February 28, 2016
If God is so all-loving and all-powerful, then why does he let bad things happen to good people?
It’s a very good question, and you’re absolutely right to ask it. Being a Christian does not mean shying away from the difficult questions. We’re allowed to mention the elephant in the room.
It’s a question that every generation has asked and that no-one has a complete answer for. Here it is being asked in Jesus’ day. Some Galileans had been killed while presenting sacrifices at the temple. A huge tower had collapsed, killing eighteen people. Why? How could God let these things happen?
Jesus does not get involved in explanations such as That’s what you get for plotting against the Romans. (Pilate was well-known for this kind of ‘peace-keeping’) or It was the fault of the builders; they cut corners on tower safety. These may or may not have been the immediate causes of these people’s deaths, but that’s not the real issue here. And such explanations, while useful in the political arena, are of little help for the grieving people left behind. Even a Galilean terrorist is someone’s son, father, brother.
Instead, Jesus cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Why did they deserve to die and others didn’t? Were they worse sinners that they deserved this punishment? Were they more guilty? No, says Jesus, it doesn’t work like that.
Jewish thought at the time was that material prosperity was a sign that God was pleased with you and material lack was a sign of his displeasure. So if your crops did badly one year, it was because you had done something wrong. We see this in John 9:2 when the disciples asked Jesus about the man blind from birth. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Neither, said Jesus. It’s the wrong question.
But why do bad things happen to good people? The truth is, we’re none of us good. And death happens, even to people who don’t ‘deserve’ it.
Bad things happen. Some really, really horrible things happen and it’s not our fault. Sometimes it’s no-one’s fault. But that’s how life is. No-one ever promised it was going to be fair. I could be the world’s best driver (I’m not) and still have some twit crash into me head-on. Is it fair? No. Is it right? No. Is it normal? Yes.
Am I anything so special that I should have the world fitted around me such that nothing bad ever happens to me? Of course I am not. Then why should I complain at God if I am the innocent victim of an idiot driver? Sure, it’s rough, but accidents happen. Random bad stuff happens. Bad people happen. And sometimes they happen to me.
And that stinks. Sometimes it really stinks. But it does not mean that God does not exist, and it does not mean that God is not loving and powerful and good. The existence of darkness does not disprove the existence of light, so the existence of bad does not disprove the existence of good. The uncomfortable truth is that none of us deserve to have a trouble-free life. God is not my servant that he should wait on me, hand and foot.
In the same way that I can’t cause a bad harvest by giving a dodgy lamb for the sacrifice, I can’t merit a bumper crop by being good. It just doesn’t work like that. Being a good person does not mean I get to deserve an easy life. And anyway, who is good?
“Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.”
R.C. Sproul, Jr.
What is your attitude when bad things happen to you or those you love? Is it anything to do with God at all?
The Bible is full of the big questions of life. The entire book of Job deals with ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ It’s OK to have a rant at God and to express your anger, frustration and doubts. Plenty of Bible writers have done exactly the same, so God won’t be offended or upset.
You will need a pen and strips of paper, about 4cm x 20cm. You can use several colours if you like.
Write questions, doubts and frustrations on the paper strips. They might be ‘why do you allow suffering?’ ‘How can I know that you exist?’ ‘What about people who have never heard of you?’ or any other difficult questions that you or other people might have. When you have eight to a dozen (more if you like), fold them lengthways into thin strips and weave them into a mat. Fold the loose ends under to secure the weaving.
I am not going to pretend that we can get the answers to all our questions by some simple formula. Wiser people than me have wrestled with them for centuries. What I do know however, is that God is good and just and right and true. And I trust that when I meet him in heaven I will understand.
On my mat I will write those words. “God, you are good and just and right and true. I trust that I will understand.” Write on your mat whatever words you feel you can about these big issues. It is important that they are your words, not what you think you should put. This is between you and God. You may just put, “I simply don’t know”. That’s OK too.
There’s a lot here that I do not understand, that I do not like, that does not make sense.
I can’t see the answers to these questions.
But I know that there are many things that are bigger than me and I trust you.
Please help me.
Luke 13:1-9 New International Version
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’
Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’
New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.