Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?


The short answer to this one is – I don’t know.

That’s right, Father Catfish has been stumped.

There are some who would answer this question, saying, “God is testing us,” or “God is teaching us a lesson,” and sometimes I think that’s true – like when, through God’s infinite mystery, the one day I decide to blow a stop sign is the day the RCMP officer is driving by.  But I would CERTAINLY say that this is not ALWAYS the case. Even though its true that suffering can always teach us something – I don’t think God makes them happen so we can learn.

I’ve heard some say that if there was no suffering, there would be no compassion – and I think that’s probably true too, because seeing suffering makes us compassionate for one another.  But I can’t help but think that surely God could have thought of another way to bring out the best in us, other than suffering.

Some say God is punishing us for our sins.  Yea, this one I don’t buy – at least not in it’s simplest form – that God is punishing ME for MY sins, or my parents sins, or somebody else’s sins.  I think, when bad stuff happens to us, and we think its God’s punishing us – that this is actually our human tendency to want to BLAME someone for our suffering – it’s easier to deal with the chaos of life if we think we can somehow control it with our good and/or bad behaviour.  But that isn’t true.  Bad things happen to good people.

The Bible actually covers this one – and we need to understand that the Bible shows a development in the understanding of God on the part of its writers – in other words, the people who wrote the book of Genesis didn’t understand God as well as the people who wrote the book of Job – written much later – who didn’t understand God as well as the Gospel writers.  This is what the term “progressive revelation of scripture” is all about.  And this isn’t as shocking as it may first seem – it doesn’t surprise us Christians that Jesus would have a better understanding of God than Moses did, for example.

So early in the Bible, a lot of people thought that God DID work that way – that if we were good, God would reward us with long lives, good health, good weather, protection from our enemies, lots of kids.  If we were bad, God would punish us, in all sorts of ways.  This notion is called the “Theology of Retribution”, and we see this attitude throughout the first five books of the Bible, especially the Book of Deuteronomy – originally put together in about the 7th or 8th century B.C.

But as time went on, people started to see that this doesn’t actually work – bad things happen to good people, in fact, ALL THE TIME.  And so we see this CRISIS in the way people understood God reflected in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes – they show people trying to cope with the apparent RANDOMNESS of the world, that it can’t be controlled, either with rituals (this would be superstition) or by good behaviour.  The only answer that these books can come up with is that suffering is a mystery, because GOD is a mystery, in fact the infinite mystery, that will never be understood.

Basically this is the famous “shit happens” argument – pardon my French.

And that would seem to explain it, right?  The world is crazy, random, chaotic.  Trying to control it is just a recipe for disappointment and suffering, so don’t even bother trying.  It is better to just let go.  We do stand a better chance of being happier that way.

And it makes PERFECT sense that things would happen in life that are beyond human comprehension.  I think it’s the height of human arrogance to assume that us piddly humans, who are just a few rungs up the evolutionary scale from ants, should be able to understand EVERYTHING.  If WE can’t understand it, then it isn’t REAL.  Absurd.  The ant doesn’t understand that the Sun goes down at night, and comes up the next morning, and yet the Sun does.

But what kind of a God does that leave us with?  One who is random, unpredictable, maybe even uncaring.  And that doesn’t jive with us.

The problem here, I think, is the natural tendency to equate “the Universe,” or “life,” or “fate,” or whatever you want to call it, WITH God.  We still think that God is somehow either passively allowing or actively causing the world’s suffering.

And he isn’t.  I don’t know about you, but I refuse to believe that a child with cancer, or a family killed by a bomb dropped from a B52, or a woman being raped, is GOD’S WILL.  These things are not God’s will – not the God that I believe in anyway.

Why doesn’t he intervene then, if he can do anything? if he’s all powerful? 

Well, I think he does.  Personally I think that’s why Jesus came.  I think that’s also why Jesus didn’t do everything himself, but left part of the job of healing the world to us. 

I think a lot happens in the world that is not God’s will – it happens because God entrusted the world to us, and we often screw it up.  But if he hadn’t entrusted it to us, we’d all just be obedient robots, or pets – and we’d never have a chance to be like God.

So even though these things happen that aren’t God’s will, God has transformed them, through Christ, into opportunities to grow in wisdom and compassion – God’s going to take all the crap in life out of the trash can, and make flowers bloom from them – just as he took the world’s GREATEST tragedy, the death of the perfect Son of God, into the GREATEST triumph – and just as God turns death from tragedy to doorway into new life.

Is this a complete answer?  Well, personally I don’t think it is.  But it’s the best one I’ve got.