm. Christians believe that this life on earth is only the land of shadows and that real life hasn't yet begun. So yes, bad things happen to good people.

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