We've all heard it numerous times: "Why would a God who is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful allow bad things to happen to good people?" We can also turn the question around: "Why would an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God 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 either.
It has to be said, though, that this question is sometimes asked in innocence by people with a genuine desire to understand what seems impossible to understand. Other times it's asked by people who have suffered or whose loved ones have known grief and loss. They honestly want to know: How could God let this happen to me and to mine? Why wouldn't God stop this pain and help me? After all, sometimes we experience devastating suffering. Just consider the Holocaust, the abduction and murder of a child, or 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.
Eternity Makes the Difference
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. To the atheist, there may 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 more if we're lucky, and only a handful if we're 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 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 said 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.
Pain Awakens Us to God
While it's 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 does not guarantee a good life, but a perfect eternity. Indeed, there is more prediction in Scripture of a struggle 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 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.